At the end of last season, Andros Townsend – then coming to the end of a three-and-a-half month loan spell at Queen’s Park Rangers – was charged by the FA for breaking its strict rules on betting.
He admitted his guilt, accepted his punishment and was suspended for the summer, missing out on the European U21 Championship as a result.
Little over three months later, and he has been called up by England proper, for competitive matches no less.
It is some turnaround. But how did he get to this stage to quickly?
Townsend's story is as unusual as it is triumphant.
Unbeknown to the player, then 21, the punts he’d placed on matches involving other clubs were in contravention of regulations for players and staff members at professional clubs.
Punts on Leeds United, Birmingham City and parent club Tottenham seemed harmless enough to the youngster, but until a bookmaker told him he was being reported to the FA, Townsend had no idea that he could not bet on teams he had played for earlier in that campaign.
Townsend, who by this point had been a shining light in comedy club QPR’s failed attempt to stay in the Premier League, clearly had no influence over those clubs’ results, but rules are rules and they are there with good reason.
The player was suspended for the summer, meaning he missed out on what proved to be a disastrous campaign at the European U21 Championships.
Townsend was heartbroken, but he took the punishment on the chin and emerged with great credit in taking responsibility for his actions, even if he (and many others) did not know he was doing wrong. The likes of Luis Suarez would do well to learn from his humility.
His response was to get his head down and, to the surprise of many, win over Andre Villas-Boas to the extent that he appears to be Spurs’ first-choice right winger.
And now he is in the England squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Some turnaround as it has been less than four months since he was punished by the FA.
Given the money they have spent this summer, and the presence of England international Aaron Lennon, that is no mean feat. AvB’s trust in Townsend is such that the right side of midfield does not appear to be an area that he wishes to strengthen with the money they expect to recoup from the sale of Gareth Bale.
With few English players rated as being technically competent enough for top-level international football, Townsend is a breath of fresh air. He can run and work like every Englishman, but he boasts good technique, enjoys to run at players and – unlike team-mate and rival Lennon – has excellent delivery.
He can also hit a ball from distance, as QPR fans will confirm, and – at just 22 – is well on his way to being an all-round attacking winger. Something about Spurs sees these players develop into unstoppable running machines, and with the right guidance and attitude, the world is his oyster.
It’s early days, but Townsed appears to have the latter; the former depends on how long AvB stays at Spurs, which may not be all that long if – as suspected – they have a successful season.
Ross Barkley is another notable inclusion in England’s squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine and Moldova.
Like Townsend, the Everton midfielder is quick, direct, skilful and determined. He is a central midfielder, and is sharp in the tackle as well as silky in possession. Suddenly the future looks bright for an England side so heavily – and rightly – mocked for their allergy to possession. If Barkley and Jack Wilshere stay fit and out of mischief, they could well be England’s central midfield partnership for a decade or longer. Which certainly bodes well for the future.
But Barkley’s international card has been marked for some time. He was highly rated as a schoolboy and was widely expected to get an early call for England as soon as he was turning out regularly for Everton.
Townsend’s is a more evocative tale. Until his impressive cameo for QPR, he had been loaned out eight times to lower-league sides, destined to join that club of promising English youngsters who fail get the breaks in the Premier League and end up jobbing around the Championship and League One until it’s too late.
Townsend’s star was starting to rise before his unfortunate brush with the bookmakers; the disappointment that followed appears to have motivated him further.
With England hardly the most entertaining of sides to watch, now is a fantastic opportunity for the adventurous winger to make his mark. Nothing about him suggests he won’t take that chance.