Stephen Warnock woke up this morning feeling shell-shocked at his call-up last night to the England squad for the forthcoming qualifying games. Warnock was informed by text message that the speculation in the press was true and he had been included by Sven Goran Ericsson. After the text message came the phone calls, as he recalls: "I can’t quite believe it. I’ve been reading the papers during the past week and they have been saying I could get a call-up, but I wasn’t so sure. And then I got a text message at around quarter past seven from the FA telling me I’m in the squad. Roy Evans rang me straightaway to wish me all the best, which was nice, and Chris Kirkland has also been on the phone."
Kirky is on loan at West Brom at the moment, a move designed to help him get some games in after a couple of years of injury misfortune. What happens at the end of the season-long loan remains to be seen, but Warnock was delighted to see the tall keeper recalled to England’s squad: "He’s one of my best mates and it’s great to see him back in the squad as well. For me personally it’s brilliant and certainly goes some way towards making up for the disappointment of last season."
Warnock was left out of the squad for the Champions League final at the 11th hour by Rafa Benitez, as players returned to full fitness for the first time all season. Djimi Traore and John Arne Riise were ahead of Warnock last season for the left-back role and with Kewell recalled to the starting line-up Rafa felt he had enough left-sided players in the 18-man squad without needing to include Warnock. Warnock may have felt happier had he at least received one of the 25 medals handed to Liverpool for winning the competition, as he had been important in the earlier rounds for the Reds. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, all 25 medals went elsewhere and Warnock missed out. Warnock recalls: "Istanbul was a great experience because I love the club so much but then it hurt me badly to miss out on it all. Of course I was made up that we won, but I was really upset to miss out on the final. I’ve thought long and hard this summer about where I need to improve and luckily the manager has put his faith in me." That faith includes a new contract and two starts out of two in the Premiership. Warnock knows where he stands now and feels much happier.
His priority remains to become a regular starter for the Reds, but finding himself in England’s squad was a great bonus: "I’ve just got to establish myself as the first choice left back before anything else, but this England call-up is certainly a massive boost for my confidence. I’m looking forward to showing what I can do. Ashley Cole is obviously the first choice left back, but apart from maybe Wayne Bridge and Paul Konchesky, there are perhaps not many other left backs around."
Warnock missed out on a medal in Istanbul partly because of the return to fitness of Josemi. With Josemi available Benitez had more options for the right-side of the pitch and so Warnock dropped out. Josemi’s injuries last season meant he played few games in his first season, and at times he seems to try the complicated option when playing it simple would be better. Jamie Carragher was making it clear to Josemi that he needs to do the simple things during the Super Cup victory last Friday, and many Liverpool fans cringe when they hear the Spaniard’s name in the starting line-up.
The man that makes the decisions over team selection though is Rafael Benitez, and he has spoken about how he feels that an injury-free Josemi could be a valuable member of Liverpool’s squad this season. Rafa said: ""Josemi can be an important player for us. He is a good player, an aggressive player, and he is getting more used to English football now. He played very well at centre back last week. I knew he could play there because he spent a year in that position with Malaga. Of course he can also play on the right of the defence as well so he gives us different possibilities."
Rafa has received criticism from many supporters that perhaps he picks Josemi because he was one of his own signings, and doesn’t see the shortcomings in the player’s game, but this is disrespectful to Rafa’s knowledge of the game. Remember that Jamie Carragher, possibly Liverpool’s most important player right now, was often criticised during the Houllier reign, and even looked set to be sold when Steve Finnan was signed. To sell Carragher now, just two years later, would be (rightly) unthinkable. The improvement of Djimi Traore under Rafael Benitez is another sign of how good the Spaniard is at getting the best out of players. Traore’s FA Cup howler was cancelled out repeatedly last season. Rafa wants Liverpool fans to give Josemi a chance: "He was unfortunate last season because he had so many injury problems, but if he can stay fit then he will be an important member of our squad this year."