Jonathan Woodgate was released from Tottenham Hotspur in June 2011 and found himself looking at an end to his athletic career. Upon his departure from White Hart Lane he had only played in four games in about two years. His downfall was an injury he sustained in Tottenham’s thrashing of Wigan 9-1 on November 22, 2009. With no contract in hand from Tottenham, Jonathan Woodgate needed to look elsewhere for a new club to call home. Stoke City boss Tony Pulis was willing to roll the dice and take a gamble with the injury plagued center back. Since then Jonathan Woodgate has made a surprising and brilliant return to English football and is a celebration to those who face adversity in their lives.
Woodgate arrived at Stoke in early July and begin training with the team immediately. Pulis admitted he would enter Woodgate into the team slowly to avoid any possible injury scares. In reality Spurs let go one of the best defenders in the league. I know the arguments people will make in releasing him from the club. The obvious are the injury problems and his age. However, individuals can and do make recoveries. I give credit to Stoke for taking a risk and so far it’s been an excellent beginning for him at Stoke City. Stoke did exercise caution with a one year contract based on a pay-as-you play deal with a possible review of the contract if he stays fit.
Woodgate started off the pre-season playing sixty two minutes against Aldershot Town. He later went on to play a full length match against Hajduk Split in the early stages of Europa League qualifying round and what I witnessed of the match he provided a solid performance. On the opening day of the new season Woodgate played his first full league match against Chelsea, the first one since November 22, 2009. The Stoke defense provided a stellar performance and held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw. Woodgate did a marvelous job in containing and shutting down the Chelsea offense and denying any scoring opportunity for Fernando Torres and others. In the match against Norwich I thought his game was bit off with Norwich players being able to push past him in a few instances. Considering his absence from playing regularly, I would still commend him on his performance nevertheless. I did see improvement in the game against West Brom, which marked his 300th league appearance. To date Woodgate has participated in five matches total since leaving Tottenham in June. In my view this demonstrates a positive and uplifting start for the center back and hopefully more good things to come in the season.
I find it exciting to see any athlete be able to make a complete turnaround and go back to do what they love doing. He could have easily called it a day and walked away. I am glad he decided not to give up. For anyone who knows me, Jonathan Woodgate has always been one of my favorite English football players and I enjoy watching him play the game. I admire his commitment to ignore individuals calling him deadwood or over-the-hill. He has maintained his ability to stay focused and continue with the training. Being a professional athlete isn’t easy. You find yourself under the microscope all the time; Every action or mistake is analyzed by pundits to couch potatoes. Yes they are paid a lot of money, and certainly fans should expect a strong commitment from the players. But professional athletes aren’t machines and they can’t win or perform at their best all the time. Players will have bad days and will get injured, that is life. But you still have pundits, fans, and armchair quarterbacks offering their two cents on how things should be done or if the person is washed-up or not. If a quick turnaround is provided, all is forgiven. Sadly this has become a hallmark of our instant success or instant gratification society.
Woodgate’s return to top flight football is an amazing saga for a man who decided not give up and who overcame obstacles placed in his path. His accomplishment should be celebrated because this can be such an unforgiving business. Stoke are well known for playing tough aggressive football. I have even heard some individuals suggest they play rugby and not football. However, I believe Woodgate will bring class to Stoke City and an experienced style of play that will fit very nicely with them. Tony Pulis and Ryan Shotton both believe Woodgate could make a return to the England national team. Two years ago, who would have even thought to consider such a comment let alone make a public statement about such an idea.
According to Kevin Affleck of The National newspaper, Harry Redknapp was reported to have stated that not offering Woodgate a new contract during the summer was the hardest decision of his career. I am not sure if that was his hardest decision of his managing career but I think it was a poor decision. I think Levy had more to do with it than Harry but that is just my opinion based on Levy’s business practices. I am not sure what the risk would have been to give him what Stoke offered; if he didn’t play there would be no pay. Considering Tottenham’s central defense is in need of strengthening, this error may come back to haunt Tottenham very soon when the club faces Stoke in a few weeks and other clubs as well.