Once rated as the future of England’s defence, Jonathan Woodgate has seen his international aspirations shattered by injuries over the years. Having worked hard to return from a string on physical woes, the 29-year-old is now focussed on establishing himself in the Tottenham team. Whilst he might allow himself the occasional dream of wearing a different white shirt in South Africa, he admits that his World Cup ambitions are as good as over.
Fabio Capello has clearly taken note of Woodgate in the past, capping the former Real Madrid man on two occasions. The last cap came over a year ago and Jonathan has found himself well down the pecking order since. With a host of viable alternatives available to the Italian, Woodgate is turning his attention to making sure he is an automatic pick for Harry Redknapp instead. He said: “I don’t train all the time and Capello likes people who train every day. I haven’t given up but we’ll see what happens.” Redknapp has had to adopt a soft approach to training with Woodgate’s fellow centre-back Ledley King due to his knee problems, and he is clearly willing to give similar concessions to Woody to make sure he is able to play on matchday.
Having been something of a tearaway in his early playing days, Woodgate has developed a new maturity through his travels and travails and is keen on making the most of the twilight years of his career. A charge of affray is long forgotten, as are regular tabloid stories of his one-time relationship with Big Brother winner Kate Lawler. Pacey in his youth, the injuries have taken their toll somewhat and now it is his excellent positional sense that stands Woodgate out from the crowd. Focus and concentration are everything in a position that is the last line of defence and Spurs will benefit from these qualities if he can just stay fit. In Madrid, he had to wait 13 months to make his debut, but it was worth it. Real kept 10 clean sheets in his first 13 games and he was given full marks four games running by influential Spanish newspaper Marca.
The influential defender was in possession of the captain’s armband against Wigan at the weekend as Spurs set about their demolition job. Woodgate was proud of their stunning performance but he says he was not surprised. That is not a slight on the Latics who just happened to be the unfortunate team on the wrong end of the thrashing. Instead, it is the quality of his teammates who he sees regularly on the training pitch that had filled the centre-back with such confidence. He said: “To be honest, it happens in training. Look at the strikers we’ve got. You’re never surprised because they do it every day.” In particular, he singled out Jermain Defoe who he believes would fit into a team as lauded as Barcelona without any problems: “JD can do anything he wants to do. Fabio Capello seems to have a lot of faith in him and he’s been outstanding. He can make a massive impact at the World Cup, without a doubt. The Golden Boot? He’s got every chance, hasn’t he? Put Jermain Defoe up playing for Barcelona and I’m sure he’d be well known as well.”
Having played for Leeds in their Champions League pomp and for Real Madrid, Woodgate knows all about teams playing at the top level. He sees similar qualities in the team he now belongs to and was particularly impressed by the performance against Wigan. He enthused: “It was a great victory and you couldn’t have got any more out of us. It was a great display throughout the side, especially going forward. It was incredible.” He hopes that they can take that stunning form into their next game, Saturday’s trip to Aston Villa. The game is a big one if Spurs are to press home their Champions League credentials as Villa are likely to be one of their big rivals for a top four spot come the business end of the season. About that match, Woodgate commented: “Every game is important when you are looking to finish in the top four, and staying in the same position as we are in now is what we must aim to do.”
With White Hart Lane having been graced by the phenomenal goal-fest on Sunday, the proposed new Spurs stadium is in the running to host some memorable occasions of its own. It has been included in London’s claim to be involved in the 2018 World Cup bid. The chosen venues will be announced on 16 December.