“We gave as good as we got,” says Nicky Shorey. The 39-year-old is now a lead scout at Reading in the Championship, but he recalls his senior England debut fondly. “Against a team like Brazil, you’ve got to be disciplined; you’ve got to be a solid outfit defensively. It was a steady performance without being spectacular. And for myself, I’d say the same — steady without being spectacular. It was a six or seven out of ten; happy enough with my first game.” Modest.
England’s 1-1 friendly draw with Brazil in the summer of 2007 was not only Shorey’s debut, but also the first senior international at the new Wembley. He became the first Reading player capped by England for 99 years. “You’re not really thinking about those sorts of things. First and foremost, it was just an honour to get the call-up. It was our first season in the Premier League at Reading; we weren’t expecting to be anywhere near the England setup [yet]. But the season went really well.” The Royals finished eighth in their first campaign in the top-flight.
“In a position like left-back, Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge were the dominant pair throughout that period. If you could get anywhere near them [you were doing well]. It came out of the blue. Getting a start in the first game, at the new Wembley, against Brazil as well — you’ve got to be a bit lucky to get that!”
Then, in the very next international break, it would be Shorey again on the left for England — still at Wembley, but this time against Germany. “Another massive game. They came in quick succession. I was lucky at that time; Ashley Cole was injured and so was Wayne Bridge. So, it fell into my lap, really.
“Against Germany, who we have a lot of history with, again it wasn’t a spectacular game.” England fell to a 2-1 defeat, despite taking a ninth-minute lead. “We got done on the night,” admits Shorey.
“But, it was just a lucky period where those games came up, the new Wembley had just been finished, we [Reading] had just got into the Premier League and were playing well. Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge were injured and I was the next in line, fortunately. I feel pretty lucky and privileged. Of course, you work hard and you feel like you deserve it, and I think we did as a team at Reading. As much as it was an individual thing for me, it was definitely a team thing. It just showed what we had done as a team at Reading — to get one of our players into the England squad was amazing.
“Still to this day, when people say it, it’s like, ‘oh yeah!’ I kind of forget [that I represented England]. It’s a bit different if I was a regular in every squad and played double-figures games. But it’s still like, ‘yeah, I did, didn’t I?’ To this day, it’s still a massive buzz to me, and something that I feel very honoured to have done.”
When you’re in that bubble, you learn how things work. And when you aren’t, you don’t. Few fans can claim to know how receiving international match fees or physical match caps work. But Shorey is equally perplexed by the latter.
“To this day, it’s still a massive buzz to me, and something that I feel very honoured to have done.”Nicky Shorey, on representing England
“All our match fees went into a pot and were given out to charities. It’s funny, I got my first cap pretty much straight away — the Brazil one — it wasn’t long after. I didn’t get my Germany cap for going on four, five years after. I still hadn’t had it and I was trying to chase it up and then I sort of gave up on it.
“The club secretary at Reading, Sue Hewett, chased it up for me as well. Eventually, I got one; I finally got one. It was literally only a year ago, or so. Strange. I don’t know what happened there.
On which teammate stood out most during his international career, the former Aston Villa man couldn’t name just one. But he did answer with a familiar pair.
“[Frank] Lampard and [Steven] Gerrard. You knew they were top players, but when you got to train with them, build up, and play a game with them, [you saw] how they played in that game and dominated. They showed me what it was like to be that next level, they really did. Lampard more so in the games, but Gerrard in terms of his training. He was just the standout [player]. It showed me the consistency of the level they got to. Whether it was training, friendly games, it didn’t matter. They were like that the whole time.”
Shorey only played under one manager for the Three Lions, Steve McClaren, but he has no regrets over the system and coach he operated under.
“Steve McClaren was a very good coach; I really enjoyed his sessions. He got his messages across really well. He had Terry Venables with him as well. That was a great experience, just to have a bit of knowledge on the training ground, a bit of advice. In terms of how you wanted to get the messages across, he was also really good at it.
“I think [we played] 4-4-2. We had [Michael] Owen and [Alan] Smith up top. Joe Cole was wide left, in front of me. He was an adaptable player to play that role. It quite suited us. We had crosses in the box [from David Beckham], and then Joe played it a bit differently, coming inside a bit more.”
As a left-back, Shorey knows just how important it is to be playing with a teammate you trust on the opposite flank. One member in particular of the current England squad has made him sit up and take note.
“I’ve really got a soft spot for Trent Alexander-Arnold. I’ve watched him closely over the last three or four seasons. I personally think he should have started in the World Cup instead of [Kieran] Trippier.
“He’s going to be the one going forward for the next ten years. He’s got real quality; I love the way he plays, a real playmaker at full-back. That’s how I used to want to play the game. I wasn’t necessarily a proper out-and-out defender, I wanted to get on the ball, make passes, get assists and crosses. He plays the game like that, and he has probably taken it to a whole new level.
“I thought Trippier did okay at the World Cup, got an assist, scored the free kick. But [with his] overall game, and moving forward with this England team, I think Trent is the one. I would have given him the experience early on to play in a tournament with England, knowing, going forward, he’s going to have three or four tournaments with us.
“They’ve had a clear plan from the outset and they’ve stuck with the plan,” Shorey insists, explaining how Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland have changed perceptions of the England team in recent years.
“They’ve still adapted when they’ve had to, but they’ve really [said], ‘this is where we are going with it; this is how we see the future of England; we’re going to go with the younger boys.’ He obviously works with the U21s, and there is a clear pathway, more so than there has ever been with England. It always used to be that you get caps at U18s, at U21s, and it’s almost ‘so what?’ I never played at any age group, I was 26 and straight into the senior fold. Back then, it didn’t matter as much.
“He’s got real quality; I love the way he plays.”Nicky Shorey, on Trent Alexander-Arnold
“Now, if you do well you get into the U18s, U21s, there is a clear progression and they will give you the opportunity. I think that’s good; it really shows we’re trying to move forward with our younger age groups and give them the experience, a bit more like club level. You want them going into the first team when they’ve been in that environment before, when they know what it’s all about. It will hopefully stand us in good stead going forward.
“Listen, it’s always a privilege to play for your country, no matter what age group. But now it’s, ‘I could possibly make the transition to the senior squad. There is a real chance if I get my head down and do well.’
“That’s one of the biggest things that they’ve changed, which is a positive.”
Looking forward to the European Championships, postponed until next summer, Shorey believes the finals will come at a good time for England.
“We’re going to be in a really good position to do well, more so than we ever have. Last World Cup, we did well — got to the latter stages. I still never quite believed we were going to be good enough to do it, though. But in a year’s time, two years’ time, our boys will be at a really good age, have been together for quite a while, and have a lot of continuity going on with Southgate in charge.
“I’d be surprised if we don’t get at least to a final and have a real good go in the next three or four tournaments.
“It’s a different feeling. I don’t turn [the TV] on now and think about watching certain individual players. I’m watching England, the team. That’s the feeling they’ve cultivated now, and that is a good thing.”
Photo Credits: Getty Images [photos 1, 2, 5, 6, 7], The Non-League Football Paper [photo 3], The Reading Chronicle [photo 4], Sports Illustrated [photo 8]