Ryan Shawcross had to be content with a place on the Wembley bench during England’s 3-1 friendly win over Egypt on Wednesday. However, injury concerns and the dearth of top quality English centre backs may have offered the Stoke defender a crumb of comfort that he may yet board the plane to South Africa to become the first Stoke player since Gordon Banks to play for England in a World Cup.
Shawcross was a major component in Stoke’s 2008 promotion at both ends of the pitch, the former Manchester United starlet endured a torrid baptism to life in the Premier League, humbled by the physicality of the likes of Kevin Davies and the pace of Robinho. After losing his place, Shawcross displayed the resilience which would become his trademark, re-establishing himself in Tony Pulis’ first team picture. Moreover, when he got the chance he produced a string of composed, imperious performances in the heart of the defence, mentored by the outstanding Abdoulaye Faye. Shawcross’ resolute defending helped the promoted team to an impressive 12 clean sheets in 2008/09. This season, the star has continued to rise – his stalwart efforts allegedly attracting the attention of both Liverpool and his former employers at Old Trafford, prompting the Potters to slap a £20m price tag on his head to ward off these unwelcome suitors. Growing in stature, Shawcross has eclipsed Faye as the dominant member of the Stoke defence, even taking the captain’s armband on the occasions when his Senegalese partner was out of the side. He is patently not the finished article – his distribution from the back remains poor, while his recent error in front of the watching England manager raised questions about his ability under pressure. Few however, could dispute that his form did not merit his call-up late last week to Fabio Capello’s squad.
Of course, Ryan Shawcross’ surprise inclusion in the senior England squad has been thoroughly overshadowed by the events of last Saturday, when Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey suffered a horrific broken leg following a challenge by the Stoke youngster. Opinions have been split concerning the incident. Some have chosen to vilify Shawcross; The Times’ Patrick Barclay railed against the “unacceptable, out of control wildness” of the tackle on Sunday Supplement, while Arsene Wenger furiously demanded to be spared “about how nice Shawcross is”. Others however, such as Tony Pulis and Stuart Pearce, have highlighted the lack of malice in Shawcross’ actions, proclaiming the incident, for which the Stoke man was dismissed, as nothing more than an unfortunate accident.
Both sides of the debate have a case to argue. Shawcross clearly, after numerous viewings of the gruesome incident, did not intend to injure Ramsey, as is evident through his devastation at the damage caused in the aftermath. Both players went for the ball and the Welshman, to his cost, got there first. However, one could question the force with which Shawcross flew into a challenge which arguably was not in his favour by some distance. Moreover, in spite of his reputation as a tough but fair defender, this is not the first time that his reckless actions have injured opposing players. Emmanuel Adebayor limped off the Britannia turf in November 2008 after a running battle culminated in the Potters’ No. 17 scything him down off the pitch. Sheffield Wednesday’s Francis Jeffers similarly shattered an ankle following a late Shawcross challenge the previous season from which he has struggled to fully recover ever since.
Wenger’s distress was understandable, especially given the similar injuries in recent seasons to Abou Diaby and Eduardo. Nevertheless, his comments were grossly hypocritical, given his eagerness in January to absolve an arguably worse tackle by William Gallas on Bolton’s Mark Davies, on the familiar grounds that “it was without any intentions to harm the player”.
Aaron Ramsey’s displays earlier this season hinted at an emerging special talent in British football, with untold potential, and the severity of his injury is a tragedy for football fans nationwide. However, Ryan Shawcross does not deserve to be crucified for a split second decision which will likely haunt him for the rest of his career. Hopefully both of these fine young footballers will recover and put this nightmare behind them, to each enjoy the long, distinguished top flight careers they deserve.
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