No hesitation in handing Ilunga his first league start for MK Dons
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It feels like Brooklyn Ilunga has been a part of the furniture at MK Dons for several years now, but his first league start was a long time in the making.
A late fitness call on full-back Cameron Norman meant Dons had to scramble somewhat to make a change to their side after the teams had been submitted, but for head coach Graham Alexander, picking the teenager as a replacement was a no-brainer.
Ilunga first emerged for Dons in 2021, coming off the bench with 21 minutes to go in the season finale against Rochdale at Stadium MK. Having flirted with the first team since, Ilunga had racked up 15 appearances for the club since, but never had he appeared in the starting line-up for a league game.
“I had no hesitation putting him in the team as soon as we heard of Cam's illness,” said Alexander. “He played so well against Oxford in the EFL Trophy, and I just asked him to repeat that performance.
“I don't think he looked overawed, he looked ready. Mentally and physically, he looks in a good place.”
Captain Alex Gilbey added: “From what I've seen in Brooklyn is unbelievable. Since I came back, he caught my eye straight away. The way he trains, the way he is around the lads, you sometimes forget he's a young lad.
“He's got a really good career ahead of him if he keeps working hard and letting his talent shine through.”
Promising signs from the youth
While Ilunga’s first league start was a long-time coming, it is the latest in the line of achievements for the next crop of Dons youngsters.
Last week, Phoenix Scholtz signed his first professional contract having made a string of early season outings, while Callum Tripp also put pen on his first pro papers last month.
“I've been really impressed with Brook and a couple of other young individuals that have made their debuts,” Alexander continued. “The work has been put into these youngsters before I got here, but they have all impressed me in my short time here.
“The pro contracts and debuts are starting points, but they have to understand what has to come next to maintain and improve. The competition will get tougher each year, there will be the next youngster coming through to put them under pressure, they'll have to dislodge a senior player ahead of them, but that's the competitive level in professional football.
“They've been brought up really well at this club, and they're ready to start their careers.
“I made my debut at 17, and then my league debut at 19, but if someone hadn't have put faith in me, saw the potential in me then I wouldn't have got my career up and running. The responsibility on me now is to do that with other players.
“But it's not a sweet shop where we just it hand out, you have to earn it. Those boys can be proud of the fact they've earned everything so far.”