Playing for one’s country, whether at schoolboy level, under 21s or full international level, is easily categorised as the epitome of one’s career. In football, an international career can span the course of a decade, if lucky, or a single game.
International football differs from club football immensely. With far fewer games compared to league play, the chances to impress are few and far between. Nonetheless, when the opportunity arises, the chance must be taken.
Unless a player is of exceptional talent, the international stage is often regarded as a platform for experienced heads. Younger players are generally expected to ply their trades in the under 21s and bide their time for the call-up to the first team. For some, that call never comes.
Age is just a number, they say, and there is never a cut-off age for playing for one’s country. But you can be forgiven for thinking your time will never come when you reach the age of 30. In such a case, all you can do is work hard for your club team and hope your effort does not go unnoticed.
Such was the case for the recent England call-ups. Bolton striker Kevin Davies was given his first England call-up and potentially first cap. Whether he has “earned” the call-up is another matter entirely, but at the age of 33 he has seven years of Premier League service to Bolton under his belt.
Becoming an England regular, you feel, may depend upon certain uncontrollable circumstances such as injuries or suspensions. Nevertheless, a resolute display could go a long way in making England fans and previous managers wonder "what if...”
Good things come to those who wait, we’re told, and every manager that Davies has worked with has surely mentioned that to him on numerous occasions in regards to an England call-up. Finally, under the stewardship of Owen Coyle, Davies’ chance has come—should he enter the field of play he must grasp it with both hands.
Given the caliber and style of player he is, you might feel he may be grasping his opponents with both hands rather than scoring. That remains the common drawback of Kevin Davies playing for England, his physicality.
He is able to get away with such actions on the field on a weekly basis in the Premier League due to the physical nature of the matches and leniency of the referees in England. In contrast, the referees on the international stage are undoubtedly more strict, and in turn, Davies will have to adapt his style of play accordingly.
However, even when an opportunity beckons, stepping up to the international mark can prove difficult for some, and the expectation of having played for the country takes its toll. Players can soon be cast into the shadows. Take Michael Ricketts for example, who coincidentally played for Bolton also.
Taking into consideration his lack of goal prowess and his ability to hold up play, you can be forgiven for comparing him to recently retired former England striker, Emile Heskey. Heskey was on the England side for a considerable time due to his link up play. If Davies can fill the void left by Heskey and score a goal—which his predecessor failed to do on a regular basis—he could provide a different tactic for Fabio Capello to employ.
On the international scene, where goals can be few and far between, it's the goal scorers that take the plaudits rather than those who partake in the “dirty work.” But if there's one thing that England fans want more than anything, it is a player who is willing to give all he can to play for the three lions on his chest.
If asked which strikers in the league they do not enjoy playing against, Premier League defenders would definitely place Kevin Davies high on the list due to his physical style and never-say-die attitude. If he can maintain his attitude whilst calming his style to an extent, then there's no doubt the players around him will benefit and reap the rewards.
Unfortunately for Davies, it's a case of now-or-never, as time is not on his side. Davies has everything needed to play for one's country: passion, endeavour and work ethic. But it's up to him to seize this opportunity which has been bestowed on him so late in his career.