Nathan Wood to Hibs: Scouted by Spurs and Arsenal, valued at £9m, and frighteningly quick - all you need to know
After spells as a kid with local sides TIBS and Stocktown Town, Wood joined Boro’s academy at Under-13 level. He became the north-east club’s youngest-ever player when he made his senior debut in a Carabao Cup win against Notts County in August 2018 at the age of 16 years and 75 days.
Wood signed professional terms with Middlesbrough in the summer of 2019, signing a three-year deal and making his league debut in a 1-1 draw against Birmingham City the following January.
His first league start came against Nottingham Forest at the Riverside in October last year in which Wood kept a clean sheet as Boro won 1-0. He was less lucky in further Championship appearances, being part of a team to lose 1-0 to Rotherham United and 3-0 to Blackburn Rovers.
Wood moved to Crewe Alexandra on loan in January 2021, playing 12 times for the League One outfit and helping them to four shut-outs.
Although a groin injury limited his game time at Gresty Road he impressed during his temporary spell in Cheshire.
Style of play
Wood is ostensibly a right-sided centre-half, playing more than 60 matches at all levels in that position, but he has on occasion been deployed as a defensive midfielder and once on the right of midfield.
His blistering pace – Wood has been described by former coach Jonathan Woodgate as “lightning quick” – is one of his strengths, once running the 100m in 13.07 seconds as a 13-year-old.
He is composed on the ball but freely admits that there are times when launching it up the park is a better option than attempting to play it on the ground in his own box, marking him out as an ideal centre-half and at 6ft 2in he will add a bit more height to the Hibs defence.
The teen is comfortable on the ball and uses it well and given his height is an obvious threat at attacking set-pieces and benefit at defending them.
Wood believes his composure comes naturally while he attributes his physicality to his time spent in athletics as a kid.
Although he has more often than not operated as the right centre-back in a back four, he does have experience of playing in a back three and a back five – the sort of adaptability that Jack Ross appreciates – and is comfortable playing as a left-sided central defender as well.
Coaches have also identified leadership qualities in him, despite his relative youth, and he earned praise from Crewe manager David Artell for a rousing post-match dressing room speech he gave after only his second start for the Railwaymen.
Wood was capped by England at Under-15 and Under-16 level before helping the Under-17s to the European Championship finals in 2019.
He made ten appearances in total for the 17s, captaining them on occasion, before making the step up to the 18s and winning a further nine caps including skippering the side to a 5-2 win against Russia.
Wood is also expected to be involved for England Under-20s when they play Romania in a friendly at St George’s Park on September 6.
Wood has already attracted the attention of several English Premier League clubs with Arsenal, Burnley, Everton, and Tottenham all liked with the centre-back in the last 18 months.
The Clarets were prepared to shell out £9 million to secure his services on a permanent deal in September 2019 – an indication of how highly Wood is regarded by English top-flight clubs.
What have his coaches said?
Neil Warnock, Boro boss, on Wood’s full league debut: “Let’s not get carried away, but it’s a good start. I can’t fault anything he did. He just played his own game.
"That’s what I told him – ‘be normal, play your normal game and don’t take any chances’.
“We gave him a round of applause in the dressing room afterwards. He deserved it, he did really well. He made one great block when it looked as though the lad was going to pull the trigger. I thought his all-round performance was great.”
David Artell, Crewe Alexandra: "He is committed, athletic and has picked things up really quickly. He has a really bright future in the game.”
Jonathan Woodgate, Boro first-team coach, speaking in 2018: “He has the right mentality. I am sure he will keep his feet on the floor and his head out of the clouds.
"We have to keep pushing him. He is lightning quick, so has that pace; if he can keep improving aerially, and reading the game, and if we keep pushing him then he will develop.”
Keeping it in the family
Wood’s father is former footballer Dean Gordon, who played more than 200 games for Crystal Palace in the Nineties before moving to Middlesbrough in 1998. He had brief spells with Cardiff, Coventry, and Reading and actually spent time on trial with Hibs in the summer of 2004 before eventually joining Grimsby Town.
Gordon was a left-back rather than a centre-half but the footballing apple clearly doesn't fall far from the tree.
While not yet the finished article, Wood will add presence to the Hibs defence and, crucially, another body. He will be training alongside an experienced veteran in Darren McGregor, internationalists in Paul Hanlon and Ryan Porteous, and guided by a highly-respected coach in Jack Ross.
It would be folly to expect Wood to make an instant impact at Hibs but the 19-year-old has clearly been earmarked by the recruitment staff and the coaching staff at Easter Road as having what it takes to improve the squad.