Middlesbrough exists on the curriculum vitae of four of England's five-man coaching team but last night the club's winger, Stewart Downing, denied that his place on the left wing for his manager, Steve McClaren, owes more to favouritism than form.
All of the 22-year-old's three starts for England have been since his former manager at The Riverside succeeded Sven Goran Eriksson and installed Terry Venables, Steve Round and Bill Beswick - all of whom have connections with the Teesside club - among his back-room staff. Yet although disappointed with his last international performance against Macedonia, whom England meet again on Saturday, Downing insists he has proved an adequate replacement for the injured Joe Cole and believes charges of nepotism were inevitable once McClaren got the job.
Downing was not included on the left wing as England trained with a 3-5-2 system at Carrington yesterday, Ashley Cole operating as a wing-back, but he insisted: "I know I'm not in the squad just because Steve McClaren is the manager. It is my performances that are getting me in.
"It is unfair to suggest I get special treatment but I was half expecting it. Some of the criticism I've had so far has been a little bit harsh. I can do better, we all can, but I'm still getting used to the team and the players."
With Cole expected to have recovered from his knee injury in time for England's friendly against the Netherlands on 15 November the pressure remains on Downing to deliver in these European Championship qualifiers with Macedonia and Croatia. The winger, who was a £7m transfer target for Tottenham in the summer, does not accept his international prospects will improve with a move to a leading Premiership club.
He added: "I've played against a few top teams in the Uefa Cup and got to the final with Middlesbrough, which is probably as high as we'll go as we need more players and more consistency before we begin to think about the Champions' League. But I've proved I can do it on the big stage so I don't see why I should be regarded as different to any other player in the squad."
Jermaine Jenas missed training yesterday with a slight knee injury but is expected to resume preparations for the Macedonia game today.
* The Croatia midfielder Darijo Srna has a muscle injury and may miss next week's game against England.Reuse content