HARTLEPOOL United boss Neale Cooper believes Jack Baldwin will go on to become a “real star” at the top level of the game – but he hopes to keep him at Victoria Park for a good while longer.
Of all the young guns the Scot has under his care, it is the mild-mannered southerner who has impressed him most.
Baldwin’s progression from sixth-form student to League One starlet in less than a year could have been plucked straight from a comic book, but Cooper believes his story is only just beginning and is tipping the 18-year-old to continue his heady rise through the professional ranks.
“This boy could be a real star, I mean that,” said the Pools boss of the youngster who was plucked from non-league Faversham Town last May.
“I hope he’s here for a good while yet, but I’ve got no doubt that at some point he could play at the top level. He’s got a long way to go, of course, and he’s in a great place right now.
“He’s playing games and is learning all of the time and he wants to learn and that’s what makes the difference. But then he goes out on a Saturday and looks like he’s been playing professional football for all of his life!”
Baldwin’s latest faultless showing came in the 1-1 draw at Tranmere Rovers on Saturday as he cruised through what was just his third-ever start at centre-back.
The player and his manager are convinced that position is where his future lies, and Cooper went on: “At the weekend I thought he was superb. He’s playing centre-back, an important position, and for a young boy it’s just so easy for him.
“I think that will be his position in the future. He is so confident and nothing fazes him, he’s just so cool.
“He’s got that turn of pace to recover if he needs to, but he doesn’t often allow himself to get in that position. When he’s got the ball at his feet he can do something with it as well.”
Baldwin has appeared 13 times under Cooper, often in a midfield role should first-choice centre-backs Peter Hartley and Sam Collins be available.
Collins, though, is struggling with a calf problem and Pools could choose not to risk their captain when Leyton Orient come to the Vic on Saturday, especially given the form of Baldwin.
Cooper explained: “It’s a strange one with Sam because he’s had this ongoing problem. If you remember he had to pull out of the Walsall game before kick-off and we thought it was worse than it was then.
“He’s managed to play since then but it was a bit sore last week so we decided to rest him. We’ll see how he is this week but Jack has shown that he can come in and he’s been brilliant for us when that’s been the case.”