Woodgate 'never stopped believing'

February 2, 2007

Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate never gave up hope of making a return to the England fold.

The 27-year-old was today drafted back into the squad for Wednesday's friendly against Spain at Old Trafford, and could win his first cap since playing against Sweden in March 2004.

An injury-plagued last few years have severely limited the former Leeds and Newcastle star, who is on loan at his home-town club from Real Madrid for the season.

However, both his form and fitness have been excellent since his arrival at the Riverside Stadium, and his reward was this afternoon's call-up by national-team boss Steve McClaren.

Woodgate said: 'I never stopped believing I would win a recall. I kept the belief that I would get picked again if I got a run of games.

'I know there was talk of me getting selected before Christmas but I wasn't ready for it then. I am now.

'I am playing two and three games a week without any problems and my fitness is getting better all the time.

'I do not feel I am playing better then I have done in the past when I was at Leeds, Newcastle and Real Madrid, but it is all about getting a run of games together, and it has been great to do that with my home-town club.

'I am looking forward to it.'

Woodgate admitted on his return to England that reviving his international career was a major aim.

However, he insisted his club must come first, and that is a philosophy he has maintained ahead of tomorrow's Barclays Premiership clash with Arsenal on Teesside.

He told Boro's official website: 'I am pleased to be back involved after all this time.

'It feels good to be selected because I have been waiting to be selected for a few years.

'I am ready and available to play if selected.

'Whether I would get a call-up or not really had not entered my mind because I have just been concentrating on playing well for Middlesbrough, week in and week out.

'It's all about consistency.'

Boro boss Gareth Southgate, who played alongside Woodgate on his full England debut against Bulgaria back in June 1999, was delighted for a man who has become a defensive rock for the Teessiders.

Southgate said: 'It's great news for him that he is in the squad. Everybody knows, ability-wise, there has never been any question against him.

'His dedication in terms of keeping himself fit has earned him this call-up, so I am delighted for him.

'He has been outstanding for us, not only on the field, but his character around the dressing room and around the training ground has added tremendously to us.

'He has played a big part for us and we want that to continue.

'He has learnt a lot. It will mean even more to him now having struggled with the injuries during his time at Madrid.

'He will appreciate this call-up now even more than he did when he was he was first called into the squad.

'He deserves it - but I know he is really focused on the game with Arsenal - that is uppermost in his mind.'

Woodgate will be joined by club-mate Stewart Downing in McClaren's squad, and that, combined with the selection of Lee Cattermole and Andrew Taylor for the Under-21s, was equally pleasing for Southgate.

He said: 'It shows people being involved at Middlesbrough is certainly no hindrance to being involved in the squad.

'I managed to retain my place here and, if players are playing well, it is great for us as a club because they are improving our team and they can still fulfil their international ambitions.'