Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is part of an ever-growing group of professional footballers and managers who, sometimes through no fault of their own, have been heavily criticised by Roy Keane on ITV. Although, unlike many of the others, the Arsenal midfielder says that he agrees with Keane’s sentiment.
At England’s team hotel on Monday, ahead of the friendly against Denmark, Oxlade-Chamberlain took us back to his greatest moment in an England shirt – the game at the Maracana Stadium in June in which he scored in the 2-2 draw with Brazil. In the course of that game, as surreptitiously as he could, he nudged Neymar and suggested, by means of a gesture, that the two of them exchange shirts at the end of the game.
Keane saw it and he was not happy. In Oxlade-Chamberlain’s words he was “hammered” by the ITV pundit and his friends watching the game on television at home were not slow to tell him about it.
Keane said at the time: “I don’t think he [Oxlade-Chamberlain] needs to be going around asking for another player to change shirts... at the end of the game no problem, but not during the course of the game when really you should be concentrating and not worried about whose top you’re going to get. You build your own reputation and by asking other players during the course of the game – it’s a no from me.”
Even Gareth Southgate, the England Under-21s manager, offered the view that Oxlade-Chamberlain should not be giving the Brazilians the impression he thought they were “superior” to him. And rather than stick two fingers up to the old pros in the television studio, Oxlade-Chamberlain said yesterday that he considered they were probably right after all. The Neymar shirt is in a drawer at home and he will not be doing it again.
“I agree with Roy, it’s not the way to go about things,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “To be fair, I didn’t try and make it too blatant. It just happened that the camera landed on me right at the time I nudged him. It’s not the ideal thing to be doing during the game. I have to hold my hands up. You’re not in awe of these players. It’s a mutual respect, especially a player like Neymar, a player of a similar age to me and I’ve got massive respect for what he’s done in world football.”
Nothing rattles the man they call “the Ox” too much, and since that day in Brazil he has come a long way. A bad knee injury that kept him out of five months of the season means that now he finds himself fit and ready with just 100 days to go until the start of the World Cup finals. There is some serious competition for the wide places in the squad, even with the injured Theo Walcott out of the running, although Oxlade-Chamberlain would seem to have Roy Hodgson’s confidence.
He was selected by the England manager to start the first game of Euro 2012 against France, just the third of his current total of 13 caps for England. Since then Andros Townsend has burst on to the international scene, although his club form has waned of late. Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice against Crystal Palace in his fifth game back from injury last month, although he was not in the Arsenal starting XI that played Stoke City at the weekend.
As with the other wide players in the squad, Adam Lallana, Townsend, James Milner and Raheem Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot be certain of a place in Brazil. Outside of that group the prospects for Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon and Wilfried Zaha are even more remote. A good performance from Oxlade-Chamberlain against Denmark tomorrow would get him close to that squad of 23.
Oxlade-Chamberlain said: “You couldn’t say concrete what the starting XI would be [at the World Cup], or on Wednesday. Everyone will still be trying to put on performances to influence those decisions right up to the World Cup. I don’t think the manager could name the team, either. There could be injuries. There are places up for grabs all over the place. We’re just thinking about putting in the performances to ensure we deserve a place in the squad first.”
He picked up the knee injury on the opening day of Arsenal’s season against Aston Villa in August and did not play again until 13 January. In the meantime he watched the likes of Townsend and Sterling, with whom he shares an agent, emerge as contenders for the squad. During that period Oxlade-Chamberlain had the memory of that goal in the Maracana to see him through.
“Moments like that are nice to look back on when you’re going through a tough time, like an injury,” he said. “Little reminders can keep you inspired and motivated to give you the best opportunity to get back playing. I’ve looked back on that moment a few times.”
“I am my own harshest critic. That’s the way I’ve always gone about what I do. As soon as I finish a game I ask for the DVD and go home to watch it, whether I’ve had a good or bad game. I look at areas where I’ve not done so well and ask why. For me, that’s the way I learn best and the way I get the best out of myself. I just make sure I don’t need anyone else to tell me if I’ve done well or badly. That’s just the way I’ve always worked.”
The third big name in recent years off the Southampton production line after Walcott and Gareth Bale, Oxlade-Chamberlain is now joined in the squad with four more from his old club, two of them academy boys. The Arsenal man is not the youngest any longer and he is hoping that his experience will get him the nod for Brazil.
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