Middlesbrough v Norwich City: Woodgate left with no room for sentiment as he targets top-flight

Middlesbrough's Jonathan Woodgate.
Middlesbrough's Jonathan Woodgate.
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JONATHAN WOODGATE is visualising that perfectly-positioned sun-lounger and resting his weary body on some warm foreign beach this summer, an ice-cold beer close to hand.

But that smoothing beverage will only taste like nectar for the veteran Middlesbrough defender if his beloved Boro are back in the big time.

Woodgate, now 35, may have plenty to contemplate regarding whether to hang up his boots or not.

But his main – make that only – concern is that he reaches that decision as a Premier League player.

A Rolls-Royce of a defender in his prime in the top-flight at the likes of Leeds United, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Boro, his hometown club, a return to the big time would provide a certain symmetry to his career.

But standing in Woodgate and Boro’s way are Norwich City, who they face in the £120m jackpot game at Wembley in Monday’s Championship play-off final.

The Teeesider can appreciate the story-book elements to what is potentially his final game as a professional footballer. Boyhood club – tick, Wembley full-house – tick, promotion glory – tick. A perfect place and way to sign off, many would say.

But the here and now and not sentiment is the sole focus this Bank Holiday weekend for Woodgate, who describes himself as ‘not really an emotional person.’

He might be come Monday tea-time if Boro finish off a remarkable season in style.

On the prospect of retirement, Woodgate, who first came to prominence in helping Leeds win the FA Youth Cup way back in 1997, said: “I haven’t got a clue. I haven’t decided what I am going to do yet and haven’t really thought about it. I will think about it lying somewhere hot on a sun lounger. I will chat to my family and manager about it and see where I go from there.

“The final is not about me, it is about the team. Whether it is my last game or whatever, it is not about that, it is about the club going to the final.

“I would be over the moon if we go up. I’ll be on that sun lounger having a few beers. I am sure every Boro fan will be.

“Promotion would be absolutely massive for the club. We need to be back in the Premier League. The way the chairman has kept the club going is fantastic.”

The 2014-15 season is one in which Woodgate’s contributions have been limited, but massively consequential. Don’t back against him making another on Monday.

The incessant demands of the Championship have precluded the regular involvement of Woodgate this term, but anyone who watched his contributions in the keynote wins this new year against Blackpool, Ipswich and Derby County could not doubt his impact and class.

He has made nine appearances for Boro this term and been on the losing side just once.

Woodgate readily admits his aching body is somewhat battle-scared, but the physical pain will be a small price to pay if Boro can over the line on Monday.

If he plays an on-pitch part, then great.

“But his only concern is Boro doing the business on it. with or without his involvement.

Never mind the ‘last game’ stuff. He has already enjoyed a previous personal fairytale moment at Wembley anyway, scoring the winner for Spurs in their League Cup final victory over Chelsea in 2008.

On how his body feels, Woodgate, alluding to the wear and tear of countless injuries over the years – which arguably stopped him from being a defensive great for England – added: “Terrible ... my body has not been good for the last 10 years, but you keep on going don’t you?

“But no, I feel good, I feel alright. I have been training fine. When I have played this season, I’ve played at a decent level. I can still do it on the pitch. I try to train day in day out.

“But I’m always going to get injured. I’ve had injuries all my career. They are not just going to disappear like that.

‘Maybe when I was younger I was a bit too quick for my own body, like Craig Bellamy once said.”

Woodgate has scoured the globe for cures to his plethora of injuries and is on first name terms with many leading surgeons, although he remembers one rather unconventional treatment during his time at Real Madrid.

He said: “I have spent three months in Australia, three months in New York. I have been to Philadelphia, Leicester; I’ve been to Germany. I’ve been all over.

“There was one in Madrid where I was with the doctors with a great big tear in my thigh and they had ran out of ideas. There was this old fella who came in.

“I don’t know how he got into the club but he was with one of the physios. I met him at the physio’s house and he got this pack of grass out and started boiling it in a pan.

“He put it on my leg and started wrapping clingfilm round my leg. I thought ‘what’s happening here?’. It was weird. Obviously it didn’t work.

“But when you are in that state of mind you will try anything. Anything to get you back fitter.”

On the issue of his own playing involvement or not, Woodgate – in the Boro end for the Zenith Data Systems final against Chelsea in 1990, along with his late father Alan and uncle Dave – added: “I would be happy sitting anywhere as long as Boro win. I am a fan.

“But if I am on the bench or in the stand I will be a nervous wreck. It means so much to me.”