Belfast Telegraph

Jamal Lewis is on a mission to hit heights with both NI and Norwich

 

Vantage point: NI ace Jamal Lewis relaxes in Tallinn
Vantage point: NI ace Jamal Lewis relaxes in Tallinn

By Paul Ferguson

Northern Ireland's Premier League new boy Jamal Lewis hopes to hit the jackpot with club and country over the next six days.

Ahead of tonight's Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia in Tallinn, the flying full-back is quietly confident the men in green can return from their end-of-season trip to eastern Europe, where they also clash with Belarus on Tuesday night, with a maximum of six points.

Then, when the 21-year-old flies home to Norwich on Wednesday afternoon, he will find out 24 hours later who the Canaries face in their first Premier League game of the season - and would love a crack at Manchester United in their Theatre of Dreams at Old Trafford.

"You would like a big team on the first day just to get a bit of publicity and a good little performance - probably Man United at Old Trafford," stated Luton-born Lewis, who made 46 appearances for Norwich last season.

"I would like that, that would be really nice, but any fixture is going to be a big one because there are a lot of people in the team, it will be their first time playing in the Premier League. I think it's going to be a really good season next year."

Lewis, with his marauding runs down the left flank, was instrumental to Norwich's promotion charge as they finished top of the Championship and secured the title by beating Aston Villa on the final day of the season.

His performances earned him two major accolades - voted into the EFL Championship Team of the Year and the PFA Championship Team of the Year.

"I was really proud of those two achievements," admitted Lewis. "That was something I kind of aimed for at the start of the season, I looked at who was in the league and thought if I had a good season, that I could definitely get up there. As each game went past that probably became a bit more realistic. Both were voted by other people so it's good to know that I'm thought highly of by my fellow footballers, pundits and managers. Now the aim is to have a good season with Norwich and try to get into the Premier League team."

While his attacking style is a major attribute, he knows that, especially in the Premier League, he will have to be a defender first and foremost.

As someone who continues to challenge himself on a daily basis in terms of progression, Lewis is excited rather than daunted at the prospect of going up against the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Raheem Sterling and Lucas Moura in the Premier League.

Lewis, despite his tender years, is always considered when he talks, and he said: "With the winger position I think there's quite a big gulf between the Championship and the Premier League in that position, definitely a jump in quality. I pride myself on trying to be a good defender first so I will be truly tested and we'll see if I actually am.

"The manager (Daniel Farke) will want us to still play our style of football. He might make some adjustments, he might not. I don't know. Hopefully I'll still play that kind of attacking football in some games.

"There'll be some teams where we have to balance it off a bit as some teams will dominate possession more than us. It's all about adapting. I'm looking forward to playing different teams, different styles and coming up with different solutions to problems."

Lewis' mature displays on the club and international front have not gone unnoticed by top Premier League teams and it is understood he could be the subject of bids to try and prize him away from Carrow Road.

But Lewis, who has signed a long-term deal with the Canaries, is adamant he is content in east Anglia. "I've got four years left at Norwich so I'm happy there, I'm looking forward to playing four more years," confirmed Lewis.

Lewis is obviously extremely excited about playing in what many argue to be the greatest league in the world, but before that he has two vitally important matches to play for Northern Ireland as Michael O'Neill's men look to stamp their authority on Group C.

Northern Ireland easily despatched Estonia at Windsor Park in March, however Lewis is anticipating the men in green will face a different beast in Tallinn tonight.

Lewis, who will win his ninth cap tonight, admitted: "I think you have to expect a tougher contest. We've got an idea of how they'll play and the players they have.

"But the fact we have to deal with the heat, they're in their domestic season, we're not, so we've got to expect a much tougher game."

With Germany and Holland to come in the autumn, qualification for their second successive Euro finals will take a monumental effort and that is why six points from these two games is the desired target. Having only come into the international squad in the last 18 months, Lewis watched Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 adventure on television but it was enough to whet his appetite.

"I kind of separate my targets so I've got targets with Northern Ireland and targets with Norwich," added Lewis.

"I'd love to get to a Euros or a World Cup with Northern Ireland - that would be just so good."

With Norwich's promotion achieved last month, Lewis has a major tick on his bucket list and after tonight's match, he'll know how Northern Ireland are placed for a serious assault on qualifying from Group C.

Then he can go back to dreaming about making his Premier League debut at Old Trafford.

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