Stewart Downing has vowed to grab his latest England chance with both hands after winning a recall from manager Roy Hodgson.
The 30-year-old would have been forgiven for thinking his international career was over.
He has not featured for more than two years and Hodgson is turning his thoughts to England’s future and a more youthful blend in the build-up to Euro 2016.
But a move to West Ham and a switch to a more central role has reinvigorated the former Middlesbrough winger who is on the verge of a first cap since a European Championships warm-up game against Norway in Oslo May 2012.
Downing was a member of Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad but did not feature, and thought his international career had come to an end on 34 caps.
But with his lengthy hiatus now at an end, with Hodgson recalling the midfielder for the upcoming matches with Slovenia and Scotland, Downing said: “I’ve admitted in the past I felt my chance had passed, but I kept going and always kept trying to play well. And that has paid off.
“Roy has been watching the games and picked me. I’m very happy to be back.
“There is a lot of new talent coming through. It’s an exciting squad. I’m the third oldest so I do feel a bit old, but he’s got a good mixture here.”
It is a long time since Downing has been part of an England squad – so long, in fact, that they were not even based at St George’s Park the last time he featured.
You could understand a player’s frustration at being left out in the cold for so long but the midfielder has no complaints.
Downing accepts his form at Liverpool did not warrant a call-up and, after joining West Ham last year, believes the move into a central role has been the key to his resurgence.
“Roy has been impressed with how we’ve adapted to a new way of playing,” he said of West Ham’s impressive start to the campaign. “That’s why he’s called me up.
“I need to maintain that form. I spoke to Roy a couple of times. At West Ham games he’s been in the changing room with the manager and we spoke very briefly. He said ‘yes, you’re going to get in the squad’.
“I’m here to play and perform, not just make the numbers up. I’m itching to get out there.”
Middlesbrough-born Downing admits he was a “little bit nervous coming in” after such a long time out of the international fold, but the overriding emotion is excitement.
He believes there is some “great talent” in the England set-up and has been impressed by the way they have responded to the World Cup embarrassment.
“They’ve got a lot of young lads under pressure and they’ve dealt with it really well,” said Downing.
“It’s going to take time. Roy has to build the team here and it will take maybe a couple of campaigns to get going but I think Roy is doing a good job.”
England suffered an injury setback last night when Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has withdrawn from the squad because of a groin injury he suffered in training.
The Football Association confirmed last night that the 33-year-old had been sent home and will miss Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia and the friendly in Scotland three days later.
An FA spokesman said: “Michael Carrick will return to his club this evening after sustaining a minor groin injury in training this morning. There will be no call ups at this time.”
Carrick went for a scan after a very light 20-minute session at St George’s Park yesterday and pulled out once the results were analysed.
The news is a big blow for the United midfielder, who had earned a recall to the international fold following his omission from Hodgson’s World Cup squad.
The former Tottenham man has only just returned from an ankle injury that he suffered in pre-season.
Twenty-four hours before his withdrawal, Carrick spoke of his pride at earning a recall to the England squad.
Carrick was named on the standby list for the World Cup but did not go to the tournament even though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered an injury in a warm-up game against Ecuador.
Despite being overlooked for the tournament, Carrick insisted he never thought about retiring from international duty.
‘’No, I was never tempted to (retire),’’ Carrick told a press conference at St George’s Park.
‘’I am only 33 now so hopefully I have got a few more years left, so it was never something that crossed my mind.”
England could be facing a second withdrawal in the space of 24 hours after it emerged that Andros Townsend is struggling with an ankle injury.
Townsend reported for England duty with a slight ankle injury he suffered with Tottenham.
The winger did not train with the rest of the squad yesterday and the England medical staff will assess him today before deciding whether to send him back to his club.