The English centre-backs that are currently trying to force their way in to the World Cup squad have all been in the news whether it is for injuries, off-the-pitch troubles or a question mark over their value in the squad. One man who has been performing consistently while the others have had some sort of problem is Michael Dawson. With only a few games left to impress Fabio Capello before he names his squad, Dawson should be a real contender to force his way on to the plane for South Africa.
If we are to assume that two players will be taken per every outfield position, than that makes four central defenders- although that could be pushed to five depending on a certain player’s versatility. Capello has rarely had the luxury of playing what he would feel is first choice X1 mainly due to injuries but the indications are that John Terry and Rio Ferdinand would be the chosen pairing against the USA on 12th June. Looking around at the other options and Dawson is making as good, if not better, a case as his competitors. Matthew Upson and Joleon Lescott seem to be the other candidates to pack their bags as back-ups for Terry and Ferdinand, but there are question marks over Lescott’s ability to maintain fitness- something that is crucial at the World Cup where the intensity of games is at its highest and the time to recover is short. Upson is performing well with a West Ham team that is a prime relegation candidate and is as solid as Dawson. Nonetheless, depending on Capello’s thinking in terms of defensive options and full-backs, it could come down to two out of Dawson, Upson and Lescott in the final 23-man squad. Dawson is the one that is playing more consistently and regularly than the other two and looks to have the advantage that, if chosen, he could be the trusted man in the latter stages of the tournament should England – as expected – reach there and Terry or Ferdinand breaks down.
Harry Redknapp clearly feels that Dawson can be the man to step up to the demands of international football. He said: “Michael is having the most fantastic season. If you’re looking for a central defender to play for England or be in the squad, you won’t do any better than him. He’s just a fantastic character. A lovely guy, you’ll never meet a better boy. He’s wholehearted, a proper centre-half, great in the air. He’d go through a brick wall for you. He can pass it too, he has a great range, and his long passing- it’s fantastic.” Dawson has come to prominence this season but it could be that he is still somewhat under-rated. He has the old-school, yet appreciated quality, of being a typically English-type of defender. At the age of 26 he is looking like he is at the peak of his game, and although he has had no international experience at senior level, he is going through a thorough learning in the best domestic league which should leave him well equipped to deal with the array of strikers England are going to come across. In relation to that, his performances for Tottenham have been a major part of the reason why they look more assured at the back. Would Tottenham have had more trouble this season if Dawson was out for a lengthy period? He is certainly the key to their defence, hence being made club captain for all of his qualities.
Dawson, for all of his attributes, must be quite a mentally strong person. Several times this season Capello has turned to Gary Cahill and Ryan Shawcross in some of his squads but the absence of the Tottenham man certainly hasn’t affected his form and has kept level-headed when questioned about it in the media. Dawson plays in a style where he is not full of raw talent but you can see that Tottenham miss him badly when he isn’t there, witness a recent defeat at Sunderland when the centre-backs were both exposed too easily. It could be that Capello just doesn’t rate Dawson highly enough if he has chosen Cahill and Shawcross in his squads. From the trio of Dawson, Cahill and Shawcross, the former has more experience and plays with a team that is challenging at the top end of the table- this makes a difference as there is greater scrutiny on him in that sense.
On the overall basis of each individual’s performances this season, it is hard to consider Lescott and Upson, along with outsiders Shawcross and Cahill, as better options. Perhaps the most revealing statistic is that Tottenham have kept no clean sheets when Dawson has been missing. It is hard to see how Capello has overlooked Dawson during his reign considering injuries to other players, lack of form and statistics that all stack up in Dawson’s favour. The player has everything going for him at the moment and has all the ingredients that Capello looks for in a footballer and person. Dawson looks like the type of player and person who will carry on at a high standard for the remaining games of this season, and it might be that a final look at him from the England coaching staff could persuade them that he is the rock that warrants a place.
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