AITOR KARANKA has paid Bryn Morris the perfect compliment by hinting that the teenage prospect could be a prominent part of Middlesbrough's first team squad next season.
Hartlepool-born Morris was a second half substitute during the final day victory over Yeovil Town on Saturday when he came on for Dean Whitehead.
His last, and only previous league appearance, was when he came on with 24 minutes remaining at Sheffield Wednesday a year earlier.
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While he has been a regular on the bench in recent weeks under Karanka, he has had to remain patient for an opportunity to show he can shine on the Football League stage.
Being involved in the first team picture, though, is all good experience for a player who only celebrated his 18th birthday on April 25.
And Karanka has seen enough of the England youth international to suggest he will form part of his long term plans.
“I have absolutely no doubt that Bryn is going to be a very good player in the future,” said Karanka. “You only have to watch him and see how he plays to know what he is capable of.
“He is young, and he is the type of player who we can't afford to rush because we want to bring him through slowly.
“We have to take the correct steps with him, but as long as we do that, he could be an important player for us. Next season, there is the option to send him out on loan, but I don't know if that will happen because, at the moment, he is the type of player who I want to see every day.”
Morris is more comfortable in midfield but can also slot in to the back four if required.
He has captained England Under-16s and Under-17s and he was just 16 when he made his debut for Middlesbrough in the FA Cup in January 2013, just months before he was handed a three-year pro contract.
Karanka will be keeping an eye on Morris over the summer and there is a chance he could be involved in three Under-19s European Championships qualifiers.
England are due to face Ukraine, Montenegro and Scotland between May 24-29 and if they can finish top of the group they will head to the finals in Hungary in July.
England coach Noel Blake has already indicated to Morris that he is under consideration for those games and Karanka will be interested to see how he gets on if selected.
The Middlesbrough manager expects a busy close season on the recruitment front, but he was keen to give the likes of Morris, Luke Williams and Adam Reach some playing time before the season's end to assess their potential.
Bolton forward Chris Eagles, who can play on both flanks, is one of the early contenders to be on Middlesbrough's wish list before next season.
The Manchester United academy graduate is out of contract at the Reebok Stadium and the Teessiders are one of a number of clubs keen.