Friday, June 26, 2009

In the Driver's seat

Soccerphile Exclusive:
England u21 revelation Andrew Driver



Andrew Driver is not exactly a name on many fans' lips, but after a sAndrew Driver.tellar debut for the England u21 side against Germany on Monday, expect to hear more of this young talent soon.

The 21 year-old from Lancashire, who plays his football north of the border with Heart of Midlothian, was a sensation on the right-wing, storming up the flanks and leading the Germans a merry dance with his penetrative runs, until coach Stuart Pearce decided to rest his ace after 71 minutes' of a more than satisfactory debut.

"Obviously it was a dream to get my first cap," Driver told Soccerphile. "It was the first massive game for me, and one of the biggest of my career. I really enjoyed it," he went on, "and am really pleased with how it went. I wanted to get the ball at every opportunity and it is good when you are in that mood."

Watching Driver lead the line against Germany so confidently, it was eye-opening to think it really was his first game for his country at any level.

Of course, England had taken notice already, as had Burnley and Coventry, who had both been rebuffed in efforts to sign the precocious midfielder, the Sky Blues offering one million pounds back in January's transfer window.

Edinburgh might not be the most usual port of call for English u21s, but Driver has lived in the Scottish capital since nine years ago when his father took the family north of the border for work.

Joining the Tynecastle youth system, the young Englishman worked his way through the ranks until he made his first-team debut for the Jam bos in a pre-season tour of Austria in 2006.

Driver speaks with Lancastrian vowels and a hint of that county's unmistakable burr, but confesses it is all a bit of a ruse to hide his subsequently-acquired Scottish accent.

"I just sound English because I have been with English people here for a while!," he joked. "When I arrived all the boys said I sounded Scottish. I have been taking quite a bit of stick as you can imagine. I just say a few words and get slagged!"

And joining a team including some household names with World Cup and Champions League experience was not easy.

"It was really nerve-racking the first time I entered the England dressing-room not knowing everyone," he admitted, "because these guys are at the top of their game. I have never played against them and have never been near them so they would not know who I am. But the boys have made it really easy and I feel like I have settled in quite well. Football is football when you are out on the pitch and everyone is the same."

Overlooked for the first two games in Sweden, Driver is pressing for inclusion against the hosts in the semi-final, but his lack of caps will count against him making the starting eleven.

"There are boys in the squad who are very experienced," he said.

"In my position you have Milner and Walcott in my position and Johnno (Adam Johnson) on the left so obviously I am just happy I went out and showed everything I could and put myself in the mix. It is a team game so if I am not selected I will just be happy to support the team. It is a massive tournament for us and however the manager decides to win it I will be very happy to go along with him. Stuart has been very supportive of me and the training has been brilliant. He is brilliant with the players."

Win or lose in Gothenburg tonight, Driver will not forget the first time he played for his country, and this is surely not the last time we will have heard of him either.

"For me the experience is something I have never done before. This is my first international squad outing. I have not always been the best traveler in the past but I have really enjoyed this trip. I just hope to take as much from it as possible and I am enjoying doing that."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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