Craig Dawson could soon be playing in Champions League with West Ham… and that's no surprise to old Watford team-mates
CRAIG DAWSON could be playing Champions League football next season — and there seems to be a lot of surprise about that fact.
But not from those of us who played with Craig at Watford.
Since he broke into the West Ham side just after Christmas, the Hammers have gone from strength to strength, and you cannot see him losing his place.
Craig is a solid bloke, a family man, a brilliant pro and a defender who simply loves defending — something of a rarity in the Premier League these days.
He can play too, he has a lovely pass in him and has always had goals in his locker. A centre-half scoring four goals in a dozen games, as Craig has done, can do wonders for any team.
Yes, he was relegated at Watford last season, as he was during his previous Premier League campaign with West Brom — but nobody was blaming Craig for us going down.
When West Ham signed him, I wasn’t surprised. David Moyes values a down-to-Earth pro with a strong work ethic and that is Craig to a T.
Like me, he played non-league and lower-league football, with Radcliffe Borough and Rochdale. When you’ve come up through that route, commitment and workrate are virtually guaranteed.
You look around West Ham and you see a lot of people – like Craig – who are proving doubters wrong.
Moyes himself had seen his reputation take a battering ever since he left Everton for Manchester United. But he is a fine manager.
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You watch West Ham and you see a team unit, with a proper framework, everyone knowing their jobs and working hard for each other.
Within that framework, those West Ham players are able to express themselves but if they don’t put in the hard yards, they don’t get into a David Moyes team.
A midfield three of Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Jesse Lingard is never going to get out-run.
I am so happy for Jesse. I know him fairly well and I know he has been through a really tough time. He gets pelters on social media for the most innocuous things and people seem to have him wrong.
He is a talented boy, a World Cup semi-finalist with England and an FA Cup-winning goalscorer with Manchester United.
But to go on loan to West Ham, having not played Premier League football for a year, then to hit the ground running as he has done, tells you a lot about his character. He has given Moyes’ team a whole new dimension.
Rice is some player – he can tackle, he plays really good forwards passes, takes free-kicks, penalties, corners from either side.
West Ham did well to keep him with Chelsea keen, and it’s important they continue to do so because there will always be interest from other clubs.
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Declan is one of the nicest and funniest kids in football. On the pitch or off it, he always has a witty one-liner. He is a player, and a man, that West Ham can build a club around.
He’ll have learned a lot from Mark Noble – who at, 33, has announced that next season will be his last as a player.
One-club men like Noble are virtually non-existent in the modern game.
I’m sure he could have moved and earned more money elsewhere but he loves that club.
I hope he gets guards of honour everywhere he goes next season. We won’t see his like again.
And then there’s Michail Antonio, who may not be a 20-25 goals a season striker but is someone that no defender will enjoy playing against – another great team man, his strength, speed, stamina and intelligence are top-notch.
There are good players and good people everywhere at West Ham which is why it is so encouraging to see them still in the conversation for a Champions League place so late in the season.
I’ll also put a word in for Paul Nevin, one of Moyes’ backroom staff.
You’ll know Stuart Pearce and Kevin Nolan but you may not know Paul – he’s the mixed-race guy you will often see alongside Moyes.
I’ve got to know him through some of the ‘diversity in football’ work I do and he’s such a good coach and a bright bloke. He isn’t showy or mouthy but when he speaks, people listen.
Oh and I’ll even put in a good word for West Ham’s owners – David Sullivan and David Gold.
They owned my club, Birmingham, when I was a kid and they are far more appreciated now than they were at the time – given the mess the club are in under their current ownership.
They did a very decent job with the Blues, we had some good times, and if it hadn’t been for their ‘kids for a quid’ initiative at St Andrews, I would never have been able to afford to go and watch football like I did.
I do still think West Ham are massive underdogs in the race for the top four but if they can pull off a result at Manchester United on Sunday, then we may have to re-think that.
And everyone at Watford would be happy to see Craig Dawson lining up with that Champions League anthem playing next season.
KOP HIT RED WALL
WE all know Liverpool have had a traumatic time with injuries and they have clearly suffered through the loss of the atmosphere at Anfield, during their horrible run of six straight home defeats.
But it feels as though that group of players have hit the wall and maybe people shouldn’t be entirely surprised.
This is a club which waited 30 years to celebrate the title, but never got to celebrate it properly.
Jurgen Klopp’s players didn’t even get to relax and reflect on their success during a proper summer break either. People can under-estimate that.
With games coming so thick and fast, lockdown is not a good time to be trying to get out of a slump – no chance for team bonding sessions or anything like that.
Sure, Liverpool’s reversal of fortunes has been extraordinary – but then these are extraordinary times to be living through.
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