In-form Callum Wilson has a place at the World Cup squad on his mind

Callum Wilson knows injury hampered his World Cup hopes, but four goals in six games – including two in front of a grinning Gareth Southgate – has Newcastle fans (and his own kids) serenading the No 9… it’s no wonder he has Qatar on his mind

  • Callum Wilson is in fine form having scored four goals in his last six games 
  • He netted twice in front of Gareth Southgate in Newcastle’s win over Aston Villa 
  • However, his struggles with injury have found him out of the England picture
  • Wilson won the last of his four international caps more than three years ago
  • The Newcastle forward is desperate to be a part of England’s squad in Qatar 
  • Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates

Timing is everything with a mid-season World Cup. OK then, Callum Wilson, you have 30 seconds to tell us why you should be going to Qatar.

‘That’s a good one…’ begins the Newcastle striker, drawing breath. ‘We have unbelievable talent in the forward positions. All you can do is put your name forward with performances like Saturday (two goals against Aston Villa in front of Gareth Southgate).

‘It helps when the manager comes to watch you in person. It’s not just the goals you see in the headlines – it’s the assists, hold-up play, movement. He gets to see that in the flesh.

‘I have spoken a lot about England. It was time for me to talk on the pitch. People ask me whether I think I should be in the squad. If the performances are there, then you’ll be selected. If not, then you won’t. That’s all I can do.’ 

Callum Wilson has emerged as an strong contender for England’s 2022 World Cup squad

Wilson’s answer takes exactly 30 seconds to deliver. ‘There you go,’ he laughs, when informed of his precision. Timing, you see. On form, there is no player in the country emerging from the back of the pack with as much momentum as the 30-year-old.

Will it take him over the finish line and, in turn, onto the starting blocks for the World Cup? Popular opinion would suggest yes. But Southgate’s could yet be an unpopular one. And that, acknowledges Wilson, is all that matters.

‘The World Cup in on my mind, for sure,’ says the man who won the last of his four caps three years ago. ‘I scored and we won again at the weekend, the same as the week before. It improves my chances. After that, it’s down to the England manager.’

Wilson has six from nine this season, a goals-per-game ratio only bettered by Harry Kane from an English perspective. ‘Two assists as well, come on?’ interrupts Wilson, as talk turns to his numbers.

The Coventry-born forward is a confident soul, bubbly and engaging. Without such charm, he could probably be accused of arrogance. No player has publicly championed their World Cup cause more than him in recent months. But why not? It is almost certainly his last chance and, of late, at least his feet – and head – have done the talking for him, as he rightly says. 

In Newcastle’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa, he scored twice in front of Gareth Southgate (middle)

Wilson has now netted six goals in nine Premier League games this season, including four in his last six – a goals per-game ratio only bettered by Three Lions skipper Harry Kane

Wilson did not know Southgate was at St James’ Park during the 4-0 win over Villa. Funny, because when he blew a kiss towards the stands following his first goal, it was in the direction of the Three Lions boss. Not so?

‘He wishes!’ says Wilson, and he’s laughing again. ‘My kids were there. Little moments like that are special, they’ll remember them when they grow up.’

He had just converted a penalty and, when the TV cameras cut to Southgate, he was smiling. That may have been something to do with Newcastle co-owner Amanda Staveley imploring him to reserve a seat for her player on the plane. Or, given the likely importance of spot-kicks in Qatar, perhaps that was the motivation behind his grin.

Wilson’s reflections also reveal a level of preparation and certainty that should be noted by Southgate, the only England boss ever to win a penalty shootout at a World Cup, don’t forget.

‘I just had to keep my composure, be clinical. I’d done my research on the goalkeeper. It was never in my mind I was going to miss. If it puts a smile on his (Southgate’s) face, then hopefully I’ll keep doing that until the World Cup.

‘But only when I did an interview after the game did I realise the manager was there. Great. I’d already put in the performance, I couldn’t change anything.’

What Wilson wishes he could change is an injury record that has robbed him of games – and goals – for club and country. 

He started this season with two in three matches but, just when the volume was beginning to grow surrounding an England recall, the sound of his hamstring popping had the doubters clearing their throats. His World Cup chances appeared impossible when facing a month layoff through September.

However, Wilson’s World Cup hopes have been derailed by niggling injuries in recent years

‘It was very frustrating, and the timing wasn’t ideal,’ he says. ‘I had a set amount of fixtures to impress. I haven’t been in the England set-up for a few years, and I was always going to have to do more than others who have been in the squad. I had limited time.

‘So, when you know you’re going to miss a few games, you have to hit the ground running as soon as you come back.’

Speaking of hitting the ground, fellow England hopeful Tyrone Mings flattened him at the weekend.

‘I bounced up from that challenge, and he’s a big guy. So, I’m nice and robust now. No corners were cut with my rehab. 

‘I knew, this time, I had to be sure. I had to find form straight away. Thankfully, I’ve done that. I scored on my return and haven’t looked back.’

Neither have Newcastle under Eddie Howe, taking 16 points from 18 during October and climbing to fourth position. Can they stay there?

He is currently fit and firing under his ex-Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe as the Magpies continue to impress and sit in fourth in the Premier League table

‘I’ll let you guys do the talking on our chances of the top four. As players, we can only affect what we can control. 

‘We’re playing with confidence and with free-flowing football. But we also need to keep our feet on the ground. Saturday was a different challenge – could we go and win with a different type of pressure where we’re the favourites? We rose to that challenge.’

The game ended to the sound of ‘Hey Baby‘ being played inside St James’, the song adapted on the terraces in tribute to Wilson… ‘I wanna know, how you scored that goal’.

Southgate would have observed the affection for a player whose confidence must be just about unrivalled right now.

‘I was taken aback when the song came on,’ says Wilson. ‘This place is unbelievable. When I first joined, it was lockdown. It was empty, it was eerie. I was just craving that first opportunity to score in front of the fans. There is no better place than playing here.’

Wilson won the last of his four caps back in 2019 and has one England goal to his name

Does he ever sing the supporter accolade?

‘My kids sing it to me in the car. We sang it on the way home. It’s a song I heard as a kid, and it was also Alan Shearer’s song. So yeah, it’s so nice to hear with my name in… I just love my football here.’

Given his absences, Wilson clearly appreciates what he has. But he wants to take us back to his time at Bournemouth with Howe, when he scored against the United States on his international debut.

‘I always remember the manager saying to me, “You won’t realise what you have done until you retire”.’

He tails off, before adding: ‘I would love to play for England again.’

Wilson’s time is now, and his timing could not be better.

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