It has been a week that Stoke centre back Ryan Shawcross will never forget. On Saturday, the 22 year-old received his first ever red card after his mistimed tackle badly broke Arsenal’s teenage midfielder’s Aaron Ramsey’s leg. No footballer, perhaps Roy Keane aside, would ever want to think that they had caused another an injury, so that is sure to go down as the lowest point in his career to date. On Wednesday, however, he was part of the England squad that faced up against Egypt at Wembley after receiving his first international call-up just hours after the end of Saturday’s game.
Most Stoke fans are delighted that after almost two full seasons of outstanding Premier League performances, Shawcross is finally getting some recognition from England manager Fabio Capello and they would love to see him taken to this summer’s World Cup in South Africa, but I’m not so sure. There’s no question in my mind that Shawcross is the most gifted player in the current Stoke squad. He has everything it takes to be an absolutely first rate defender. He’s a great header of the ball, both defensively and when attacking set pieces, usually a very good tackler and has very sound positional sense as well as a decent turn of pace for a 6’5” defender and has excelled himself in his first two seasons playing in the Premier League, a standard of football that is about as high as it gets at club level.
However, at 22, he still has a long time in which to further improve. Defenders usually peak at around the age of 30, so there’s many more years in which he can hone his skills and develop the maturity that he will need if he is to become a regular in the England team. He was clearly very distressed to have broken Ramsey’s leg on Saturday, he left the pitch in tears and had to be driven home by his parents as he was too shaken to do so himself. It’s touching to see that Shawcross was so upset by the horrible incident, and it’s understandable for a young man like him to seek reassurance from his parents at such a time. I just wonder how he’d cope in the pressure cooker situation of a key World Cup match though and to me I think he’d benefit from having four more years to mature and develop before we find out.
When he attempted to tackle Ramsey on Saturday, he was inside the Arsenal half after being sucked out of the centre of the Stoke defence in pursuit. Really, he shouldn’t have been dragged out of position so far and would have been much better off sticking back and letting his midfielder teammates take care of Ramsey in the middle of the pitch. Though they’re rare, he still makes the occasional such error of judgment, and if such a thing happened and proved costly on the biggest stage of all at the World Cup, I worry about the damage it could do for his career. Today, former England winger Chris Waddle criticised England’s Theo Walcott, who was taken to the last World Cup as a seventeen year-old but has failed to consistently live up to his early promise since. I think it’s fair to say that being thrown in at the international deep end so young did him more harm than good. Perhaps if he’d been allowed to focus on his burgeoning club career back in 2006, gradually eased into the England set-up over that time and then selected for this year’s World Cup he’s have been full of confidence and performed far better. Time is on Shawcross’s side so there’s no reason for him to be selected to represent his country at a major tournament until he is absolutely ready.
As with every young footballer who impresses, Shawcross has also already been linked with a move to a number of top clubs, including Manchester United, where he started his career, Liverpool and moneybags Manchester City. If he went to the World Cup and enhanced his reputation even further, all the biggest clubs would surely come sniffing with renewed vigour and it would prove very difficult for Stoke to keep hold of him. From a purely selfish Stoke fan’s point of view therefore, I’d prefer he keep a low profile for now and continue to perform for the Potters for as long as possible.
I’m sure that we won’t have long to wait to see Shawcross excelling in an England shirt at a World Cup, but I’d have no qualms at all if it’s four years rather than just under four months before that happens.