Jol's faith allows Davies to start believing again

FA Cup fifth round: Tottenham winger fights off injuries and the curse of that No 7 shirt to kick-start his career
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The Independent Football

For all the good it was to do him, Simon Davies may as well have picked up that black cat continually crossing his path and carried it under the nearest ladder. But the Spurs midfielder was desperate. He was willing to try anything.

For all the good it was to do him, Simon Davies may as well have picked up that black cat continually crossing his path and carried it under the nearest ladder. But the Spurs midfielder was desperate. He was willing to try anything.

It was last summer, and after a season in which he had spent more time on the sidelines than your average fourth official, Davies decided to act. "My squad number was 29," he said as he scraped the mud from his knee after training in deepest Essex on Friday. "And although it had been good for me up until the injuries, I thought, 'New season, new number'. I did it to change my luck."

Nothing wrong there; footballers have long been a superstitious lot. Bobby Moore is known to have always taken his shorts off last, Cristiano Ronaldo his diamond earrings. Except the number Davies was swapping to didn't exactly scream out "horseshoe buried at the bottom of a rainbow", even though, as he asserts: "Seven is a good one to have, especially at a big club like Spurs."

Seven had also been Darren Anderton's squad number before he left for Birmingham, which probably explained why Davies found so little competition in the scramble for the kit room. Take old Sicknote's crutches while you're at it, the rest must have thought.

Davies can see the irony now at the change of fortune, which nosedived from bad to perverse. But in those morose months as his form dipped unrecognisably until injury forced him out again, it was no laughing matter. "Frustrating?" he repeats as you pose the daft question. "You can't imagine. There was a new manager who I wanted to show what I could do, but in the meantime there were all these new players coming in who were showing him what they could do. There's no ideal time to be injured, but this was as far from ideal as you could get. Yeah, I felt like the forgotten man."

But providence had had its fun with the Welshman. The new manager happened to be Martin Jol, and although everyone else might have forgotten him, the Dutchman hadn't. "I owe an awful lot to Martin," confessed Davies. "I'd not been around the place that much, he'd hardly seen me play and the team were doing well without me. So for him to show such faith and put me straight back in the team when I was ready was unbelievable."

Indeed it was, but only as "unbelievable" as the way Davies has responded in his four games back. In fact, there are many Spurs fans who will tell you that if it wasn't for Davies they wouldn't be smacking their lips at the prospect of an FA Cup quarter-final place when they face Nottingham Forest at the Lane today.

When the 25-year-old was introduced at half-time against West Brom in the fourth-round replay last Saturday, Spurs were looking straight down a barrel of their own cocking. The right-sided midfielder transformed the evening, giving the home side the width they so transparently lacked and a fervour that had been hiding deep within, as they turned a deficit into a 3-1 waltz. "I was happy with my contribution," he said.

If only the Spurs faithful had been so gloriously understated earlier this term, when the message boards bellowed: "Please can someone return Simon Davies. Who is this impostor on the right wing?" Jacques Santini, Jol's ill-fated predecessor, had himself shown remarkable conviction in an undoubted talent who not a few years before had drawn interest from Old Trafford and theCamp Nou, and thrown him in after close- season surgery on his shins. "I thought that operation and some orthopaedic insoles had done the trick," Davies said.

He hadn't reckoned for the curse of Anderton, or at least the number seven. Davies succumbed to a viral infection that not only made him a lifeless outline on the pitch but was also to make his shin-splints flare up again. "I had to say, 'Enough, I need a rest'." Davies did just that in November: no training, with trips home to Solva, his family village in west Wales, and the recuperation began.

This time, however, the boy nicknamed Digger by his parents for the simple fact that he would always dig holes in the sand was determined not to bury his head again. "I drew up a six-week plan with my fitness instructor and followed it rigidly. It worked perfectly."

But his torment wasn't quite over yet. Just as he was completing a few reserve run-outs in the New Year, whispers of a transfer to Everton grew. "Part of me actually felt I would be going to Goodison as it rumbled on for weeks," he said. "It was an incredible offer [£4.5m] for someone who had barely played in 18 months, and it obviously was an ego boost that someone wanted me that much. But I got even more confidence from my own club rejecting them."

That was down to Jol, who put his disappointment aside in not landing Wayne Routledge from Crystal Palace in the transfer window by declaring that it was just like signing a winger in having Davies back. Suddenly, confidence was overflowing in this most modest of professionals. "When Jacques was here, Martin was the one who always talked to me, always said nice things about me, and it really helped with my self-belief. I suspect he did that with others, too. So when he took over there were a lot of happy faces."

Belief has never been a problem in N17. Unfortunately, it comes and goes as quickly as managers. "Spurs is like that, all highs and lows and nothing in between. We always get to a certain level and people say, 'This is it'. Then we lose the crucial game and we're starting all over again. It's been like that throughout my five years here.

"But I suppose consistency is the hardest thing to find. That's what the Chelseas, Man Uniteds and Arsenals have. Things have turned around in a very short space of time here, though. It's funny, because when I first got on the treatment table 18 months ago I was one of the babies. We had Gus Poyet, Teddy [Sheringham], Darren, Jamie [Redknapp], [Christian] Ziege as the old heads, and me and Ledley [King] as the youngsters. Now I'm off the treatment table, Ledley's the captain and I'm one of the oldest."

However, some things never change. "Yeah, Spurs have always been 'a Cup team'. But I know what they mean by that. It's what I said about consistency. When it's a one-off we've got the quality of player here to give anyone a game. Obviously we'll have to beat a big team along the way if we're going to get to Cardiff, and if we get past Forest the majority of the big teams are still in it. But if we do get a bit of luck..." Perhaps he shouldn't start down that route again.

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