GET IN! Result. That was my reaction to the news that Jonathan Woodgate was pulling out of the England squad for the weekend qualifier in Israel. It’s not so much that I am a warped individual who wishes to see pain and international frustration descend on our iconic stopper, more that seeing him limp out of the big match was undoubtedly a big boost for Boro.
He has picked up a minor knee injury and dropped out of McClaren’s set-up in the full glare of the sensationalist media circus that follows the national side. My first instinct was that it will have been caused by the knock he got as the gravitationally challenged Ronaldo cut inside and clipped him on it as he looked for an excuse to go sprawling.
My second was that this was fantastic news for Boro. The more short-sighted managers, cheque-book wielding chief executives and rat pack journalists who think Woody is a serial crock the better because it strengthens the club’s hand when it comes to battling for his signature in the Summer.
Let us be in no doubt that Boro face stiff competition to sign Woodgate when his loan spell ends. His imperious defensive displays have attracted envious glances from a string of clubs here and abroad. It is to Boro’s advantage that question marks are raised over his fitness because that will scare off some bigger potential suitors.
He came back from the England v Spain friendly injured and missed the game with Chelsea. He needed to be rested before the FA Cup replay with United because he struggles with two games in three days and football’s very own nutter on the bus made sure everyone knew about – thanks Neil – and now he is very publicly ruled out of this crucial qualifier with a dodgy knee and Gareth Southgate has let it be known he has been carrying the knock for a while and playing through the pain barrier. Good, every litle helps.
Boro have a significant advantage in that they have already agreed an price with Real Madrid and the Nunthorpe lad is clearly made up to be playing for his home town club but it far from certain he will sign. While Madrid have agreed a fee with Boro there is no stopping them agreeing a fee – possibly a bigger one – with other clubs who would then have permission to approach the player with the task in front of them trumping Boro’s package.
Boro can easily compete with Villa or Newcastle or Spurs or any of the other second string clubs in the Premiership. There is little to choose between them in terms of prospects or wages plus the boyhood dream and home comforts can trump most of their own advertising spiel.
But Boro can’t compete against the Premiership big four with their 100 grand a week and nailed on silverware if they come calling. And they might. Arsenal’s defence has been in chaos all year, Chelsea are so short they almost bought Bolton’s Ben Haim, Man United are one short and Liverpool need to replace some ageing component. If any of them they wanted Woodgate they would no doubt get him. He is an ambitious young man, he wants to win the medals his talent deserves and he has three precious years of his footballing prime to make up.
What counts heavily in Boro’s favour is that with those teams nailed on for progress to the latter rounds of the domestic comeptitions and probably to the Champions League knockout stages they all play 60 games a season. It is in Boro’s interest that they don’t believe Woody is physically up to those demands. We must encourage them to believe it is a risk to invest ÃÂ£8m or so – and the same again in wages – for a permacrock who would miss crucial games, who would not be available in Europe if he had played a league game at the weekend.
So it is in Boro’s interest to portray him as the walking wounded, a fragile thing who could break down at any moment. We need more high-profile exits from England camps. We should relish public spats over him being rested. I want lazy press sneering if he is not ready for Andorra. Boro should leak it that the day after a match he is bent double like an arthritic 90-year- old, should say every week that there is a doubt over Woodgate, that he is touch-and-go. Maybe in the last few games we could get him to dramatically and obviously limp off heavily.
Ow’ee son, get on the stretcher. Say nowt.