The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Paddy von Behr

ALEX Gil­bey is on the fast track to the Premier League, ac­cord­ing to Colch­ester man­ager Kevin Keen, and the mid­fielder is ea­ger to prove it when Spurs come to town.

Keen was left wax­ing lyri­cal on Tues­day night af­ter Gil­bey’s dis­play against Fleet­wood Town, de­scrib­ing the 21-year-old as a ‘pre­cious jewel’ who will be play­ing in the top flight in the next three years.

For now he is strug­gling near the foot of League One with the U’s but an FA Cup fourth round tie with Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur on Satur­day will of­fer a glimpse of the promised land.

Spurs star­let Dele Alli made the leap from League One to the top flight and, with Keen’s words ring­ing in his ears, Gil­bey is out to em­u­late the man who could well be his op­po­site num­ber on Satur­day.

“It is prob­a­bly one of the best things any­one has ever said about me but now the hard part is do­ing it,” he said.

“Ev­ery­one’s aim is to play in the Premier League and that is my aim. It’s al­ways in the back of my mind but for him to come out and say that is bril­liant. Now I have got to work even harder than be­fore. Now is the time to show it.

“I would like to go up against Chris­tian Erik­sen be­cause he is bril­liant, then you have got guys like Eric Dier. If you want to be the best, you have got to play the best.

“I played against Alli a cou­ple of times and even then you could tell he was a top player. He de­served his move and he has jus­ti­fied the move. He has bossed it and he is scor­ing goals for Eng­land.

“He has shown that it can be done. Some­times it can take one good game and if you look at play­ers like Dele, then you re­alise what is pos­si­ble.”

The se­cret to Gil­bey’s up­turn in form, ac­cord­ing to the man him­self, is Keen, who has al­lowed the mid­field man some ex­tra free­dom since tak­ing the reins at the U’s shortly be­fore Christ­mas.

“The few pre­vi­ous man­agers I played un­der wanted me to be more of a de­fen­sive mid­fielder but my game is be­ing around the box and get­ting for­ward,” he con­tin­ued.

“That’s how I orig­i­nally got into the first team but I had come away from that a bit. I’m ath­letic so I know I will be able to get up and down the pitch, then I can fin­ish and I can slide balls through.

“He has come into a club low on con­fi­dence and strug­gling and he has turned it into a proper foot­ball club. He has got ev­ery­one in or­der and ev­ery­one is on the same page now.

“Ev­ery­one around the build­ing is con­fi­dent. At one point we weren’t but since the gaffer has come in, things have changed.”

Gil­bey’s im­me­di­ate con­cerns sur­round haul­ing Colch­ester out of the bot­tom four, but the for­mer U’s youth team skip­per recog­nises there may be cause to move on one day.

That is also true for Ge­orge Mon­cur, his mid­field part­ner at­tract­ing in­ter­est from a hand­ful of Cham­pi­onship clubs, and Gil­bey is not averse to let­ting his part­nerin-crime move on.

“I have been at the club since I was 13 and I would be dev­as­tated to leave the fans,” he added.

“Colch­ester will al­ways have a place in my heart but foot­ball is a ca­reer. It will be hard but I need to do it when the time comes.

“Mon­cur is a top player. He came in from West Ham last sea­son and we have formed a good part­ner­ship this sea­son. Hope­fully we can hold onto him but I would try and give him the best ad­vice pos­si­ble.

“You can never hold some­one back to save us so, if the op­por­tu­nity was right, I would be the first per­son to tell him to bet­ter his ca­reer and he would do the same for me.”

PREMIER CLASS? Alex Gil­bey, left, is tipped for big things

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