England defender Conor Coady may not always have a leading role on the international stage, but you can be sure he is as important to the Three Lions as any player in the reckoning for the World Cup finals in Qatar.
The Everton loan star is with the national team in Milan, preparing to face Italy on Friday and he is taking part in his 31st England squad. However, in two-and-a-half years, he has only racked up 10 caps.
Manager Gareth Southgate has often preferred John Stones and Harry Maguire as the centre backs in a defensive four, with further competition from Tyrone Mings and then Kyle Walker has come into consideration in a back three.
Coady, 29, did not appear on the pitch at all in England’s run to the final of Euro 2020, and in the 13 squads since then he has had five starts, which have returned four wins and one defeat (away to Hungary in the Nations League).
But this remarkable and irrepressible man refuses to be downbeat because he struggles to be the first choice in the biggest games. Coady simply channels his energy into everyone else.
‘Every player is desperate to play, but at the same time you come here with one goal and that is to win no matter what you are doing,’ Coady told Sportsmail.
‘I have played football for a long time; I know what it consists of and I know at times. you want to play every minute of every game…but if I am not going to do that what is the best thing to do?
‘Is it to sulk and mope and go to your room and not speak to anybody and keep your head down? Or is it to try and help everybody around you and help the lads as much as you can.
‘Coming away [with England] and wearing the England shirt, it is the best feeling in the world, training with the boys every single day and seeing the standard of training, it is the best.’
However, in the forthcoming games – Germany at Wembley follows the encounter with Italy – Coady could be forgiven for expecting to play.
He is in good form for his new club, Everton, where he is on loan for the season from Wolves. Alongside James Tarkowski, Coady has contributed to one of the best defensive records in the top flight. The Toffees have shipped just six goals this term.
In addition, Harry Maguire has suffered a traumatic time at Manchester United and has fallen down the pecking order, behind Raphael Varane and new signing, Lisandro Martinez.
But just as Coady looks to be taking a step towards the England starting line-up, up pops Eric Dier, who by his own admission is in the form of his life, and Fikayo Tomori, who has earned his own spurs winning the Serie A title with AC Milan last season.
Where he plays or not, Southgate clearly recognises Coady’s value to the success of the England team. He has been a key part of the rejuvenation of the squad after England’s semi-final finish at the 2018 World Cup, bringing energy and perspective in equal measure, as well as good performances.
Despite not playing a single minute at Euro2020, England assistant Steve Holland described Coady as the nation’s player of the tournament.
‘I am not going to come back to my room and mope and sulk that I am not playing I am going to push the lads as hard as I can because I am here to help,’ said Coady.
‘And when my time comes, if my time comes, I’ll be ready. But I am enjoying every minute of it. It is important we are all in it for the same thing and that is to win.’
The Nations League matches in this international break come at a tricky moment for England.
Disappointment at the defeat on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2020 final last year, and the ugly aftermath of abuse of those players who missed their kicks, has given way to a hangover that has been hard to shift.
In four Nations League matches in June, England managed two draws and two defeats, losing away and at home to Hungary, the latter a 4-0 humiliation at Molineux.
Even so, Coady keeps the faith in himself and his team mates and still has the belief England can win the World Cup in Qatar in December.
But where does that confidence come from?
‘Seeing how the lads play in the Premier League every single week,’ Coady says simply. He is the sort of person who lends confidence in every conversation.
‘We have got such a talented squad of players; we have got such unity around the group. I see that every time I come away. That is what fills me with confidence… that we can go over there and do something remarkable for the country.
‘It is important we go [to Qatar] full of confidence, but we approach these two games now as if they are the last games on the planet.’