Stoke City: Is Shawcross just a short pass away from making England debut?
EVEN Arsene Wenger couldn't resist a peek as Ryan Shawcross trained with the England squad yesterday.
Let's be clear, the Arsenal manager hadn't made a special journey just to cheer on the Stoke defender.
No, England were using the London Colney complex in Hertfordshire which is also Arsenal's training base.
So while Shawcross, Wayne Rooney and company began their preparations for tonight's World Cup qualifier against San Marino, the Arsenal players were getting down to some serious tippy-tappy stuff on the neighbouring pitch.
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You know you are in the big time when you get to London Colney because there's a sign at the top of the drive to the training complex which says players aren't allowed to stop for autographs.
Charming. But it wasn't an autograph that I and Sentinel photographer Steve Bould were looking for. Rather, it was the chance to see Stoke captain Shawcross training with the England squad.
"Here we go again," said a photographer we didn't know with a world-weary, "we've-done-it-all-before-haven't-we" sort of sigh.
We'll not really mate. Shawcross trained with Fabio Capello's England squad before he was an unused substitute against Egypt two-and-a-half years ago, but that apart there's been diddly squat in terms of senior England recognition for any Stoke City player since Mark Chamberlain was picked for a World Cup qualifier against Finland in 1984.
To be fair, we couldn't have really expected Graham Taylor to check out the Potters when they were busy playing the likes of Exeter and Hartlepool back in the early 1990s. Not even when he was picking Carlton Palmer.
But Stoke have been back in the top flight for four years now, and 25-year-old Shawcross, who has been with them for all that journey and more, richly deserves this international recognition.
The Stoke defender didn't appear first at training because the opening part of the session was taken up by the keepers.
This gave us a great opportunity to see England's enormous goalies Joe Hart, Fraser Forster and John Ruddy up close as they loped past the fence on their training run like the raptors from the film Jurassic Park.
But wait, here was our man Shawcross! Was it inappropriate for us to wave? Almost certainly, so we decided against it as he strode out in the leading group of players, along with Manchester United duo Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick, and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.
The squad was under the watchful eye of manager Roy Hodgson, who had strolled out deep in conversation with Sir Trevor Brooking as they made their way along the side of the training pitch.
There's a definite aura about the England manager. At first I thought this might be liniment fumes, but there was no doubt about the respect he commanded among his young squad as they were put through their paces.
First up was some light jogging and stretching exercises before the players were split into two teams for a game played on half the pitch.
The session was run by assistant manager Ray Lewington as Hodgson and coach Gary Neville observed closely from the sidelines.
No goalkeepers were used. Instead two centre-halves were positioned at either end of the pitch to keep playing the ball out from the back.
We had Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka on one side; Shawcross and Joleon Lescott on the other.
So when a ball came to one of the defenders, he switched it to the centre-half alongside him who then picked out a short pass into the midfield. Yes, that's right, short pass.
What's more, Shawcross breezed through this without a pass out of place.
Maybe these Stoke lads can play a bit after all. Isn't that right, Arsene?