Centre-back is primed for his centre-stage debut and desperate to land international role with England or … Sierra Leone
Curtis Davies began wondering whether destiny had it in for him. Maybe it was simply written in the stars that he would never play at Wembley.
On five occasions his former teams, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Birmingham City and the England Under-21s, had appeared at the national stadium but each time the centre-half found himself either consigned to the stands or left at home. "I've always been injured, cup-tied or pied off [dropped] so I'm hoping this will be sixth time lucky," says the Hull defender whose ambition should be fulfilled when Steve Bruce's side play Sheffield United in Sunday's FA Cup semi final.
"Missing out all those times was frustrating so I'm glad I'll finally get to walk on that turf. Wembley's a great place but when you're there in a watching capacity, you want to be out on the pitch."
Many decent judges believe that a 29-year-old who is expected to beat Tom Huddlestone to Hull's player of the year award merits inclusion in England's Brazil-bound World Cup squad.
Bruce ranks among those who believe Roy Hodgson could do worse than select a quick, tall, strong, powerful defender heavily responsible for helping his side avert a relegation battle but Davies is not holding his breath. "The only way I'll get a sniff is if I go on a 10-goal scoring run and go as a striker or there's massive injuries to centre-halves," he says. "People talk about Wembley being my stage but I doubt the England manager will be watching Hull v Sheffield United."
Refreshingly down to earth and highly articulate, this son of Leytonstone, east London, looks amused when his Irish "ancestry" is mentioned. "I had a Guinness once," he says. "I do qualify for them but there's no heritage. My nan was born in Ireland but she's English – her father was there with the British army."
The prospect of playing under Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane hardly enthuses him either. During his duties as an ITV pundit Keane, never one to resist a scathing put-down, quipped that Bruce "must have had a beer" after he pushed Davies's international credentials following Hull's quarter-final win against Sunderland. "Do I really want to sell myself down the Irish route when I'd have an assistant manager who doesn't rate me and a manager who maybe there's a bit of ill-feeling with," he says.
"O'Neill and I had problems at Villa and Keane has said I'm not international quality. I'd never shut the door on anything but I'm striving my heart out to get into the England squad and, after that, Sierra Leone's my next country. I've had contact with Sierra Leone about representing them – my dad was born there – but I'm not sure going to the African Nations in January would go down well with the gaffer."
Davies has never been to Sierra Leone. It is an omission he is eager to correct, although he would prefer his first trip to Freetown to be about business rather than pleasure. "If England doesn't happen I'd definitely like to go out there and play for them," he says. "I might have given up on England earlier but I feel I'm so close at the moment."
Yet the pull of his West African roots is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. "I've been named in an African team of the week. A fan tweeted me to say congratulations on being in the CAF team. I thought: 'Which cafe; Jim's cafe across the road?' I was confused at first."
It all stems from being in the best form of his career. "I don't think I've ever had a better, more consistent, season. Before joining Hull I had some frustrating times in the Championship as well as 18 months of not playing [owing to achilles and shoulder injuries] but it allowed me to take a step back and look at my game.
"I used to be a player that would do everything for everyone else and sometimes I'd sell myself short. I maybe wasn't selfish enough. I was always too worried about covering my defensive partner, especially at Villa. Because I was always the fast one, I maybe over-covered my partner."
At Hull he has learnt to, sometimes, be part of a back three. "I still prefer 4-4-2," he says. "But playing some games in a three for the first time has helped my adaptability, given me a different dynamic.
"I've also realised that the biggest thing in football is not to kid yourself. We can all pretend we're Beckenbauer and try to play lovely passes out and dribble, but there's times when it just needs to be kicked into Row Z. That's what I've perfected this season. It's maturity."