With England’s former captain John Terry continuing to make headlines for the wrong reasons, and his successor as captain Rio Ferdinand struggling for a run of games at first-team level, centre-backs will be high on Fabio Capello’s watch list between now and the World Cup finals.
Michael Dawson is sure to be among the candidates for a seat on the plane to South Africa as the 26-year-old hits peak form at the perfect time. After starting his professional career at Nottingham Forest in 2002, he signed for Tottenham along with Forest team mate Andy Reid on the January 31, 2005 in a deal believed to be worth £8m. He immediately made an impact in the Premier League making 32 appearances from a possible 38 in the league during the 2005/06 season. The following season was to be even more successful for the Yorkshire lad, missing just one competitive game throughout the campaign, playing alongside club captain Ledley King as the two struck up a successfully partnership in the centre of defence.
At 6ft 3in tall, Dawson dominates opponents in the air, while the desire and commitment he shows throughout the 90 minutes has helped him become a firm favourite with fans at White Hart Lane.
At the start of Tottenham’s current campaign, competition for places at Spurs had never been fiercer with Jonathan Woodgate making a successful return from injury last season and the arrival of Sebastian Bassong from Newcastle adding some much needed depth to the back-line. Injury-plagued Woodgate was forced to miss out on the opening months of the season with groin problems leaving the door open for Dawson. However, he started the season with a number of lacklustre performances and paid the price when Bassong replaced him and immediately impressed. With Woodgate returning in early October, Dawson found himself firmly out of favour and a possible move away from White Hart Lane looked on the cards. However Woodgate suffered a recurrence of his early season groin troubles and with King also struggling with a knee injury, Dawson was presented with a second chance at a first team spot he wasn’t keen to relinquish.
Since returning to the starting line-up on the November 22, Dawson has played the full 90 minutes in Tottenham’s last 19 matches, during which time he has become the central figure of the Spur’s defence with King and Bassong vying to partner him. In the 14 Premier League games played during this period, Tottenham have only conceded nine goals keeping an impressive seven clean sheets. The performances of Dawson have clearly impressed Harry Redknapp and a five year contract extension until 2015 was offered and after Robbie Keane’s departure to Celtic, Redknapp promoted him to club captain.
Of England’s leading contenders for the centre-back role, not one has produced the level of form that Dawson has shown at Tottenham this season, enhancing the prospect of an international debut under Capello. Despite his vast experience at club level, Dawson has yet to receive a full cap for his country, although he did feature a number of times for the U-21s earlier in his career. For this reason, a massive question mark still looms as to whether he will cope with the step up to international football and with more experienced defenders in Matthew Upson and Joleon Lescott, he will be keen to make the England set-up as soon as possible in order to prove to Capello he has all the attributes to make the squad to South Africa.
In terms of his qualities, Dawson is at his most comfortable when the ball is being played in front of him as he reads the game extremely well and makes a number of crucial interceptions that snuff out opposition attacks. However, the World Cup brings together the best attacking players from across the world, and with various attacking styles likely to be on show, his lack of pace and experience at international level could expose him.
With just three more months until Fabio Capello names the England squad aiming for World Cup glory, Dawson’s chances could be decided during an international friendly against Egypt in around three weeks time, and with the Yorkshire defender seemingly in his prime, if selected, any inability to prove his worth at a higher level could see his World Cup ambitions vanish right before his eyes.