‘The Ox’ out to establish himselfComment on this story
London – England winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain watched the last World Cup in a pub with his friends, but just two years later he is set to cap his meteoric rise by stealing the spotlight at Euro 2012.
The 18-year-old underlined his credentials as one of the brightest young stars in English football with a lively first international start in Saturday's 1-0 friendly win over Belgium at Wembley.
The Arsenal teenager showed enough glimpses of his blistering pace and clever footwork to give England manager Roy Hodgson a tough decision over who starts on the left flank in his side's Euro opener against France on June 11.
Even if Oxlade-Chamberlain initially starts on the bench, he has the qualities to be the ideal game-changer when defenders start to tire.
For Oxlade-Chamberlain, it is a mind-blowing thought that he is even in the conversation as a potential England starter.
Back in 2010, he watched his country's World Cup campaign from a Southsea pub with hopes of one day playing for England occasionally drifting into his head.
Those dreams have come true much quicker than Oxlade-Chamberlain could ever have expected and he can't wait to get his first taste of the kind of tournament he has only ever seen on a TV screen.
“I went home to see my friends the other day in Southsea and we drove past the pub where we watched the England-Germany game and Frank Lampard scored the goal that got disallowed,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said.
“I was sat with my best friend and he said it was unbelievable that a couple of years ago we were in there watching it and in the next major tournament I'm out there with all the boys.
“It sort of puts things into perspective for you and it has been an amazing journey. But it's just the start for me and I can't get carried away.”
At the time he was watching the World Cup on TV, Oxlade-Chamberlain was just emerging from the youth academy at League One club Southampton.
He spent the following season playing a cameo role in Southampton's promotion, an experience that saw him playing at unglamourous venues like Dagenham, Yeovil and Hartlepool.
Finding a way to express himself in such unwelcoming environments was a rite of passage for Oxlade-Chamberlain and it was enough to convince Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to pay £12 million to sign him last year.
“I think the way to describe the last 12 months is that it has been a bit of a whirlwind,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said.
“I can remember playing for Southampton last year at Dagenham on a cold Tuesday night.
“I'm grateful for those experiences because, when you come from that and working hard in those environments, it makes you strive to come and play at places like this and play for your country.
“It has been a mad 12 months and I've enjoyed every minute of it and it has gone so quickly.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain, the son of former England international Mark, has been used sparingly by Wenger so far, but he received rave reviews for a mature display in central midfield during a Champions League tie against AC Milan and it seems Hodgson agreed with the plaudits.
When he called up the 18-year-old, Hodgson recalled the Milan match as proof that he was able to cope with the mental challenge of playing at the Euros.
And Oxlade-Chamberlain has no doubts he can repay Hodgson's faith.
“If you don't believe in yourself, I don't think anyone else will,” he said.
“To get the call to come into the England squad, you've got to believe the manager has faith in you and I'm confident I can take the chance.” – Sapa-AFP