It was only the width of a crossbar that prevented Andros Townsend from having the perfect international fortnight.
Given a first call-up to the senior England squad, making a first appearance for the national team, scoring a screamer of a debut goal in a man-of-the-match performance and thundering a shot against the woodwork in his second cap.
Such has been the progress of the Spurs winger that Andre Villas-Boas will have a real challenge coming up with a reason to drop him in favour of one of his big-money summer signings. The 22 year-old has filled in commendably for Aaron Lennon whilst the fleet-footed winger has been out with injury, and the contrast in international performance between the two couldn’t have been starker.
Lennon seemed to shrink in the heat of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, losing all of the confidence and direct running that made him such a dangerous presence on the right of the Tottenham midfield.
His England career has since followed a downward curve – Lennon hasn’t started a competitive match for his country since that dour 0-0 with Algeria in Cape Town, and has only played in one game of consequence in that time, coming on as a sub in England’s 5-0 home win against San Marino.
The man who has filled his shoes for club and country is playing with a fearlessness unrecognisable in someone wearing the Three Lions. Fabio Capello verbalised the issue of the ‘weight’ of the England shirt, but its burden has been apparent for decades. Premier League monoliths have been reduced to rubble under the pressure, unable to heft the expectations of a nation all too often associated with ridiculous over-expectation.
Some of the fresher faces in the England set-up do not appear to be so burdened. Townsend is joined by Ross Barkley, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck in being untarnished by the debacle of the previous World Cup, nor weighted down by the infamous ‘Golden Generation’ tag.
All have emerged as first choice selections for their clubs in the last four years, and all have shown resilience to make it to where they are today. Is there a difference in the mentality of the next crop of players and, if so, to where can it be attributed?
Greg Dyke would have you believe that young English talent will never flourish in the Premier League. He denigrates the system by which young players in top flight squads are sent to all corners and all standards of English football on loan, rather than given their chance to shine on the largest stage.
For those currently breaking through into the national side, though, this would not appear to be the case. All of Townsend, Barkley, Sturridge, Wilshere and Welbeck have been sent out on loan, with all but Barkley enjoying their ‘breakout’ season whilst away from their parent club.
Wilshere and Sturridge shone at Bolton, Welbeck enjoyed almost an entire season of first team football at Sunderland and Townsend quickly became a fan favourite for QPR in the second half of last season.
Of all of them, Townsend has had to remain the most patient. A Tottenham fan from birth, he has been sent on loan by his parent club no less than nine times. From Yeovil to Leeds and seemingly everywhere in between, it has been no cakewalk into the first team.
But he endured. He worked. At each of his loan clubs, he toiled, focused and improved. Every time Tottenham told him he was being sent away again, it must have felt like another blow to his chances of ever returning to find a place in the first team.
It appears that Townsend is not one to give up. His first Premier League loan was to Loftus Road last campaign, and he made enough of an impression for Villas-Boas to hold onto him at Spurs for the start of this season. How glad he must be that he did.
It might seem like Andros Townsend has ‘burst onto the scene’ from nowhere to some fans, but this has been a long time coming for the man from Chigwell. Not only is his success testament to his strength of character, but also another tick mark in the list of players who have ultimately benefitted from going on loan.
True, the loan system is far from perfect. It can be exploited. But it is infinitely preferable to the notion of feeder clubs or Premier League ‘B’ teams colonising the lower leagues with not a care for the history and stature of the clubs they are replacing.
Not only that, but it could be argued that it develops toughness and belief. Every player who has gone on loan must feel an element of desire to prove their worth to their parent club. Not only that, but playing competitively in front of thousands for sides battling in the lower leagues surely develops mental strength better than turning out for the reserves.
As mentioned in a previous article, the best players will find their way to the top, regardless of the quantity of foreign imports into the English game. If you are good enough to become international standard, someone will give you a chance. It might take longer than you would like, but overnight success is the preserve of comic books and lottery winners.
Andros Townsend is reaping the rewards of a career founded in the lower leagues – the only difference to those who worked their way up in years gone by is that he has been on Tottenham’s books the whole time.
The modern game has a lot to answer for, but to blame the current system for stifling English talent is to overlook the players who have flourished under its format.
After all, there are 10 different sets of supporters who can feel a glow of contribution watching Townsend’s goal whistle in on his debut.