Starry trek that took Luke to the land of glittering stages

FA Cup Countdown: Charlton captain's versatility vital to England as Curbishley concentrates on club cause
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The Independent Football

It was a few years ago now that this observer, in a turn-of-the-year feature, nominated a teenage Tottenham Hotspur full-back as his Young Player for the Future. As that same observer mockingly chided Luke Young last week, he has taken one hell of a time to justify that prophesy. Yet, as the Charlton captain ponders a probable role for England in Germany, and with just the possibility that before then,he could be hoisting the FA Cup aloft at the Millennium Stadium, he is entitled to suggest that a contemporary football proverb should be:All good things come to he who refuses to wait.

At the start of 2001 Young was sitting on the Tottenham bench - rather too frequently for his liking - and suffering from football's equivalent of bed-blocking. The right-back had to be content to remain in the queue. Ahead of him was the Republic of Ireland full-back Stephen Carr. Simultaneously, he was hearing, with great clarity, the words of Sven Goran Eriksson's right-hand man, Tord Grip, who was emphasising the importance of regular first-team football to anyone with England aspirations.

Although a bright new era had just dawned at White Hart Lane with the installation of the prodigal son, Glenn Hoddle, Young still demanded a move. But 20 miles south-east to Charlton, the club then having only returned to the Premiership for a year? Certainly, The Valley in exchange for White Hart Lane may not have been everyone's idea of positive relocation. Yet, as Luke Skywalker now reflects on his £4 million star trek across the capital, it was an inspired move.

"It was my decision," Young recalls. "Glenn Hoddle tried to persuade me to stay, but my mind was set. Stephen Carr was in brilliant form and untouchable. Other clubs came in for me. But once I got a chance to speak to Alan Curbishley, I knew I wanted to come here. He just reiterated everything that I knew in my own head, that I needed to go out and play regularly and that Charlton was the place to do it. I've discovered that you learn a lot about yourself when you play 30, 35 games a season."

He adds: "I didn't even think about the size of the club [compared with Spurs]. I just felt it was a club going forward." Under a manager, he could have added, whose career was equally in the ascendancy.

Who knows, post-World Cup, the dynamic attacking defender could be called up for Alan Curbishley's first England squad? Curiously, although the Charlton manager remains distinctly embarrassed about the photographs of him meeting the FA chief executive Brian Barwick which appeared in a red-top last Sunday, Curbishley appears to be already viewing things through England spectacles.

Asked about Darren Bent's international claims, the manager proceeded to suggest, alluding to the injury problems of Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge, that Young could also play on the left for his country, explaining: "He often used to play there for Tottenham."

Young acknowledges the fact. "It's interesting he [Curbishley] has said that. It's true; when I was coming through the ranks at Spurs, they had a few problems at left-back, so I used to get put there. In the end, I was in that position so much that I got used to it. I wouldn't be fazed to do it for England. But it would be nice to have a few games there before being thrown in."

For the moment, though, he remains a natural replacement for Gary Neville and, in the absence of his injured Manchester United counterpart, Young travelled on the US tour last summer. "When I first got in the squad, Sven said to me, 'Don't try showing me everything you've got in one training session'. He said, 'Just relax. The World Cup's a year away. Try and enjoy yourself'. It was good advice. Since then, I've grown into the squad and enjoyed it."

Young went on to play in four World Cup qualifiers, followed by the friendly with Argentina. "Hopefully, I've done enough to get on the plane to Germany," he says. However, the Harlow-born 26-year-old accepts that he remains only understudy to Neville. "You can try and put enough pressure on him as you can, but at the end of the day he's going to play right-back for England in Germany."

Before then, however, there are domestic matters to consider. Had Young indulged himself with visions of lifting the FA Cup in May? "No, that seems a long time away," he says. "It's quite exciting for Charlton, to be in the quarter-final with a home tie [against Middlesbrough on Thursday], because we haven't been here for so long. But at least we're in touching distance."

Curbishley is concerned that his association with the England position may affect Charlton's progress in both League and Cup. But Young maintains: "I don't think it's affected our squad really. There was no surprise that the FA wanted to speak to Alan. He sat us down before our game [against Boro, coincidentally, last Sunday] and explained that they were interviewing a lot before him, and probably a lot of people after him. The lads were happy with what he said."

And none more so than Young, in the knowledge that Curbishley will either be his international coach or remain as his club manager next season. Things are looking increasingly auspicious for the player who is justifying a certain judge's early enthusiasm.