Stoke City: Patient Ryan Shawcross ready to realise England dream
THERE were no handshakes, no pats on the back and certainly no round of applause.
Instead, Ryan Shawcross was bound in surgical tape, carried out on to the training pitch like some Egyptian mummy and then drenched by a cold bucket of water.
No-one stands on ceremony at Stoke City.
And Shawcross, having seen so many other internationals come and go at Stoke in recent years, should have guessed the dressing-room pranksters would be lying in wait.
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And this wasn't just the day of his England call-up, of course, but also his 25th birthday. A double whammy he will never forget.
And all a far cry from his first international call-to-arms in February 2010 when, as fate would decree, he received the call straight after the game in which he accidentally broke the leg of Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
That Shawcross should bounce back so quickly from the trauma of that day – and the widespread castigation that followed – illustrates the strength of character underpinning the kind of defensive consistency England coach Roy Hodgson could no longer ignore.
Barring at least one injury to England's other three picks at centre-half – Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka – Shawcross is unlikely to play in either of the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland over the next fortnight.
But his selection has at last, fingers crossed, provided a watershed moment in his fledgling career by tunnelling a regular route into the England squad as a viable first or second alternative to the starting pair.
And given he is five years younger than Lescott and Jagielka, three years younger than Michael Dawson and nearly two years younger than Cahill, it is easy to see why a seasoned judge like Denis Smith, even in one of his mistier-eyed moments, can suggest the possibility of Shawcross eventually claiming a half-century of England caps.
The pride felt by Smith and all Stokies is understandable after seeing Shawcross graduate initially from Manchester United, but then mature over the past five years at Stoke City under the guidance of such a renowned defensive coach as Tony Pulis.
The Stoke boss fondly recalls the salubrious surroundings in which he first set eyes on Shawcross after learning of his possible availability on loan.
"I saw Ryan playing in a third-team game at Hyde United," he said, "so the way he's come on is brilliant.
"He is one of the blocks this club has been built on. That is why I made him captain and that is why everyone at the club respects him so much."
We should have guessed Shawcross was destined for greatness when he celebrated his debut by scoring the only goal at Cardiff on the opening day of Stoke's promotion campaign of 2007/08.
Pulis, ever the carrot and stick man lifting those in the doldrums and treading on the toes of those getting too big for their boots, was quick to keep all praise in check that evening at Ninian Park.
"He did well overall, Pulis said of the 19-year-old newcomer, "but we mustn't forget he's still a pup and he got turned a few times." Talk about a cold handshake.
Twelve months later, of course, many were queuing up to write the Premier League obituary of Stoke City in general and Ryan Shawcross in particular after their alarming opening-day defeat at Bolton.
He did suffer that day, along with plenty more, and it was another eight fixtures before he next started in the heart of Stoke's defence.
He has since been omitted from the starting 11 only because of injury, suspension or when earning a well-deserved rest, clocking up a club record 136 appearances in the Premier League over the past four years.
Not that Pulis hasn't had to dangle the odd carrot along the way, declaring in February 2009: "He can go all the way, especially when you think of how young he is and there's not that many top-class, young centre-halves around."
But it was 12 months later, when that first England call-up arrived barely an hour after he had broken Ramsey's leg, that Shawcross was tossed into a rare maelstrom of emotions.
Rory Delap, as close as anyone to Shawcross in the Stoke dressing-room, was there to help re-build any shattered confidence in time for him to answer that international summons.
Sadly, he sat helplessly on the bench against Egypt that night at Wembley as Fabio Capello was forced to summon others subs – two-goal Peter Crouch included – to transform a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 3-1 victory.
"No, it didn't work out for him at that time," Delap concedes, "but he hasn't lost his head or sulked about it.
"He's one of the first in and one of the last out of training, and that's why we are all so chuffed this time for him.
"He's matured so much from when he first came to the club.
"He was a young lad then, although you could see the potential.
"It must have been hard for him to leave a club like Manchester United, but he was determined to play games rather than sit on the bench.
"Credit to him for that, because I don't think Fergie wanted him to leave."
Delap says Shawcross has also learned from the likes of Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson, both England defenders in their time, while everyone has seen the benefit of playing alongside Robert Huth.
Pulis threw Shawcross the captain's armband at the tender age of 22 a couple of years ago to assist his rehabilitation from the brickbats still flying (to this day) over the Ramsey challenge.
His subsequent progress has been so marked and so consistent that even Pulis became weary of all the tiresome questions about Shawcross and his on-going exclusion from the England set-up.
If for no other reason, Pulis must have been tempted to twist his arm into accepting an on-going invitation to play for Wales, the country where he spent his formative years.
But Shawcross, gifted with an understated and yet defiant self-belief, dug his heels in over his Three Lions dream. Time, now, to reward him.
England squad for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland: Hart (Manchester City), Ruddy (Norwich), Forster (Celtic); Baines (Everton), Cahill (Chelsea), Cole (Chelsea), Gibbs (Arsenal), Jagielka (Everton), G Johnson (Liverpool), Lescott (Manchester City), Shawcross (Stoke City), Walker (Spurs); Carrick (Manchester Utd), Cleverley (Manchester Utd), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Gerrard (Liverpool), A Johnson (Sunderland), Lennon (Spurs), Lampard (Chelsea), Milner (Manchester City), Walcott (Arsenal), Carroll (West Ham), Defoe (Spurs), Rooney (Manchester Utd), Welbeck (Manchester Utd).