Bothroyd for England?
England’s past and, arguably, their future can both be found in the second tier in the shape of Bristol City’s David James and Ipswich Town’s prodigious striker Connor Wickham. But should Fabio Capello also look to the Championship for the present? Adam Bate of the rather magnificent Ghost Goal has a name to put forward.
“When you’re looking around for a centre-forward for England … He is certainly worth a look at. If you’re looking for someone who, around the box, has a great touch, great pace and can go past people then it might just be the boost the big man needs.”
These are the words of Dave Jones, Cardiff manager and upstanding Englishman, on the international prospects of his forward Jay Bothroyd.
There is unlikely to be a Bothroyd bandwagon starting any time soon. His club’s fans are Welsh for starters. But there’s a bigger problem facing the striker. You see, he plays his football in the Championship. Cue shudders of disgust, men eyeing him suspiciously, a woman averting her child’s eyes from his shadowy form and the elderly crossing the street rather than bid good day. Yes, when it comes to credibility street, it’s an unfortunate affliction being a Championship footballer.
The chasm between the haves and the have-nots is standard football writing fare. The gulf, we are assured, is huge. These truths are drilled in to us at an early age. Many a doe-eyed youngster plonked in front of a television screen must have looked into their father’s eyes and heard the solemn words – “you can’t get away with that at this level”.
And yet, whilst true on a club by club basis, the inflexibility this implies of individual players does not stand up to close scrutiny. Of England’s 2010 World Cup squad the vast majority had at one time or another played the professional game below Premiership level.
Indeed, 16 of England’s 23 man squad have played lower league football. John Terry showed his bravery at Huddersfield. Ashley Cole flaunted his cash at Crystal Palace. And Frank Lampard did, well, whatever it is that Frank Lampard would do in Swansea.
You may point out that this was just part of the growth process of a footballer. The three men above were only there on loan. Their key development occurred elsewhere within the bosom of the biggest clubs in the land.
Maybe so, but what if it had not been so? It is said that Ashley Cole nearly moved to Palace permanently, while Steve Bruce claims that he had a bid accepted for John Terry when Huddersfield manager. It was Terry himself that refused to accept the deal.
In contrast, Jay Bothroyd was not thrown out the door at Arsenal for purely footballing reasons. In fact, it was he who threw his shirt at his coach, Don Howe, in a fit of pique. Liam Brady was even prompted to comment that “although Jay Bothroyd is a highly promising young talent, we will not tolerate this behaviour.”
It is not so easy, therefore, to pigeon-hole players. Would John Terry have risen through the ranks from Huddersfield? Possibly so. It is also possible that he would have found it a long and arduous process to rise back to the level that matched his abilities.
Of course, it may be too late for Bothroyd. It could be that a decade spent travelling along a different path has produced an unbridgeable gap between the achievable and the achieved.
However, there remain examples within the England set-up that suggest Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka were England’s centre-backs for the European Championship qualifier in Switzerland. But when they were approaching their 24th birthdays, both players were playing in the second tier of English football. Are we to assume it was a late blossoming that saw these men kick on after spending their early twenties outside the Premiership? It could certainly be argued to the contrary…
Lescott and Jagielka won the 2006 player of the year awards for their Championship clubs, Wolves and Sheffield United respectively. The following year, now both in the Premiership, they were again earning plaudits. Lescott adjusted seamlessly to win Everton’s players’ player of the year before following up with both fans’ and players’ awards in 2008. Jagielka, meanwhile, was Sheffield United’s player of the year for the third year in succession in 2007, before also moving on to Everton where he has
Maybe they did improve in line with the increasing challenges placed in front of them. Or maybe there is a truth that dare not speak – maybe they were always good enough but the opportunity did not present itself until their mid-twenties. Perhaps there are others of their ilk, lurking outside the realms of the Premiership…
Perhaps the time has come for Jay Bothroyd to finally prove his point.