FORMER Carlisle boss Paul Simpson is backing ex-Blues keeper Keiren Westwood to be a big success at the Stadium of Light next season.
Simpson said he always felt during his time at Brunton Park that the Republic of Ireland international had the potential to become an established Premier League goalkeeper.
And now the former Blues manager is backing the 26-year-old to do exactly that after his Bosman move to Sunderland this week.
“He looked a real quality keeper at Championship level and joining a Premier League club is a natural progression for him,” said Simpson.
“I think he will become a top-class international keeper.
“He has all the tools to make it in the Premier League, no doubt about it.
“It isn’t a gamble by Sunderland because he won’t let them down.”
Simpson was manager of the Blues from 2003-06 and it was he who originally plucked the young Irishman from the obscurity of Manchester City’s reserves and plunged him into league football.
Since them he was watched with pride and admiration as the stopper has moved swiftly up the leagues but says it is no surprise that Westwood has now reached the highest level.
“There was a real determination there right from the start,” the ex-manager recalled. “He was a good trainer who went about things properly and was a sensible lad.
“He was in a long-term relationship with a girl he is now married to and he lived his life properly.
“He wanted to be a top goalkeeper and you could see he had that ability.”
Westwood arrived in Cumbria in the summer of 2004 and went on to make 153 appearances for the club before joining Championship side Coventry City in 2008.
Last season he allowed his contract to run out so he could leave on a Bosman and Sunderland have fought off interest from Manchester City, Everton, Celtic, Leicester City, Portsmouth and Wolves to land the man they have been tracking for well over a season.
Simpson believes that in his mid-20s Westwood has now reached the ideal age to shine, having had the rough edges knocked off his game at the lower levels.
He said: “Keiren was confident in himself with a touch of arrogance about him but whenever he got cocky we knocked him down straightaway and he learned very quickly he couldn’t be like that.
“He was a bit rash with his decision-making at first because he found it difficult not being involved during games and he would get over-excited and involved when he shouldn’t.
“He would come for a cross he had no chance of getting because he wanted to show people what a good goalkeeper he was.
“Now he has calmed himself down and keeps his concentration in games but that skill only comes with playing first-team games and experience.
“The way I managed at Carlisle was to have a strong spine to the team – a top keeper, central defender, midfielder and decent striker – and it is testament to Keiren that I was never in a position to look for another keeper.
“I had total confidence in him that he would perform.
“You know every now and again there will be mistakes but 99 per cent of the time I could hang my hat on him.
“What I liked about Keiren was that he was certain in his mind what he wanted to do and he deserves credit for achieving a move to a Premier League club.
“He’s a very strong character.”