After three broken legs as a teenager, no medal from Liverpool's Champions' League triumph of 2005 after six appearances en route to the final and the briefest England career in history, Stephen Warnock is accustomed to tackling adversity as if it were a particularly tricky right-winger.
So the prospect of making his debut for Aston Villa against Fulham today – in a team still suffering the claret and blues after an unexpected failure to reach the Europa League group stages against Rapid Vienna on Thursday – leaves Warnock undaunted. On the contrary, the 27-year-old, left-sided utility player views his £8m transfer from Blackburn Rovers as an opportunity to force his way into the England fold for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Despite the fact his solitary cap came in a six-minute cameo away to Trinidad & Tobago last year, Warnock is confident he can challenge Wayne Bridge and Leighton Baines for the right to understudy Fabio Capello's first-choice left back, Ashley Cole. He says playing for a club brimming with England contenders – Ashley Young, Emile Heskey, James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Curtis Davies have been in recent squads – will enhance his claims.
"I'm told Fabio Capello is a regular at Villa Park and if he's coming to watch someone else, maybe I can catch his eye," Warnock said. "There's a lot of lads here knocking on the door of the squad and wanting to get in. I'm no different. I'm still at an age where I think I can do it. Coming to Villa can improve my game and prove I can play with international players."
First, though, Blackburn's player of the year must nail a place in Villa's line-up. In normal circumstances a side that won 3-1 at Anfield in their last Premier League fixture would be unchanged. It is conceivable, however, that his new manager, Martin O'Neill, views him as a direct replacement for Gareth Barry. Like the defector to Manchester City, a pivotal player for Villa for more than a decade, Warnock is comfortable in central or wide midfield, as well as in the defensive role he favours. Such versatility may make the case for his inclusion against Fulham difficult to resist.
As an onlooker when Villa lost on the away-goals rule to Rapid, did he sense the pressure generated by the expectations which surround them? "It's always going to be there at a place like this because of the size of the club. I've been at Liverpool when we lost and the pressure really comes on. No disrespect to Blackburn, but there's a different ambition at this club – here it's to break into the top four, which means a Champions' League place, whereas there it was getting into the top half of the table."
Warnock is "raring to go", having sat out Blackburn's Carling Cup win at Gillingham on Tuesday (and been unable to watch Villa stun his first club on Monday because, he said through gritted teeth, "the hotel didn't have ESPN"). With so many players he knew from Liverpool and England duty, settling in has been easy, even if the mood at training on Friday was subdued.
"It was always going to be a bit down after a result like that, but you've got to dwell on the positives. It means we can concentrate on trying to get a Champions' League spot. We've got to try to get over it and put things right against Fulham. If we can beat them, that would be three wins in a row, which is a good run by any standards."Reuse content