Wayne Routledge: Journeyman finds sense of direction
In the week that Roy Hodgson bemoaned the lack of available English talent, Wayne Routledge tells Phil Cadden he is ready for the call. And the statistics back him up!
Wayne Routledge has the sort of history to which any young player with international hopes would aspire. Capped 12 times at England Under-21 level alongside Joe Hart, James Milner and Ashley Young, he was always marked out as a footballer with undoubted ability and promise.
But, and there has always been a but with Routledge, 10 clubs in a stop-start career also signal the sort of bulging CV that some would balk at.
But no matter how chequered his past there is no arguing with his present form. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, Routledge has contributed to more goals – four – so far this season than any other English player, lying behind only Eden Hazard, Carlos Tevez and his own club team-mate Michu.
Given Roy Hodgson's extended whinge this week about the lack of watchable English players in the Premier League, he might consider casting his eye over Swansea City's home match with Everton in the lunchtime kick-off.
"I'm proud of the statistic and it's a nice one," Routledge said. "Obviously, it shows I'm doing the right thing and my job well at the moment. But it would be even nicer if I have the stat at the end of the season."
The softly spoken winger is also the third-highest in the assist table, but this should be little surprise for regular viewers of the 27-year-old in a white Swansea shirt.
Last season in south Wales, Routledge played a support role to the first-choice pair Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, but the creator's contribution in 1,459 Premier League minutes under then manager Brendan Rodgers was striking compared to those of Dyer (2,373) and Sinclair (3,122).
Routledge weighed in with seven assists, two more than Sinclair and four more than Dyer, despite his bit-part role off the substitutes' bench.
Fast-forward a season and, although the Manchester City-bound Sinclair has been replaced by club-record signing Pablo Hernandez, formerly of Valencia, the Londoner insists he wants to stake his claim for a regular first-team place for both club and country.
Routledge added: "Everyone wants to play for your country, but my main focus is to play as well as I can for Swansea. If I'm performing well at club level then see where it takes me.
"My goal this season is to play as many games as I can. I've had a little run of games and it's nice. I scored a goal, made a few assists and I'm enjoying my football. When you're playing football things seem easy and I'm at my happiest. I hope this is my time to stay in the side and people see the best of me. I'm happy and the team is doing well. Hopefully, that can continue."
Routledge last played for England in the Uefa Under-21 European Championship five years ago, a tournament which again ended in penalty shoot-out failure with a remarkable 13-12 success for the Netherlands over Stuart Pearce's team.
Routledge recalls during our conversation in a Swansea hotel: "I remember Anton [Ferdinand] missed, it was an incredible shoot-out, but we should have won the game in 90 minutes. We had a very good team and a lot of players who were involved back then who are in the set-up now, Hart, Young, Milner and Leighton Baines.
"I've still got my England caps and shirts at my mum's house back home in Kent. She keeps them as her pride and joy.
"It's nice to keep them and look at now and again. It would be nice to get more England caps and put a smile on mum, Sheila's, face."
Routledge, raised in Thornton Heath, south London, exploded on to the scene with his local club Crystal Palace at the tender age of 16.
The exciting attacker, who describes winning promotion to the Premier League with the Eagles in 2004 as the highlight of his career, secured a £1.25m move to Tottenham Hotspur a year later.
Yet Routledge's stay at White Hart Lane was pretty much over before it started. He broke his foot in Spurs' opening day victory at Portsmouth and lost his place to Aaron Lennon. Over the next five years he made only three appearances.
Routledge explained: "My career has been a learning curve. Football's down to opinions and sometimes things are out of your control. I went to Tottenham and it's a massive club with great players.
"They bought Tom [Huddlestone], Adel [Taarabt], Aaron and myself. There's always competition and it was always going to be difficult, but it doesn't help when you break your foot in the first game.
"Aaron did well and he's still there to this day. You can only learn from what happens. The curve is always upwards if you are playing regularly and well. It's about being the right player for the right manager at the right time."
Loan spells to Portsmouth and Fulham followed before a permanent move to Aston Villa. Then, after a short stint at Cardiff City, Routledge dropped down to the Championship with great effect, winning back-to-back promotions with Newcastle United in 2010 and Queen's Park Rangers the following season. That alerted Swansea 12 months ago and Routledge hasn't looked back.
"The philosophy of football at Swansea is special," Routledge said. "It suits my style. When you play wide then sometimes you get detached and don't see the ball for long periods. It's then hard to get into the game.
"But if you play inside, you get more touches of the ball and it's easier to be involved. It's total football, keep possession and the ball on the floor. It's amazing.
"The season has started well for us. The opening day win at QPR was remarkable. We continued our form against West Ham and Sunderland, and although we had a bad day at the office last weekend, we want to put it right against Everton."
Another reason for the rise of Routledge could be the influence of the new Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, a stylish wideman in his own right.
Routledge added: "I flicked through the channels on the plane going to America for pre-season and came across the programme Legends of Football.
"I clicked on and there was Michael in a Barcelona kit, then a Real Madrid kit ... and then you think about some of the things he did as a footballer. It's crazy.
"I'm learning every day from a great player.
"When he says something, you listen. You'd be a fool not to. He doesn't just talk for the sake of it. He's made a few subtle changes but they're paying dividends so far."
Wayne Routledge appears in EA SPORTS FIFA13, available on iOS from 25 September and 28 September on all formats. Pre-order your copy now at Game.co.uk. "When it comes out, everyone will be playing. Women had 'Fifty Shades of Grey', but now men have Fifa, so it's a bit of revenge!"
My other life
Wayne Routledge is a shareholder, alongside friends and family, for the Football Social Network "Rate Your Player", which was set up earlier this year and can be found online.
He said: "It's a place where people can go, talk and have an opinion about football. It's a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter."
Like most Premier League footballers, Routledge has an army of followers – more than 100,000 – and is active most days giving his views and opinions on all matters football and beyond.
Routledge added: "I signed up a while ago. It's good because I'm not the sort of person who will sit down and watch the news. But on the timeline you get updates and you see what's going on around the world. I get a lot of fun out of it."
Goal difference: Leading creators
Name Country Goals Assists Total
Hazard Bel 1 6 7
Tevez Arg 3 4 7
Michu Sp 4 1 5
Routledge Eng 1 3 4
Van Persie Neth 4 0 4
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