Emile Smith Rowe: Ditching takeaways and chocolate led to England call-up

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Emile Smith Rowe: Ditching takeaways and chocolate led to England call-up - PA
Emile Smith Rowe: Ditching takeaways and chocolate led to England call-up - PA

The biggest change for Emile Smith Rowe this season has been off the pitch, where he has swapped takeaways and chocolate for the nutritional meals of a private chef. His whirlwind rise to the England squad has been fuelled by his new diet.

It will come as no surprise to Mikel Arteta that his recent burst of goals featured two coming near to the hour mark, when the 21-year-old would often suffer from cramp during matches, which was put down to “lifestyle”, as the Arsenal manager described it.

The solution came with the club sending a chef, Chris, around to Smith Rowe’s house every evening to cook for the player and his mother, Fiona. Out went fast food and in came freshly cooked pasta and fish.

“What the manager was talking about was my diet,” said Smith Rowe. “I didn’t used to eat that well, to be honest. I wasn’t drinking that well, before games I wasn’t really that hydrated, but since then I’ve tried to focus so much on it. There’s loads of stuff we should be taking before a game, but, yeah, before I was a bit too lazy.

“They are strict but I didn’t really listen, to be honest, I think that’s where I went wrong. But now I’m listening, all the time. I like Nando’s a lot. Maybe that’s killing me a little bit. And chocolate.” While last season he made his breakthrough into the first team when a surprise selection for the Boxing Day win over Chelsea, this campaign he has put goals on the menu to put himself on Gareth Southgate’s radar.

Southgate mentioned him last month during the international break, then promoted him to the seniors this week following injuries, rewarding him for his run of five goals in his past eight appearances.

While he has now started to make an impact in the Premier League, it has not been a straightforward journey for the Croydon-born midfielder. He was rejected at Chelsea for being too small, just before joining Arsenal.

“I was really skinny and just kept getting pushed off the ball. I wasn’t getting involved and touching the ball enough, that’s what it felt like at the time, why I didn’t get in,” he said. “When I did go to Arsenal, they didn’t seem to bother about my physicality, but as I’ve grown up I’ve got stronger and tried to focus on pushing people around as well.”

As an Arsenal fan, thanks to his older brother growing up watching Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, he was determined to make a success of himself at the Emirates Stadium, despite his team-mates for the World Cup-winning Under-17 teams progressing more quickly.

Tottenham, who are his father’s team, showed interest in him at 16 but he remained at Arsenal. “I wasn’t that interested, being an Arsenal fan, although it’s good to have all these teams interested,” he said.

Then, when he secured a loan to RB Leipzig – following in the footsteps of England team-mate Jadon Sancho – he was limited to substitute appearances and his career stalled again.

“It wasn’t actually an injury where I knew what it was, it was like a growing pain that I had in my groin,” he said.

“I didn’t have a timescale, no one told me how long it would take. I was just working each day, not knowing what to do.”

When his breakthrough chance came at Arsenal, it was during the pandemic when fans were locked out of football, which actually helped him as he still suffers from pre-match nerves in the dressing room.

“No fans being there definitely helped me,” he said. “I’m always really nervous before the game and not having that pressure of everyone shouting, that helped me a lot. I’m happy with the way things are gone.

“I’m quite surprised, to be honest, that it’s worked out this way. I thought I wouldn’t be as confident as I am at the moment. Two seasons ago, just before I went to Leipizig, it was affecting me. I think now I’m OK.

“It’s mainly in the changing room before the game. That’s when I’m most nervous. I have spoken to some players and they say the same as well.”

His promotion to the senior squad reunites him with Phil Foden from his Under-17 days. When the pair met again they looked at photos from their youth days and laughed at their haircuts.

He has been helped to settle by his best friend from Arsenal, Bukayo Saka, who he consoled after his penalty miss in the European Championship final in the summer.

“I tried to give him some space at first. He obviously had his holidays and stuff,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, I sent him a message. It was obviously hard to see one of my closest friends at Arsenal. It was tough to watch definitely. But when he came back, everyone got around him.”

Mount out of England qualifier after undergoing dental surgery

By Matt Law

Gareth Southgate will be without Mason Mount for England’s key World Cup qualifier against Albania at Wembley on Friday.

Mount had an operation to remove four wisdom teeth on Sunday and has still not met up with the England squad. It is unclear whether he will have to pull out of the squad entirely, but he will not have recovered in time for Friday.

Mount made an appearance as a substitute in Chelsea’s draw with Burnley at the weekend, but required surgery after the pain from an infection became too bad.

The midfielder is a key part of England manager Southgate’s team and tactics. Without Mount, Southgate will select between Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson for the third midfield place alongside Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips on Friday.

Rice was unwell yesterday, but it is hoped he will have recovered in time to face Albania. Losing both players would be a serious blow to Southgate.

Should England beat Albania, they will need only a point from their final qualifier against San Marino on Monday to clinch their place at the World Cup. But defeat would leave them at risk of finishing second in Group I, as Poland are currently only three points behind.

Southgate is expected to field a full-strength team, which means Kyle Walker would start ahead of Reece James. The players’ clubs, Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, are fighting it out at the top of the Premier League, and James admitted that it could be hard to put rivalries to one side on international duty but that Walker had been trying to help him.

“Kyle Walker has put his arm around me a few times,” said James. “He tells me to keep working hard and my time will come.

“He can play in a number of positions and has been at the top of the game in his position for a number of years now. He is an experienced player and has a lot of high-level games under his belt.

“When you come away, you have to put club rivalry aside and when we are here, we are one team and our aim is to win whoever we play.”

On the battle for the right-back position, which involves himself, Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold in this squad, James added: “Each one of us has a different style of play. Trent has been at the top for quite a few years and obviously there is Kyle, so the competition is tough and there are other full-backs not here who are at a very good level.

“It is always tough not playing when you feel you should be playing, but that is because of the good players in every position.”

Asked for a theory on why England had so many options at right-back, with Kieran Trippier not in the latest squad, James added: “The position has definitely changed from five or 10 years ago as being a right-back then was just a defender, but now it is a lot more advanced. You are not just a defender, you can go forward and the style of play has changed a lot.”

James, who is Chelsea’s joint-top scorer with four goals from right wing-back this season, is clear on his long-term personal ambition.

“I am sure everyone’s aim is to be the best in their position,” said James. “I want to be the best and get the best out of myself.”

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