Who is Matthew Cox? The 18-year-old pushing to be Brentford's number one in David Raya's absence
Matthew Cox holds onto the ball in Wimbledon U18's 1-0 win against Burnley U18 in last season's FA Youth Cup second round. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images. 

After being let go by Chelsea as a 14-year-old, Matthew Cox could never have envisioned, even in his wildest of dreams, the possibility of becoming the fourth youngest goalkeeper to ever play in the Premier League

But as COVID-19 caused havoc in both the Brentford and Manchester United camps, this almost became reality. Thomas Frank had selected Cox to make his professional debut against the 13-time Premier League champions.

Yet as the clock neared midnight, before the 18-year-old could even dream of keeping a clean sheet against the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, the game was postponed.

Now, he must wait longer to make his maiden appearance.

However, with David Raya out until March and Álvaro Fernández's performances being far from convincing at times, Frank could entrust the teenager with the responsibility of being Brentford's number one sooner rather than later. But who is he? 

Having represented England at Under-17, Under-19, and Under-20 level, while catching the eye of a plethora of clubs, all by the age of 18, Cox has already built a solid reputation for himself.

His journey in football had an unorthodox beginning.

Matthew's father was a rugby coach at his school and introduced the sport to him as a child. He was spotted by Chelsea while playing for Cobham Rugby Club and was invited to train with the club as they saw potential in him as a goalkeeper. 

Cox went on to spend six years with the club and played alongside fellow Brentford summer arrival, Myles Peart-HarrisLeeds United's Lewis Bate, Southampton right-back Tino Livramento, and Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Jamal Musiala, to name a few. 

The Blues released Cox in 2017 due to concerns over his lack of growth. He was snapped up by AFC Wimbledon, who saw his potential and slowly worked him through the Under-14s and subsequent age groups before awarding him a professional contract at 17. 

From then onwards he was training with the first-team under the tutelage of goalkeeper coach, Ashley Bayes. Cox has spoken highly of Bayes and the role the former Brentford shot stopper, who made two appearances for the club in 1992, has had on his development. 

Arsenal and England goalkeeper, Aaron Ramsdale, also recently praised the impact of Bayes, stating: "He was a massive part in my journey, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the help of him". 

It's evident that Cox was receiving a good goalkeeping education while in southwest London. 

During his time in Wimbledon's academy, Cox earned a reputation for being a penalty specialist, and even managed to come up with a goal or two. 

Against Northampton Town Under-18s in the 2019/20 EFL Youth Alliance Cup, Cox put in a memorable performance that saw him save a penalty, score a last-minute equaliser with a towering header from a corner, and save two penalties in the subsequent shootout as a 16-year-old. 

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Cox followed this display up later in the competition with a penalty save and clean sheet against Oxford United U18 in the semi-finals before scoring a late winner against Rotherham United U18 in the final, as a clearance from just outside his own box bounced over the opposition goalkeeper. 

https://twitter.com/afcw_edits/status/1328760320358305795?s=20 

His penalty-saving exploits proved to be clutch once again for Wimbledon in May 2021 as he saved two penalties against Cray Valley Paper Mills to send the Dons into the London Senior Cup final - in which they lost 2-1 to Tooting & Mitcham United

He never went on to make a senior appearance for the club, featuring on the bench 18 times throughout the 2020/21 season, but he attracted the attention of Borussia Dortmund, Aston Villa, Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United, while Chelsea were also monitoring his progress. 

Brentford came out on top and convinced the 18-year-old to sign a three-year contract with the option of an additional year in July 2021 for an undisclosed fee. 

He was integrated into the first-team squad immediately during the club's pre-season training camp at St. George's Park but the plan was to have him competing with Ben Winterbottom and Nathan Shepperd for a place in the B-team line-up. 

After a few appearances in Neil MacFarlane's side, Cox's progression to the first-team was fast tracked after Raya damaged his posterior cruciate ligament in a 2-1 defeat to Leicester City in October. Since then he has been the back-up to Fernández. 

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In his first interview with the club, Cox discussed how Brentford's style was best suited to him and his development alongside how he's looked up to the likes of Manuel Neuer, Ederson, and Alisson

Cox possesses outstanding technical qualities for a goalkeeper of his age, which he attributes to also playing as a winger during his school days. 

Watching the 18-year old play, there are shades of Raya to him and he could well be a long-term replacement should the Spaniard decide to leave west London. 

Like the 26-year old, Cox is extremely comfortable on the ball and has the ability to pick out passes all over the pitch, be it a diagonal pass into the chest or feet of the full-back, a line-splitting pass through the middle, a more direct ball to the centre-forward, or a sidewinder into the running path of the winger. 

And all this is alongside his strong shot-stopping ability, reading of play and speed to sweep up behind his defence, and command of the area despite currently being on the shorter side for a goalkeeper.

https://twitter.com/matt_cox01/status/1443561783579615236?s=20  

Had the United game gone ahead, Cox would've joined a small group of goalkeepers consisting of Neil Finn, Richard Wright, Scott Carson, Stephen Bywater, and Ben Alnwick to feature in the Premier League before their 19th birthday. 

It's clear to see that Frank has faith in him as he was willing to let him make his professional debut against one of the biggest clubs in Europe. His quality is evident and if Fernández's performances don't improve, he could make his debut soon and prove to be a capable deputy in Raya's absence. 

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