MICK HARFORD was so impressed with an 18-year-old James Justin that he thought Luton had his hands on a future Gary Neville.
The former Hatters boss – who is now the club’s recruitment chief – is delighted that Gareth Southgate is calling the Leicester star to England.
Harford, 63, attended every Luton U18 game in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals in 2016 and was smitten by local hero Justin.
He said: “James had been at our club since he was seven or eight years old and was one of the youngest kids at our academy.
“When I returned to the club with Nathan Jones as manager I watched him a lot.
“He has played at right-back but is versatile because he can also play in central midfield and at left-back.
“I will never forget the Blackburn game which unfortunately Luton lost in the quarter-finals because he deserved to win.
“James reminded me of Gary Neville and I thought ‘This boy has a bright future’ and now he’s got his call-up for England.
“It was a big thing to say, but there was something about him.
“He was very reassuring – the way he played the ball into midfield, the weight of the pass. He just caught my eye.
“I’m so happy for him and his lovely family who raised him right.”
Harford first met Justin when he was 11, driving through Luton in an open-top bus parade in 2009 to celebrate the club’s EFL Trophy triumph.
The youngster and his youth teammates were invited by Harford as a reward for winning the tournament.
Justin, 24, said: “We had won a youth tournament in Switzerland where we beat Bayern Munich in the final. At Wembley we were invited to walk around the pitch at half-time.
“It was incredible because there were 30,000 Luton fans there.”
The joy was short-lived as the club were relegated to the non-league shortly afterwards due to a whopping 30-point deduction.
And they lost their status as a professional academy and their funding because they dropped out of the EFL and lost a lot of their young talent.
But the club kept the academy going and Justin decided to stay.
Luton won promotion back to the EFL in 2014 and Justin made his first-team debut with Boss Jones in the Second Division in a 4-1 win over Exeter in May 2016.
Justin said: “I was a sophomore and had started training with the first team and Nathan gave me and a bunch of guys our debut off the bench.
“At the beginning of the following season I got my first league cup appearance against Aston Villa, live on TV. We won that, it was an unbelievable feeling.”
After promotion to League One, Jones went to Stoke and Harford took over and won promotion to the Championship.
‘NOT FAZES JJ’
Harford recalled, “He’s an incredible athlete. He can walk up and down, 90 minutes, no problem.
“He was humble, low maintenance and JJ was the first name on the team sheet.”
Justin left the Hatters in June 2019 and joined Leicester in an £8million deal.
Harford has been impressed with his development and how he has bounced back after a year with a serious knee injury.
He added: “He had to wait his turn. But he has his name on the squad list and has brought the Premier League at his expense.
“Nothing can upset JJ. Had it not been for the injury, he would have been called up to England much sooner.
“But now he has it and everyone in Luton Town is incredibly proud of him and his family.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5413457/james-justin-gary-neville-england-harford/ James Justin reminded me of Gary Neville as a kid… now he’s following in his English footsteps, says Mick Harford