England's youth to get a chance
After saving the crucial spot-kick in the final of the U20 World Cup, Freddie Woodman is looking to establish himself under Rafa Benitez
“I never feel like I have made it – I could win the real World Cup and there’d still be something else to achieve,” Freddie Woodman says, as he ponders the unusual situation he has found himself in ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
Normally, it’s establish yourself at club level first, then target World Cup glory later, but Woodman has done it the other way around – saving a crucial penalty in the final as England beat Venezuela to secure June’s Under-20 World Cup.
“I just thought back to the notes I’d written the night before: I tried to stay up as late as possible, stuck my left arm out and the ball hit my arm,” the 20-year-old recalls with a smile. “It was such a great moment. I won the European Under-17 Championship and I didn’t think I’d win a bigger tournament than that – to win the World Cup with the same lads was amazing.”
Of the millions of aspiring footballers that England has produced since July 1966, only Woodman and the other 20 members of Paul Simpson’s squad have gone on to win a World Cup, in any age group. “It’s crazy when you think of it like that,” the Newcastle goalkeeper says, pausing for a moment to consider that fact for the first time.
Woodman joins Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Paul Pogba among those who’ve won the under-20 tournament. “It’s great to be on the same list as them – before the final we watched a video of all of the players who have lifted the trophy over the years,” Woodman reveals. “My former Newcastle team-mate Fabricio Coloccini was on there and I was thinking, ‘If he did it, surely I can do it?’ When we got back to England, the support was amazing. I got loads of messages – including from Joe Hart, Tom Heaton and Jack Butland. There were a lot from Newcastle, too – I got a message from the gaffer saying ‘well done’.” Maybe that message from Rafa Benitez was the biggest achievement of all – Steven Gerrard once joked it was his aim in life to get as much as a ‘well done’ from the former Liverpool manager.
Now, like Dominic Calvert-lewin, new Liverpool signing Dominic Solanke and the rest of that England squad, Woodman wants to use the World Cup win as a launchpad for his club career. After previous loans at Crawley and Kilmarnock, he’s determined to prove that he’s capable of playing for Newcastle. His aim this season is simple: to get more senior games under his belt.
“I’m at an age where I’ve got to play matches – I am the grumpiest person ever when I am not playing,” he says. “Definitely my dream is to play in the Premier League – I want to be No.1 at Newcastle at some point.”
The son of former goalkeeper Andy Woodman, he’s also the godson of one of his dad’s ex-crystal Palace colleagues – a certain Gareth Southgate. “A lot of people are talking about that now,” he laughs warily, keen to avoid perceptions that his career has been given a leg-up by the England boss. After winning the Golden Glove at the U20 World Cup, he needn’t worry about that.
So is he ambitious to reach the senior England squad one day? “One hundred per cent,” he says. “If I did not believe I could do that, I shouldn’t be playing football. But it is back to reality now – I’ve won the World Cup but nothing changes. I’ve got to do what I’ve been doing before. My feet stay grounded.”
Freddie Woodman wears the PUMA ONE, the boot for every ONE and every player
“DEFINITELY MY DREAM IS TO PLAY In THE PREMIER LEAGUE – I WANT TO BE no.1 AT NEWCASTLE AT SOME POINT”