At a time when England's leading footballers are being asked to live up to the standards set by the athletes, cyclists, rowers and boxers of Team GB, who have captured the nation's imagination, the case of Jack Butland, just 19 years old, is an instructive story.
The Birmingham City goalkeeper could become the youngest ever England goalkeeper against Italy tomorrow, a record that has stood for 124 years since one Billy Moon made his debut against Wales in 1888, 64 days older than Butland is now. Butland has never played above League One, where he was on loan at Cheltenham Town last season, and only made his Birmingham first-team debut in a friendly on Saturday.
He played, and impressed, for Great Britain in the Olympics and yesterday he announced, in the politest possible way, that his intention is one day to supplant Joe Hart as the nation's first-choice goalkeeper. It is no mean task but then this is a young man whose development – through the Under-20s, Under-21s, a late call-up for the Euro 2012 squad and Great Britain – has been nothing short of extraordinary to the point that now, with Hart injured, he is one of only two goalkeepers, with Norwich's John Ruddy, in Roy Hodgson's squad.
Had Hart been fit, Butland would have been released to play in the Capital One Cup against Barnet tonight. As it is he will fly to Berne today. "I want to challenge him [Hart] as soon as I can," Butland said. "Being the No 1 for England is something I have always dreamed of and Joe is there at the minute. Only one can play, so my target for the coming years is to be as big a challenge as I can.
"He knows eventually there will be competition whether that's from me or someone else. He's not the only goalkeeper in England. For me it's the target to test him at first and make him a little bit worried but eventually to try to take his place. I'm good friends with Joe but when it comes down to it only one person can wear the shirt."
If it comes across as arrogant then it certainly was not projected that way. Butland is an engaging character who spoke with warmth about his Olympics experience: "The Olympics wasn't just a football thing, it was so much more than that. It wasn't us. It was Team GB and we were just a small part of that. I think that was a massive thing in not getting ahead of ourselves. We're not special here. We're not better than anyone else."Reuse content