One of the attractions of football for those who merely observe it is the way in which the fortunes of teams, managers and individual players can change so swiftly. For those directly involved, the transformation from despair to euphoria and vice-versa has to be dealt with in a mature manner, which is one reason why Andros Townsend of Tottenham and England comes across as wiser than his 22 years.
In the last third of that young life he has been told that his boyhood club, Spurs, no longer wanted him before being reinstated 24 hours later; gone out on loan nine times and wondered if a 10th move should be a permanent one; been banned by the Football Association, missing the most important tournament of his career to date; then in the past three months leapt from Tottenham's Under-21s to become an England man of the match and the less willing subject of front-page controversies.
And on Tuesday at Wembley he is likely to start against Germany and so can solidify – or weaken – hopes of fulfilling a childhood World Cup dream. Yet the possibility only exists because of injuries to other players, who will soon be fully fit again to challenge Townsend's sudden pre-eminence. At club level, the key player is Aaron Lennon, an England international and identical winger, whose foot injury after the first game of the season allowed his younger rival to put aside all thoughts of leaving White Hart Lane. "I thought it was last-chance saloon for me," Townsend says. "After the loan at QPR [last season] I'd proved myself in the Premier League so it was either now or never to see if I'm good enough for a top- four, top-five club. I knew when I got the chance I'd have to take it, and thankfully I did."
A series of mercurial performances, starting in the 5-0 Europa League win away to Dynamo Tblisi, led to not only a first sustained run in the Spurs first team but an unexpected summons from Roy Hodgson for the September internationals. An unused substitute while Theo Walcott was fit, he was then able to take advantage last month of the absence of two Arsenal wingers – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also missing – for an outstanding, goalscoring debut against Montenegro and a solid showing against Poland.
He deals politely but firmly with the ensuing controversy over Hodgson's bewildering "feed the monkey" line ("I don't want to give it any more news time if I'm honest") and takes the same attitude to his suspension last summer. Having previously admitted to being "incredibly naïve" in fending off boredom in hotel rooms by betting on televised matches, he will only add now: "Missing out on such an important tournament [the European Under-21 Championship], one I knew I'd never get again, was heart-breaking but I think I had to take the positives out of a bad situation, get my rest and just focus on coming back a better player this season."
Townsend has certainly done that, helped for club and country by his link-up play with Kyle Walker down the right, which must give pause for thought to the Spurs coaches who showed him the door as a 15 year-old, only to be replaced the next day by a more sympathetic regime.
Keen as he is to concentrate on the here and now, Townsend finally admits that thoughts occasionally drift back to playground dreams and forward to the reality of Rio.
"For every young kid it is a dream to play for your country and at the World Cup. Now is the first time I have allowed myself to talk about it. I am with the England squad, I have got my foot through the door, I can kind of taste it, and I am not going to let that opportunity slip – not think back in 10 or 15 years, 'If only I had played well against Chile and Germany, look what could have happened'."Reuse content