It’s been a fair old journey for Stoke City’s Captain, Ryan Shawcross. At the age of 19 he took the decision to go out on loan in order to get some first team football under his belt. Back in August 2007 he was a completely unknown quantity and I doubt there was a single Stoke fan who knew what to expect. It would have been very easy for a player to decide to sit it out in the illustrious surroundings of Old Trafford. That isn’t what Ryan Shawcross is about though. He wants to play football and he wants to be the very best he can be.
In today’s game there is many a player who is happy to sit on the bench, contributing next to nothing, picking up a massive wage week in, week out. The signs were pretty clear back then that Ryan wasn’t one of those. Just 5 months after his initial loan spell at the club he was faced with a pretty big decision and something that would affect the rest of his career from that point forward; stick it out at Old Trafford and hope for a break or drop down a division and sign permanently for Stoke City Football Club? On the face of it, it couldn’t have been the most enticing prospect. At the time, Stoke City were hardly a club expected to gain promotion to the Premier League. We’d spent a good few years bouncing around in the second and third tiers of English football and that didn’t seem like changing anytime soon. In essence, it was a step down but it was a step that Ryan knew would guarantee him first team football. In his very first game for the club he scored the winner in a 1-0 victory away at Cardiff and followed that up with a second goal in back-to-back games in the Carlin Cup away at Rochdale, not a bad start by all accounts.
That Season would see Stoke City go on to earn Promotion to the Premier League with Shawcross being an integral part of the team, a rock at the back and contributing 8 goals at the other end of the pitch in the process. These were special times for The Potters and Shawcross was vindicated in making the move to Stoke-on-Trent.
The following Season was our first, and Ryan’s, in the Premier League. This was a massive step up by all accounts and we had been written off by pretty much everybody before a ball had even been kicked. We seemed to prove everybody right as we were completely outplayed in our first game of the season with a 3-1 defeat to Bolton. It wasn’t just a bad day at the office for the Club, Ryan too had a very shaky game and was subsequently dropped from the Starting XI. It would have been very easy for a young player to let his head drop at that point. We’ve seen many players in the past not make the grade in the Prem and disappear never to be seen again. We had been warned about the gulf between the Championship and the top flight but nothing could have prepared us for how vast the gap actually was. It isn’t the Stoke way to just roll over and die though, and no one player epitomises that ‘never say die’ spirit better than Shawcross. After a break of half a dozen games or so, Ryan was restored to the Starting XI and showed true strength of character as he returned much stronger, more resilient and a much better all round player and defender. He went onto make 29 league appearances that Season as Stoke proved all the critics wrong and secured survival convincingly with a final league position of 12th.
This isn’t the only time Ryan has been faced with a hurdle in his career. In February 2010 there was the unfortunate injury sustained by Aaron Ramsey and the spotlight was thrust fervently onto Ryan with some diabolical comments by Wenger in the aftermath. I won’t go into the whole issue again as it has been done to death a million times before but this was another test for Ryan, and one he passed with flying colours. These types of tests are the mark of a man and the way you react to adversity is a true reflection of strength, courage and fortitude; and Ryan has it by the bucket load.
Over the past 6 years Ryan has gone on to make over 200 appearances for the club and earned the honour of captaincy back in 2010; reflecting how influential he is to the team and the respect his peers have for him throughout the squad, and the club. His hard work and progress has earned him the chance to be a part of the current England set up and there wasn’t a prouder Stokie in the land when he entered the fray against Sweden; the first Stoke player to represent England since Mark Chamberlain back in 1984. It was very much a baptism of fire as he was thrown straight into the deep end against one of the best Strikers in the world. There’s no getting away from the fact that he made a mistake for the equaliser but I have no doubt that Ryan will learn from that and he did go onto to make some positive contributions in his limited time on the pitch. I’m pretty sure Ryan will be disappointed with the mistake but hopefully in the cold light of day, that disappointment will be replaced by pride as he reflects on his first cap for his country. It is something he has fully deserved and if Roy Hodgson has anything about him then this won’t be the last we see of him in the England set up. If you are ending England careers based on mistakes made against Sweden then there would be a fair few players that ended their International careers last night in the Friends Arena.
The reality is, this is just another hurdle for Ryan Shawcross to get over and come out stronger the other side. He’s shown his strength of character on more than one occasion before now and I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever that backbone will be evident again as he pulls on the red and white jersey against West Ham on Monday night.
It is a word often thrown around too easily but Ryan Shawcross is a true Stoke City Legend and he will be long remembered by Potters fans for a good few years to come. He was an integral part of the team that earned promotion from the championship, he was a massive part of the team that helped secure survival in the Premier League and he is Captain of the team that has cemented its place in one of the best leagues in the world. There is also the other little achievement of being the only Stoke player to Captain, and lead out, his side at Wembley for an FA Cup Final; this England cap is the just latest in a long line of fine accolades Ryan has earned in his short career to date.
He is not just a shining example on the pitch though; he is also a great role model off it too. In a day where our national players seem to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Ryan shies away from the spotlight outside of the game. You won’t see him stumbling drunkenly out of a nightclub at 3am in the morning, you won’t see him in court on a charge of assault or affray and you won’t seem him making the headlines for drug abuse or for a string of affairs; he does his talking on the pitch and off it he is nothing but a committed family man. Some may have a negative perception of him but that is just a poor reflection of society today. Ryan is exemplary in every aspect, both on and off the pitch, and he should be lauded for that.
It is no great surprise to see Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest manager this country has ever seen, come out with his recent comments that he regrets letting Shawcross leave the club. As plaudits go, that’s about as good as they come. Forget your media hacks, the so called “expert pundits” and any bitter comments that may come his way from opposition fans; Ryan Shawcross can take great heart from the comments that come from the people that really matter. I would not all be surprised to see Fergie come in with an offer for Ryan in January. That’s a mark of how good he really is and the progress he has made since departing Old Trafford. Last night should just be the first step on the ladder for his international career, not the end.
Who knows what the future holds for Stoke City Football Club or Ryan Shawcross? I hope he stays at the club for the rest of his career but there’s also a part of me that believes he is destined for greater things, and if that means moving to a club like Manchester United to fulfil his ambitions then I wouldn’t begrudge him the chance of moving on. It would be a very sad day for the club, and the fans, but he’s been a fine servant and his contribution will never be forgotten. These past few years have truly been a great time to be a Stoke City Fan and no one player represents that era better than Ryan Shawcross. No matter what his future holds from this point forward he will hold a place in the hearts of Stoke City fans for generations to come.
An unassuming family man, an absolute defensive rock, England International and a true Stoke City legend – Ryan Shawcross, teeekaboooooo son.