JAAP Stam likened Liam Kelly to Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta following the Reading FC midfielder’s first senior international call-up.
The 21-year-old was named in Martin O’Neill’s 39-man provisional Republic of Ireland squad on Tuesday along with Royals skipper Paul McShane.
Kelly’s inclusion in the senior squad continues the remarkable rise of the Royals Academy graduate who only 12 months ago was playing for non-league Bath City on loan.
But after forcing his way into Jaap Stam’s first team he has made 26 appearances this season, scoring once.
Kelly has represented Republic of Ireland at Under-19 and Under-21 level in the past, but had not been involved with the senior side until now.
Stam said: “He’s worked very hard this season and when he came into the first team he really took his chance.
“He was really impressive and I know a lot of people question his size and physique and wonder if he is strong enough for the Championship.
“But if you play a certain way he can play in any team where he’d probably be one of the better players because of his ability. He’s not the biggest but he uses his body very well even against bigger players.
“Look at Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté. He’s also one metre 50 centimetres but he’s performs so well.
“I can understand why Ireland called Kelly and hopefully he will get an opportunity because I think he’s someone who can make a difference in a team.”
Barcelona and Spain legend, Andries Iniesta.
While it may seem far-fetched, Stam also suggested there are shades of Spain and Barcelona star Iniesta about Kelly.
“He has certain qualities Iniesta also has. Of course, Iniesta has the experience and everything else, but if you look at the things Liam can do he certainly comes close to him.
“It’s not about Liam being at Iniesta’s level, but with Barcelona’s players around him he might also do well.
“He can pass, move, go past people and defensively he’s aggressive. These are qualities that nowadays big teams like to have.”
Kelly, who recently signed a new contract with Reading until 2019, tweeted: “Over the moon to receive my first call-up. Thanks everyone for the messages so far”.
Over the moon to receive my first call up 🍀 thanks everyone for the messages so far ! https://t.co/mPlsmosZLs— Liam Kelly (@L_Kelly95) March 13, 2017
However, Kelly is among Stam's injured players after he picked up a hamstring injury in last weekend's 3-0 defeat at Preston which could rule him out of tomorrow night's play-off six-pointer at Sheffield Wednesday (7.45pm ko), and also scupper his chances of linking up with O'Neill's Ireland squad.
Reading's Jordon Mutch, Stephen Quinn, Deniss Rakels, Callum Harriott, Sandro Wieser and Danzell Gravenberch are also unavailable as they continue their journey back to full fitness.
But in a boost for Royals, first-choice centre backs Liam Moore and skipper Paul McShane appear to have shaken off knocks and could start in the clash at Hillsborough.
Meanwhile, ex-Reading stars Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Alex Pearce and Jonny Hayes have also received an Ireland call-up ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Wales in Dublin next Friday before a friendly against Iceland.
Royals full-back Chris Gunter is almost certain to make the Wales squad when it is announced later today, while Rakels has been named in the Latvia squad ahead of their upcoming clashes against Switzerland and Georgia, though injury could prevent him from playing.