Matthew Upson faces the very real prospect of lining up for England in their first game at this summer’s World Cup against USA on June 12h and throughout his career, his has been a lesson in patience and it seems he’s now finally reaping the dividends.
Upson, for once, is now the beneficiary of circumstance, with fit English centre halves dropping like flies around him. Had King and Woodgate not been perennially sidelined, Carragher retired from international football and Ferdinand not had several injury problems of his own the last year or so, it’s doubtful whether Upson would have even been considered to be on the plane at the World Cup at all, but at present he remains first choice understudy and with Ferdinand’s back problem persisting he could end up first choice going into the World Cup.
Once of Arsenal, they paid £2m for 18 year old from Luton after he’d made only one appearance for the Hatters. But at Highbury he found himself behind several defensive stalwarts such as Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown – quite the predicament for any young centre half attempting to establish themself.
Spells out on loan at Nottingham Forrest, Crystal Palace and Reading followed before returning to Wenger’s now hugely different outfit. Out had gone Anelka, Overmars and Adams and in came Henry, Pires and Campbell – but this time Upson struggled to get past the hugely successful partnership of Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell. It seems a story of Upson’s career that he’s often been considered solid and able, but there always appears to be someone better blocking his path to the first team.
Injuries too have played their part and during his career he’s suffered a broken leg, a damaged anterior cruciate ligament and numerous niggles that have disrupted his development. A largely successful spell at Birmingham followed where Upson plied his trade at both Premiership and Championship level for them and after over 100 appearances in four seasons (one of which he missed with a serious knee injury) and after achieving seven appearances in an England shirt whilst at Brum, he began to attract wider attention. Arsene Wenger has often remarked that losing Upson was one of his biggest regrets in football and after seeing him go on to play for his country regularly, the £3m Birmingham paid for him, dependent on appearances, seems a snip when compared to the overpriced market of today.
West Ham were the club to step up their interest in the centre-half and he completed a £7.5m move in the January transfer window of 2007. Calf injuries on his debut and second appearance for the club restricted his first season at the club to just those two appearances but from then on, after establishing himself at the heart of the defence as a consistent force and staying relatively injury free he then became club captain after Lucas Neill departed at the end of last season.
International recognition has followed on a more regular basis since Fabio Capello took over the England job and he’s been a mainstay in his squads and now has 19 England caps to his name. It has to be said that as much as it’s pleasing to see Upson get a good run of luck, it has been at other and most would argue, better players expense. Good in the air and sound positionally, Upson, much like deposed England Captain John Terry, is bad at defending against pace and much like the feeling that has persisted throughout his career, you do get the feeling when he’s playing that England could do better than him.
It seemed Upson’s career was always destined to resemble the bridesmaid’s and never the bride’s, but lady luck has dealt him a good hand at the moment and he needs to take it with both hands (three cliché’s in a row – thank you very much). At the World Cup, should he be called upon, we need to see less of the shaky displays that have become his staple in an England shirt and more of the commanding ones he turns out every week for West Ham. Injury or circumstance has always hampered him, but now he’s got a clear run at establishing himself and he needs to perform better than he did against Egypt where his slip led to their goal through Mohammed Zidan.
Upson has managed his career in such a way whereby he was willing to drop down to so-called lesser clubs to achieve more playing time and as a result of this deliberate move, his career is now reaping dividends. He’s been linked with moves to former club Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs the past few months and should he start at the World Cup due to circumstance and should he perform well, perhaps it’ll be second time lucky for Upson at Arsenal.