International attention came early for Jack Butland last summer but the Stoke City goalkeeper, now back with Birmingham City on loan, is quite happy to continue developing his game with the England Under-21s.
An injury to Norwich City’s John Ruddy brought the then 19-year-old Butland a surprise late call-up to Roy Hodgson’s senior squad for last year’s European Championship. But the decision by Ben Foster of West Bromwich Albion to end his self-imposed international exile, and the call-up of Celtic’s Fraser Forster, mean Butland has had to drop back down to the Under-21 set-up.
While the seniors gear up for tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Montenegro, Butland has had to settle for the less glamorous prospect of playing an Under-21 friendly against Austria in Brighton tonight. But he has time on his side, and knows it.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “I feel privileged to be involved with the seniors and the Under-21s. I am happy either way because it is experience and developing my game. It is something I feel very happy and proud to be a part of and I am looking forward to what is ahead.”
Butland has had an incredible 12 months, going from a loan spell at League Two Cheltenham to earning his first senior cap against Italy in August, when he became England’s youngest goalkeeper. He represented Great Britain in the London Olympics and sealed a £3.5m move to Stoke in January after turning down Chelsea.
Competition is increasing to back up Joe Hart or even take over his position as England’s No 1, but Butland hopes there will be more opportunities to prove himself with the seniors after a memorable debut in Berne, where England won 2-1.
“The Italy game was the best feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “I was almost pinching myself during the game, thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ I feel very thankful to Roy and the staff for giving me the opportunity and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully there will be more.”
Turning down Chelsea in favour of Stoke surprised many, but there was logic behind Butland’s choice. Ross Turnbull was one of the most highly rated young English goalkeepwhen Chelsea signed him from Middlesbrough, but four years on the 28-year-old has made just six Premier League starts. With the Belgian Thibaut Courtois also on the books at Stamford Bridge, and presently impressing on loan at Atletico Madrid, Butland’s prospects of first-team football in west London would have looked bleak.
He kept goal for Stuart Pearce’s Under-21 side in Thursday’s 3-0 win over Romania, a result which stretched their unbeaten run to eight matches, without a goal conceded, and leaves them in good shape ahead of this summer’s European Championship in Israel. “If you keep clean sheets, that can only be a good thing,” Butland said. “We’ve got very good players playing well in every position and we will continue that into the tournament.”