Walters worth his weight in gold

In the canon of Jason McAteer stories, the one about the credit card is still king.

The former Ireland international was at Liverpool at the time, filling out an application for a gold card, when he alighted on the question asking which position he held at his company. His response, ‘wing-back’, has gone down in football lore.

It’s a yarn ‘Trigger’ has happily told against himself but, for all the confusion, there was little doubt about his actual role on the pitch. Ask Jonathan Walters to describe what he does for Stoke City and he all but consults the Trade Descriptions Act.

“I generally spend most of my time playing in the midfield area if I’m playing up front,” he explained during the week while in Ireland to promote the new adidas Predator Lethal Zones boot along with his teammate for club and country Glenn Whelan.

“It’s completely different when I come away with the Ireland squad because you play two up front so you’re against centre-halves. At Stoke, you’re dropping in and I generally spend my time doing work in midfield and then trying to get behind Peter [Crouch] when we break.

“Probably half of the games I’ve played on the left or right. You play quite deep, you’re covering your full-back quite a lot. In some games, especially against the big teams, you end up being a right-back or left-back.”

Didier Drogba summed it up succinctly for him a few weeks ago after his own, widely-praised emergency stint at left-back for Chelsea at the Nou Camp when he said the Barcelona goal was so far away it looked like it was on the M25.

Walters’ duties around the pitch have been heralded enthusiastically by the locals in Staffordshire. He received the Stanley Matthews Potteries Footballer of the Year award last March with one judge praising his “perpetual motion”.

Still, if his credit card application form happened to list his on-field role with Tony Pulis’ side it would say ‘striker’ and when he misses the odd chance – or three as was the case against Newcastle United last month – such selflessness is often overlooked.

He accepts as much. Goals are a forward’s currency after all and he has scored just nine in 51 appearances for Stoke this season, as well as one for Ireland in the 4-0 play-off win over Estonia in Tallinn.

He may be used in a more attacking role by Giovanni Trapattoni but that familiarity with more withdrawn duties makes him an attractive contender for Euros game time next month when Ireland will spend vast chunks of their three games chasing the ball.

All told, it is easy to see why Trapattoni has such time for him. Walters is the identikit Ireland player of the Trap Era in that he has had to drive himself up to the top level of the game via sheer graft and an assortment of unfashionable pitstops.

He actually started life at the Blackburn Rovers Academy and once reached an FA Youth Cup final against an Arsenal side that boasted Jermaine Pennant, Rohan Ricketts, Steve Sidwell, Jerome Thomas, David Bentley and Jeremie Aliadiere.

Yet it required chapters at Bolton, Hull City — where he played League Two football — Crewe, Scunthorpe, Wrexham and Chester City before he moved onto a higher syllabus with Ipswich Town and then Stoke, in 2010.

It’s a story familiar to so many of this Irish squad. Glenn Whelan, Darren O’Dea, Sean St Ledger and Stephen Hunt... they all know how that feels while another half dozen will travel to Poland with a CV that lists time spent in the domestic game here.

“There are a lot of lads who have been down there [in the lower divisions] and done things,” he said. “Some of the lads came in from the League of Ireland at quite a late age. To have that attitude — that’s what a lot of managers look for.

“Sometimes you look at lads coming through from academies and they have all the ability in the world and they could be world-beaters if they only have the right sort of attitude. Ability counts but the top, top players will have both really.”

And gold cards to boot.


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