Saturday, June 25, 2022

How ‘painfully’ Cardiff’s rejection inspired Bowen’s promotion from non-League to the England squad

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Bowen’s journey to the top has not been easy but after an exceptional season the winger is hoping to find his way into Gareth Southgate’s World Cup plans

There are a few members of Gareth Southgate’s squad who were destined to be superstars from the start. There are some who won the World Cup at Under-17 level with England, others who were established Premier League players as a teenager and in the case of Jude Bellingham, a player who made an eight-figure transfer fee by the age of 17.

It seems strange to think that after a hugely impressive Premier League season with West Ham and subsequent call-up by England, Jarrod Bowen’s football career seemed in danger of ending before it even started.

That was certainly not the case with Bowen. There was no state-of-the-art academy education. No call-up for England at any level until the one that came in last week. No social media hype. Instead, there were humble beginnings in the conference and a spate of rejections from Football League clubs. His journey to the top was certainly atypical or, to paraphrase Southgate, “interesting”.

When Bowen broke into the Hereford United first-team as a 17-year-old towards the end of a season when they were relegated from the Conference Premier for financial reasons, a few months before going out of business, there was the prospect of a day for England playing didn’t seem particularly realistic.

In Bowen’s words, it felt “a million miles away.” Speaking to the rest of the squad for this month’s Nations League games at St George’s Park, England, a day after his reunion, Bowen’s bright eyes and wide grin were giveaways for a 25-year-old realizing an ambition the he had long been out of reach.

“Sometimes I look back on where I came from and especially to be in a camp in England now – that doesn’t sound boastful – but I have to take my hat off to myself, where I came from, where I am now,” he admitted to. “I just played for my local team in the conference week in and week out.”

At some point, even that seemed in jeopardy. Hereford scrapped their youth side as a cost-cutting measure as the club’s dire financial situation deteriorated and a failed trial with Cardiff City left Bowen in limbo. It wasn’t the first time Bowen had faced rejection – Aston Villa missed the chance to sign him when he was a boy – but with his hopes of turning pro seemingly hanging by a thread, it was the most painful.

“Hereford told me that their juvenile system was kind of dead, so I went to Cardiff court for six weeks and thought I had done well,” he recalled.

“My dad took the call and I knew right away it was bad news. He told me you didn’t like them either, so I kind of stayed without Hereford, without Cardiff, without football, so I chilled for about a month and I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do here, I’m in Difficulties”. At that time, when Cardiff said no, that was a tough moment.”

There was also no backup plan. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he admits. “At school I wasn’t the brightest spark, I just wanted to play football, that’s it.”

Fortunately, Bowen was re-registered as a first-team player by Hereford and as fate would have it, he forced his way into the first-team just before their implosion, catching the attention of Hull City in the process. Since then, he’s progressed with every step, from outstanding performances in the Championship, to starring in the Premier League and Europa League, to achieving a place in England.

Last summer, Bowen supported England in their Euro 2020 win against Germany; This summer he hopes to impress enough to increase his chances of representing his country at a World Cup.

“I was just a huge fan, singing the national anthem and all the songs and jumping up and down when England scored,” Bowen recalled of last June’s memorable 2-0 win. “Of course I’ve thought about it [the World Cup] But this is my first camp and I want to show what I can do and cement my place here.”

Bowen’s adjustment to the England setup will have been aided by his relationships with West Ham team-mate Declan Rice and former Hull City colleague Harry Maguire, who are a fixture in the Southgate squad.

Both Bowen and Rice have been recognized for their performances for David Moyes’ side over the past month, with the former taking West Ham’s Player of the Year award and the latter being named Hammer of the Year.

And Bowen was full of praise for Rice, declaring he was the best player at his position in English football and insisting he was improving with each passing season.

“I don’t think so,” Bowen replied when asked if there was a better defensive midfielder in the Premier League than the 23-year-old. “I think you look at Dec and I think there’s more talk about him now because people are starting to see what he does and what he stands for.

“And this season he’s only gotten stronger and has everything you need.”

Commenting on speculation about Rice’s future, Bowen added, “I don’t see it as a distraction for Dec.

“I think it just shows the steps he’s taken in the last probably two years since the EM final. This Euros, Dec really shows what he’s about. I think people started to understand him a little bit better and how good he is.

“I see that every day in training. I’ve seen how good he is in the EURO season and this season he’s really gone to another level.”

Bowen also praised Maguire, describing the Manchester United captain as his toughest opponent.

“I’ve always fought Big Harry because he’s so big!” he said. “I remember playing him so many times, I was with him in Hull and in training it was the same. He was so tall and always put his arm around me.”

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