CRAIG HOPE: Callum Wilson would RELISH being England’s leading man – his confidence makes him the perfect go-to man in this World Cup setting and he will NOT be intimidated should he need to deputise for Harry Kane
When, at the start of this season, Callum Wilson marked Sunday November 13 as ‘Pack for Qatar’ in his diary, he would have probably jotted ‘Start against USA’ on Friday November 25.
Not because he forecast an injury to Harry Kane, more so because he backs himself to beat, what to others at least, would appear insurmountable odds.
While recovering from a hamstring injury in September and asked by his Newcastle team-mates where he was spending the mid-season break, the striker would reply: ‘Qatar.’
Callum Wilson would relish the chance to be England’s leading man at the World Cup in Qatar
Even if Harry Kane (left) is declared fit to face USA on Friday, Wilson’s confidence will remain
He does not want for self-belief, Wilson. Arrogance? From afar, perhaps. Not, however, to those who regularly spend time around the 30-year-old.
His club boss Eddie Howe, for example, will not entertain anything other than the opinion of Wilson being the most single-minded, resilient and positive player he has ever worked with.
So, should Gareth Southgate turn to him in the event of Kane missing Friday’s game because of an ankle issue, Wilson will not be intimidated by the stage upon which he will step as England’s leading man. Shrink beneath the spotlight? He will be walking taller than any Doha skyscraper.
At the start of this month, before Southgate had named his squad, Sportsmail gave Wilson 30 seconds to tell us why he should be on the plane. He embraced the challenge.
Substitute Wilson set up Jack Grealish to score England’s sixth goal against Iran on Monday
To others present, it may have looked like the question was a plant, such was Wilson’s enthusiasm for the task.
But talking himself up for England had become Wilson’s specialist subject – his weekly BBC podcast should have carried the sporting equivalent of a party political broadcast notice – and he duly returned a list of reasons as to why Southgate should pick him.
Given Wilson was, by now, also doing his talking on the pitch, the Three Lions boss did not need to hear the answer. He knew already what the player could bring.
Wilson is a ‘good tourist’, too. At Newcastle’s training ground, he bounces through corridors and his laughter beats him around corners. For all of the inner drive, there is an external, infectious quality that inspires others.
Wilson’s confidence is what makes him the perfect go-to man in this major tournament setting
The worry, as ever with Wilson, is that body has often failed mind. But what should be of reassurance to Southgate is that his player has used this very environment – the Aspire Academy in Doha – to aid his rehab before.
Muscles, you would assume, are far more likely to pop amid the North-East cold than they are the Middle-Eastern heat.
His hamstrings certainly looked just fine in the closing stages of Monday’s 6-2 win over Iran when, on as a substitute for Kane, he sprinted clear before laying on a goal for Jack Grealish. There was, to some on Tyneside, surprise that he did not shoot. But that is Wilson – now he is on the inside, he does not need to force approval.
His reaction to being denied an earlier introduction when Southgate changed plans because of an injury to Harry Maguire was also telling.
There will be no need for mental adaptation – Wilson is ready to give his all for England
Stripped on the touchline, he shot a smile and a nod which relayed, not frustration, but a belief that his time would come. Could that be now?
Even if Kane is declared fit for the game against the USA, Wilson’s confidence will remain. It is why he is the perfect go-to man in this major tournament setting.
There will be no need for mental adaptation. Wilson is ready. He has been waiting for this moment ever since picking up his diary back in August.