Nick Townsend: Dawson makes a strong case for England defence

Spurs' young yeoman has already won over the attentions of McClaren, but he is more concerned with securing some silverware
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The Independent Online

'My mates and I reckon you'd be the best of the squad to go out for a few beers with," begins a question in a Q & A in the most recent Tottenham Hotspur programme. It continues impudently: "Do you fancy a pint at the Bee Hive with us after the match?"

You can understand the motivation for the question, even though Michael Dawson, perhaps understandably, politely declines the invitation. There is something reassuringly old-fashioned about the confident, engaging Yorkshireman, both in his off-field demeanour and his assertive presence on it, that evokes memories of such White Hart Lane characters of old as Mike England and endears him to the Spurs faithful as much as it does to his manager, Martin Jol.

Despite being on the cusp of international recognition, there is no affectation about the 22-year-old centre-back. The evening before we meet he could have been expected to be witnessing Arsenal's Carling Cup destruction of Liverpool on TV, and admiring Tottenham's avowed rivals as prospective opposition in the semi-finals. Dawson was actually seated in the stands at Kettering Town.

He was there to provide sibling support for Kevin, 25, one of his two footballing older brothers, as the full-back contributed to Worksop Town's 2-2 draw in the Nationwide Conference North. His other brother, Andy, 28, plays for Hull. The trio, all defenders, migrated south from the family nest in Northallerton as teenagers, all departing for Nottingham Forest. They even stayed in the same digs before dispersing on the winds of football fortune.

The youngest Dawson was captain of Forest, a then struggling Championship side, when the transfer window opened and the trade winds blew him to Tottenham, together with Andy Reid. That was two years ago this month, and already a full England cap beckons.

"Playing week in, week out in the Premiership, you hope your performances get noticed," Dawson says. "I've been in and around the squads, but unfortunately not on the pitch to get a senior cap yet.

"Here, we've got a whole host of England internationals [Ledley King, Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Jenas, Paul Robinson, Jermain Defoe and Danny Murphy] and it would be nice if one day I could join them. But you're always aware there's so many talented English centre-halves, including Ledley here, so I know it's going to be hard forcing my way in."

Last season, Dawson, an England Under-21 player, impressed sufficiently to be placed on stand-by for World Cup duty. "It was a fantastic experience for me, being around the World Cup squad for two weeks, and being part of the build-up," recalls the defender, who was also named in Steve McClaren's first squad to face Greece.

You suspect his time will come. A few years ago, this observer was seated here at Spurs' Chigwell training ground with the then manager, George Graham, who was bemoaning the dearth of authentic defenders; men like Tony Adams and Steve Bould. I tell Dawson that Graham would have approved of his dedication to that role.

"Obviously, your main job is to defend. It's about keeping clean sheets, first and foremost," Dawson says while preparing for today's Premiership match against Newcastle. "My game is about being strong and aggressive. But nowadays you have to have more than that. You have to be able to get the ball down and play." And contribute goals? His first for the club, in the 2-1 defeat of Chelsea, arrived in early November.

But it is as a yeoman of the rearguard that he is Spurs' most prized asset, as he demonstrated against Cardiff in last Sunday's FA Cup tie (they meet in the replay this week). As my colleague Sam Wallace opined, Dawson was "a commanding presence in the second half and dominated at the back in a team who did not look like they had much stomach for a fight". Which explains just why his name is greeted with such affection from the stands.

Dawson remains a cricket fanatic. At 6ft 3in, he gives you the impression he could hurl the ball down with Fred Trueman ferocity, though he maintains he was an all-rounder. He played for North Yorkshire, and reached county level, but from 14 opted to concentrate on football.

"I was going down on the train to Nottingham on a Friday night, training on the Saturday and playing on the Sunday," he says. "All I ever dreamed of doing was leaving home and going to live and play football there - in the footsteps of my two brothers."

His early mentor was the England defender Des Walker, a character he describes as "a fantastic player and a fantastic bloke". Dawson adds: "He was a great communicator and it was brilliant playing alongside him. At first, he probably took the blame for things that were my fault to give me confidence, but I've always believed you've got to go out and do the job yourself."

He was also indebted to the manager Paul Hart. "He brought me into the youth team, and then got the senior job, and gave me the chance to make my debut. He gave me the chance to play on the big stage."

His first game in the elite was at Anfield, when he helped Tottenham secure a 2-2 draw. "It was a lot different," he says of the adjustment he had to make. "You're playing against world-class players, week in, week out. But that brings you on in your game. If you don't [improve], you get left behind. You've got players like [Didier] Drogba or [Wayne] Rooney, and also the two Fulham strikers [Brian] McBride and [Heldar] Helguson. They're all very strong. If they get a chance, they'll put it in the back of the net. You make a mistake and you'll get punished a lot more in the Premiership."

Ask him to nominate the best player in the Premiership and he names team-mate Tom Huddlestone. "Don't forget I've been aware of him for a long time," says Dawson. "I played against Tom when I was at Forest and he was at Derby. Even then he had the technique and the passing, and was a big strong lad. He's had his chance and he's not looked back. I don't see why he can't make it to the very top."

Along with Tottenham? That may be asking too much for the moment. But a Carling Cup semi-final has Dawson contemplating the club's first honours since they won the same competition in 1999. "It's massive for us. It would be fantastic if we could knock Arsenal out, and end up in the final," he says. "This is only my second season here. It would be great to win something, whatever it may be."

Then, no doubt, the beers will be on him.

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