James Ward-Prowse is using the heartache of missing Euro 2020 as fuel in his bid to make England’s World Cup squad, with the set-piece specialist determined to show against Italy that he can compete against the best.
This time last year the 27-year-old midfielder was reeling from the disappointment of being cut from Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad for the rearranged European Championship.
Ward-Prowse could have wallowed in self-pity and become embittered, but instead responded by producing his finest season for Southampton and re-establishing himself in the England set-up.
The Saints skipper is set to start Saturday’s Nations League clash with Euro 2020 final foes Italy, giving him a chance to underline his credentials as the World Cup in Qatar edges closer.
“I try and use disappointments to fuel that fire within me to make sure I learn from that situation and I improve,” he said.
“It was a big disappointment but I wasn’t going to get into the next World Cup squad by moping around and feeling sorry for myself.
“It was difficult on one hand to watch the team doing so well because I was so close to being part of it, but equally over the moon to see them doing so well. It’s just a case of making sure I do everything I can to be in that squad.
“I think it’s a good chance hopefully to be up against some good quality international opposition and that’s no disrespect to the previous nations that we’ve played but this is another test and another level.
“Ultimately if I want to be in that World Cup squad then I need to prove that I can do it against the top teams because that’s who we need to beat if we want to be world champions.”
England’s reunion with Italy comes just 11 months after the crushing penalty shoot-out defeat in the Euro 2020 final – a match Ward-Prowse watched unfold from his Hampshire home.
“I think it was just a strange moment for me because I’d been so close to being involved in that squad so there was a part of me that was gutted I couldn’t be there,” he said.
“I didn’t have my England shirt on but I would have had it on supporting the boys all the way.”
Put to Ward-Prowse he could have been stepping up in the shoot-out if part of the squad, he said: “I did think that at the time actually. You see the lads coming on and it’s a huge situation.
“I think that’s a big asset of mine, my biggest strength I believe, and maybe that can be used in another game, who knows?”
Ward-Prowse’s dead ball ability is well documented, with his incredible set-piece ability putting him just four goals short of David Beckham’s Premier League record haul of 18 from direct free-kicks.
The 27-year-old downplayed his quality compared to his hero by pointing to his overall figure across the leagues he played in but has repeatedly said he dreamt of meeting his hero if he equalled that record.
Those comments caught Beckham’s attention after scoring against Brighton in April, with the England great taking to Instagram to congratulate the Saints skipper and say he was looking forward to meeting him.
“I was having an Indian after one of the games and a friend sent it to me,” Ward-Prowse said with a smile.
“I couldn’t really believe it, that the guy I idolised was in contact. But four more to go and I’ll be level.”
But just like Beckham, there is far more to Ward-Prowse than just set pieces.
“I think I bring a lot more than just that to my game,” he said. “It’s well talked about, but other parts of games maybe don’t get looked at as much.
“It’s my biggest strength, something I work on throughout the week and want to improve. I can definitely bring that to my club side and hopefully England as well.”