A Long Time Coming

by Neil Sherwin

It has taken over a decade for Bolton Wanderers striker Kevin Davies to make the step up from under 21 to senior level internationally but the 33 year old  may finally get his hands on an elusive full cap having been selected in Fabio Capello’s England squad for the game against Montenegro.

There were more than a few eyebrows raised at the striker’s inclusion given his age but there have been many who have been calling for him to be given a chance given the current list of strikers at Capello’s disposal.

With Jermaine Defoe, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Bobby Zamora either injured or recovering from injury and Emile Heskey retired from international football, Davies has made the 23. Whether he actually plays or not is a different story but just to be recognised will please a player who had all but given up any hope of representing his country as recently as August.

“I was in the expanded squad a couple of times but even when a few players pulled out and I thought I had a chance, someone else got called up,” he said.

“It’s a really proud moment for me and my family. Now I’ve just got to go along and try and enjoy the experience of being involved with the England team and if I get the chance to play then I will do my best to impress.

“I’m sure there will be a few nerves over the next few days and it hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and I’m going to give it my best shot.”

Having started his professional career in the old Division 3 (now League 2) with Chesterfield, he rose to fame in the 1996/97 season as a key figure in the side that came within a whisker of reaching the FA Cup final. Middlesbrough, fielding the likes of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravenelli, needed a replay to overcome their dogged opponents following an initial 3-3 draw in which Chesterfield were robbed of a legitimate goal when a Jonathan Howard effort clearly crossed the line but wasn’t given.

It was inevitable that the then 20 year old Davies would end up at a higher level and it wasn’t long before a Premier League club, in the form of Southampton, came calling. In the 1997/98 season he helped himself to an impressive nine goals in 25 games to attract the attention of Roy Hodgson’s Blackburn Rovers. He moved to Ewood Park in the summer of 1998 for a fee of 7.5 million. Currently, Davies is one of eight English players to have (in a single transfer) cost over £7 million and never earned a full cap at senior level. The others on the list are Nigel Reo-Coker, Anton Ferdinand, Curtis Davies, Carl Cort, Dean Richards and Chris Smalling.

Davies lasted just one season with Rovers who were relegated just four years after winning the league title and he was sold back to Southampton having scored just once. There were high hopes of a return to form with the Saints but it never materialised and Davies found himself released by the club in 2003 aged just 26.

A move to Bolton Wanderers however salvaged what looked like a flailing career. Davies’ first season under Sam Allardyce saw him start every game, score ten league goals, and finish up as the club’s Player of the Year. He has been quite productive at the Reebok Stadium, with his best season so far coming in 2007/08 when he scored 12 goals in 38 games. In January 2009 he took over as club captain following the sale of Kevin Nolan and has said that he would like to stay at Bolton for the remainder of his career.

While he is undoubtedly a very good player, Davies is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. He plays the game quite physically and as a result he committed more fouls than any other Premier League player in the 2004–05, 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. Indeed, in both the 2003–04 and 2007–08 seasons he finished second in the same category. Despite this he has only picked up one red card in his time at Bolton.

There is also the question over the merits of his selection ahead of a youngster like Andy Carroll with Davies unlikely to be around for the next World Cup in 2014 when he will be 37. However Carroll has been going through a poor run of form and was relegated to the Newcastle United bench for the game against Manchester City  on Sunday.

Interestingly, Davies created more goalscoring opportunites (81) than any other striker in the Premiership last season so he is certainly capable of adding something to the England fold. More often than not he operates as the lone striker and has perfected the art of holding the ball up and bringing his teammates into the game. Despite only standing at an even 6ft, Davies is excellent in the air and a key component in what has been described in the past as ’anti-football’. However Davies, and Bolton as a playing group, are a lot more than that and it is all to easy to dismiss what is quite an exciting side with the likes of Martin Petrov and Lee Chung-Yong in a first team that has lost just once in the league so far this season.

Kevin Davies may not be the most fashionable name in the modern game but his call up shows how hard work and perseverance can pay off in the long run, and no one could begrudge that.

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