LONDON (Reuters) – Once described as England’s most cultured defender, signed by Real Madrid and scorer of a winning goal in a League Cup final, Jonathan Woodgate is back at his hometown club trying to end a rollercoaster career in style.
Middlesbrough-born Woodgate, 35, scored the winner in midweek win against Blackpool to keep Middlesbrough on course for a return to the Premier League.
It was only his second appearance of the season as the injuries that have blighted his career took their toll.
Now Boro face Arsenal in the FA Cup, fifth round, on Sunday when Woodgate’s experience, on or off the field, could be vital as the Championship side attempt to spring a second colossal upset after outplaying Manchester City in round four.
Yet Woodgate’s final fling might have been cut short.
Manager Aitor Karanka had to persuade the club skipper not to retire last month after he spent the first half of the season in the treatment room — a part of a football stadium Woodgate has become all too familiar with during a career that began at Leeds United and had stops at Real and Tottenham Hotspur.
“Woody is very important to me and I’m very pleased to see him enjoying this moment,” Karanka told the club’s website.
“I wouldn’t have said this, but two weeks ago he said he was thinking of retiring.
“I had a chat with him and told him that he needed to enjoy his last days as a player. For me, to be a player is the best thing in the world.”
Woodgate, nicknamed “The Ghost” at Leeds where he helped them reach the Champions League semi-finals in 2001, earned eight England caps and joined Real from Newcastle in 2004.
He missed his first season in the Spanish capital with injury and when he did finally make his debut he scored an own goal and was sent off in his first match.
Woodgate later joined Tottenham and scored the winning goal in the 2008 League Cup final.
With the clock ticking on his career, Woodgate is relishing every opportunity he gets, although he is happy to stay in the background and pass on his know-how to the likes of Ben Gibson, Daniel Ayala and Kenneth Omeruo.