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Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Friday, 8 October 2010 13:42 UK

Davies call-up long time in the making


Davies hopes to impress on debut

By Alistair Magowan

England manager Fabio Capello's decision to hand 33-year-old Kevin Davies an international call-up for Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro caused surprise amongst many football fans earlier this week.

But those who have worked alongside the Bolton skipper during his career say the only shock is that it has taken so long for him to be recognised.

Even Davies, who has been in fine form since manager Owen Coyle took over at the Trotters in January, had given up any hope of making the national team and admitted he thought the news was a "wind-up" at first.

Yet a sequence of events, that has included the international retirement of Aston Villa's Emile Heskey and Fulham striker Bobby Zamora breaking his leg, has presented the Sheffield-born forward with the chance of becoming England's oldest debutant since Arsenal's Leslie Compton played at the age of 38 back in 1950.

Granted, it is hardly in keeping with Capello's stated intention to blood more younger players after the dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, but it is an opportunity the striker does not intend to waste.

Kevin Davies
Kevin will have the respect of his peers because they will have played against him many times

Davies's former Chesterfield boss John Duncan

Indeed, this is not the first time the Bolton man has been mentioned as a potential England player.

In the build-up to the 1998 World Cup, he had a formidable first season for Southampton, having been signed for £750,000 from Chesterfield on the back of the Spireites' run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1997.

His debut season in the top flight with the Saints resulted in 12 goals, including one of the strikes of the season against Everton at Goodison Park.

The chances of making the England squad for France 98 were slim given the emergence of Michael Owen and the fact that the likes of Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham were still around.

But following England's familiar second-round exit and speculation about where the future of the team lay, Davies was one of the more prominent names being banded about.

"There were a lot of top-notch players around then, so it was probably the wrong time for a call-up," former Saints boss Dave Jones told BBC Sport. "But then you look around now and there's not that many players like him."

Cardiff City manager Jones was in charge of Southampton when Davies made the move to the south coast and believes this week's selection is a belated reward for the dedication and commitment the player has shown throughout his career.

"It doesn't matter whether it comes to him at 23 or 33, it's fantastic that he has got the call-up and it couldn't happen to a nicer person. I'm really pleased for him because he has waited a long, long time," the Bluebirds boss added.

"I think Kevin gets misinterpreted as some sort of bully but he's not. He's just an old-fashioned centre-forward.

"He loves the rough and tumble and he never complains. For me, his selection is long overdue for him. He's been Mr Consistent for a long time in the division for the type of player he is."

Although Davies was signed by Graeme Souness - Jones's predecessor in The Dell hot-seat - the now Cardiff manager has called the striker "the best deal I've ever done in football".

Alistair M - BBC Sport

That was because, after only one season with Southampton, Davies moved to Blackburn in a £7.5m deal only to return to Saints, now managed by Jones, for "nowt" a year later.

Davies's spell at Ewood Park - the 1998-1999 season - was a torrid time for himself as well as the club. Illness and injury affected his season and he scored only twice as Rovers were relegated from the Premier League.

"The sad thing was that they were looking for someone to replace Shearer and Chris Sutton," Jones reflected. "He wasn't really ready for that big move at that stage of his career. He probably left Southampton a year too soon in all honesty.

"When he came back, he was more mature but he was very low. Although he had enjoyed a really good year with us in the first instance, it [confidence] seemed to have been knocked out of him."

Davies never reached the same heights again at Southampton and, during the further four years he spent there, considered several moves away.

At this stage, talk of joining the England ranks was far-fetched yet the renaissance in his career had much to do with his move to Bolton in 2003 where Sam Allardyce reassessed the front man's ability as a goalscorer.

But in keeping with his home city's most famous export, Davies showed an inner steel from a young age.

Despite his evident appetite for a battle which has seen him bemoan the number of "softies playing now who scream around", Davies grew up as a strong yet often quiet midfielder on the football pitches around Sheffield.

1977: Born 26 March, Sheffield
1993: Makes Chesterfield debut and four days later becomes youngest debutant in League Cup
1997: Helps Chesterfield reach FA Cup semi-finals
Makes £750,000 move to Southampton, scoring 12 goals in debut Premier League season
1998: Moves to Blackburn for £7.5m but scores just twice
1999: Re-joins Saints in swap move with Egil Ostenstad
2003: Joins Bolton on a free transfer
2008: Made Bolton captain and has best goal haul with 12 goals
2010: Called up to England squad at age of 33

He played for a local team called Brunsmeer Athletic, which also had Hartlepool's Ritchie Humphries - due for his testimonial this year - in its ranks.

But it was Davies's older brother Andrew who was often the guiding force as he strove for a career in football.

Living in a small flat in Sharrow, an area just to the south-west of the city centre, Davies would spend hours practising with his brother on an artificial pitch just off the London Road and it was evident from a young age that his ability was far superior to his peers.

Dave Barker, his manager at Brunsmeer, was also a prominent figure in Davies's early years. Not only did he provide the youngster with his first pair of boots but he also gave him one of his first jobs in his butchers shop in the city's Castle Market.

Davies's parents were separated so it was Barker who would often drive him to matches and trials.

"Bearing in mind he joined us at under-10s, many parents came to watch their kids. But Kevin didn't really have that kind of support," Barker told BBC Sport.

"So he was a tough cookie and a lot more streetwise than some of the kids he played with and against. He was determined in what he wanted to do and he was a bright lad, too."

Rather than screaming and shouting, Davies led by example and his understated resolve was again soon evident when he joined Chesterfield in 1993 on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) placement.

During his first week with the Derbyshire team, his blond hair was turned black after members of the senior team rubbed boot polish into his scalp, but it was not long before he was gaining the players' respect on the training pitch.

Former Chesterfield boss John Duncan remembers the impact Davies had.

"My assistant Kevin Randall saw him playing in a kids' game and said 'get him in the building right away'," Duncan told BBC Sport.

"Randall told me Davies would be in the first team before Christmas and, sure enough, he was. In fact, it was about October. There was no doubt that he had a great future ahead of him but we needed to find out if he had the ability to learn.

Kevin Davies
Kevin was a very good young player with a big future ahead of him but I think the move to Blackburn just curtailed that a little bit

Former Southampton boss Dave Jones

"However, that has been his biggest strength. You just needed to tell him once about a role or a position or a little trick and he would pick it up right away. Kevin was always a great match player, too. He was always worked hard in training but when the match day came around... boy, was he ready.

"Early on, he wasn't a huge scorer of goals and I think even now he is mainly a provider of goals rather than a goalscorer. But he proved in the FA Cup run that he had the ability to score at the highest level. In fact, I think he's looked more likely to get goals the older he has got."

Davies enjoyed his best goalscoring season for Bolton during the 2008-09 campaign that also coincided with him being handed the Trotters captaincy by former manager Gary Megson.

But it was Davies's role as a goal architect that made Allardyce offer him a chance to resurrect his career at the Reebok - and last season he created 81 scoring chances, the highest number by any striker in the Premier League.

What is for sure is that the likes of Chelsea's John Terry and Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand will be happy to play with Davies rather than against him.

The pair will know that it is Davies's battling qualities, allied with a good touch and an ability to pick a through ball, which should help unsettle Montenegro on Tuesday should he get the chance to play.

Although some argue that he is just a stop-gap solution while others strikers are injured, his career thus far backs up his intention to make the most of the opportunity.

As Coyle said this week: "No-one has given it him easy, he has had to work his socks off against some terrific centre-backs in the best league in the world. If he is given the opportunity, he will be fantastic, no doubt about it."

Barker, his first manager in Sheffield, added: "Kevin would have run from Bolton to Wembley just to be in that side. I think it's a great honour but he has actually deserved that over the years through his own commitment from a very young age.

"He will feel a sense of pride. He will look back all through his life and the sense of achievement in all he has done will come down to one game."

For an already talismanic figure at Bolton who has played through all four divisions, who knows what reaching the pinnacle of an England footballer's career might yet inspire?

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see also
Davies ready for England chance
08 Oct 10 |  Football
Davies backed to star for England
05 Oct 10 |  Football
Capello calls up striker Davies
04 Oct 10 |  Football
An old-fashioned centre-forward
21 Jan 10 |  FA Cup
Dan Walker's Sport Relief goal challenge
24 Mar 10 |  Football Focus

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