James Justin already setting his sights on the plane to Qatar
James Justin may be in his first England senior team camp but the defender is already determined to show Gareth Southgate and his coaching staff why he deserves a place on the plane to Qatar for this year’s World Cup.
The 24-year-old had been on the verge of an England senior team call-up last year before an anterior cruciate ligament injury in February 2021 ruled him out for 11 months.
But the former Luton Town star has picked up where he left off following his return in January and with 19 appearances in the bank for Leicester, Southgate has given the versatile defender his maiden call-up for this month’s four UEFA Nations League matches.
Justin had first been given an indication a call-up was potentially on the cards by a member of the England staff a few weeks ago and then it was confirmed a couple of hours before last week’s squad announcement.
“The feeling you get when you first receive an England call-up, you can’t describe it,” Justin said.
“The first call I made was to my girlfriend back home, because I was actually in Thailand [on Leicester City’s post-season trip] when I found out. Being away from the family and stuff is tough when you receive news like that but she was over the moon for me and when I told all my family, they were crying in the middle of shops and things like that.
“I wouldn’t be here without them so it really nice to have that moment with them.”
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The Three Lions players are back at St. George's Park
Justin grew up in Stopsley, Luton, and after starting out at his grassroots side, Crawley Green Sports & Social Club, he was picked up by The Hatters at the age of seven.
Other clubs expressed an interest in the youngster but he was determined to stay with his boyhood club and after being promoted to the first team, he helped Luton Town secure two promotions to return to the Championship.
His performances persuaded Leicester City to sign the then 19-year-old in the summer of 2019 and he has gone on to establish himself as a first team regular in recent seasons.
The meteoric rise saw him go from League Two to the Premier League in the space of just over a year and whilst his ACL injury may have ruled him out of Leicester City’s FA Cup triumph last summer, James Justin is now an England international.
“When you say it like that, it sounds unbelievable,” he said. “From where I started, where I have come from and what I have been through, to be here now, I am just humble and grateful for every opportunity that I am receiving.
“Putting on the shirt is a dream come true for me and my family.”
Southgate and his coaching staff are long-time admirers of Justin and the England head coach indicated the former Putteridge High School pupil would have been called up last year during an interview shortly after he suffered his ACL injury.
Justin said: “I know it is tough to come back from such an injury so to hear that, it was kind of ‘what could have been’ but then I thought about it on positive terms and knew that if I got back to near the level that I was at, then I would have a good chance of making the England squad.
“With the World Cup coming up in the winter, I have given myself every chance [of making the squad] and that is what I want to do.”
He continued: “[The prospect of becoming an England international came] literally maybe a month or two before I did my ACL. I was happy to just be playing for Leicester City and that is always what I have been like.
“When I put in good performances, it started to build a bit of traction and noise and then you heard people start to talk about it but you yourself have to just stay focused on your game. So I did that and I continued to do that when I got back from my injury, kept on working and here I am now.”
Justin grew up as a centre midfielder before moving to centre back around the age of 15. Injury to a team-mate saw him shifted to full-back and he quickly discovered it was a position which suited his attributes.
At Luton, he would play mainly as a full back in a back four but at Leicester City, his versatility has seen him play on both sides at full back, wing-back and in central defence.
Justin said: “I have spoken at length with Gareth already and I think he sees me as a versatile football player who can play in different positions and be comfortable, which is something which I have worked on over the years, trying not to be pigeon holed as being one position or a couple of positions.
“I want to be able to play in different positions so that when the managers come to thinking about who can play in different positions, I will always spring to mind. That is something which I look to work on.”
England have four UEFA Nations League matches this month, two against Hungary and against Germany and Italy, before another couple of matches in the competition in September.
It will then be time for Southgate and his staff to confirm which players will be in the squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
And when asked what the goals were from his first England camp, Justin replied: “I want to just put myself in front of the management and staff and say ‘this is who I am and this is what I am going to do for you’. I want to give myself the best shot of getting on the plane to Qatar. That is the end goal for me and I want to represent my country.”
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