Wheater told to forget the autographs...


Last updated at 22:16 20 March 2008

England hopeful David Wheater has been urged to ditch his autograph book if he survives Fabio Capello's squad cut this weekend.

Twelve months ago the Middlesbrough defender, who turned 21 last week, was on loan at Darlington and facing the prospect of another season learning his trade down the divisions.

David Wheater

Number's up! Bingo-loving Wheater is a Capello pick

Injuries and Wheater's improved form forced Gareth Southgate to blood the imposing England Under 21 centre back and he has now made 35 starts, scoring five goals into the bargain.

Wheater's elevation follows Stewart Downing's transition from Boro boy to England regular — the winger was also recalled by Capello — and was greeted with delight at the club, not least by the shell-shocked player himself.

"I didn't think I'd be in the first team here, never mind England's provisional squad. I thought I'd have to go back to Darlington," said Wheater, who also had a loan spell at Wolves but played only one game because manager Mick McCarthy felt he was not ready for League football.

"I got some valuable experience and confidence and came back to the Premier League and did well. There were a few injuries here and I took my chance."

Wheater signed an improved contract at Boro last month. His parents Colin and Monica, plus grandfather Arthur, are believed to have watched every game he has played since he was a toddler. They were part of the negotiations and insisted he was given a shorter contract to keep him hungry.

Boro captain George Boateng revealed that Wheater frequently brings in items to be signed and warned David Beckham to beware.

"He comes in with these autograph books and asks the players to sign," said Boateng. "He says it's for family and friends but we know he's the autograph-hunter. I tell him to go away, I'm his colleague now. I've told him please don't take the autograph book to England, leave it at home. For him to meet Beckham is something he'd never have dreamed a year ago. I think he'll probably rip Beckham's shirt off his back."

Boro academy head Dave Parnaby said: "David has matured beyond recognition. He has always had a good sound base and ticked a lot of boxes and everyone has been attracted to his size and height since he was 10. But he needed to gain strength, mobility and agility which have fallen into place now, as well as the psychological and social side of his life.

"He has found a real focus and is truly professional about his work and you have someone who can be a Premier League regular. A lot of people have spoken about his potential and I still don't think it has been fulfilled. There is a lot more to come. We won't get carried away and neither will David."

Former England international Southgate said: "He's with the big heads now. I haven't seen him yet because I think he's on an open-top bus tour and signing autographs in Redcar."

Wheater revealed he likes to play bingo in his home town to relax, a hobby which attracted some mickey-taking in the dressing room.

Southgate added: "He got ribbed when the story about bingo came out but he's a lovely lad and happy to say that. He's innocent and did not realise he's going to get ribbed. I can't see bingo outings being a big seller with the England lads somehow. David will enjoy working with big names but he won't be in awe of them."

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