Football/Soccer

NI skipper Steven Davis so under-rated says Damien Johnson

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis in the new kit which will be worn against Switzerland on Thursday night in the World Cup play-off first leg. 

STEVEN Davis's former Northern Ireland colleague Damien Johnson has described the midfielder as "one of the most under-rated players in the game" ahead of his 100th cap.

Davis, 32, will follow Pat Jennings and Aaron Hughes in bringing up a century of appearances for his country when he captains Michael O'Neill's side against Switzerland in the first leg of their World Cup play-off on Thursday - not that he is likely to covet much fanfare given his understated nature.

Twelve years ago Southampton's Davis won his first cap against Canada and Johnson, who played alongside him in midfield until retiring in 2010, remembers a player destined for greatness.

"He was always a terrific person," Johnson said. "I always found him a really good kid, even as a young player - terrific attitude, wonderful ability. You just knew he was a top player, no matter where you played him.

"He came through at [Aston] Villa, I was at Birmingham at the time, so I saw close up how he developed through their system.

"David O'Leary put him in the team initially and you were almost waiting for that young player to have that blip and he just carried on.

"He came into the Northern Ireland squad and you thought how calm and composed he was, he seemed to be very mature in possession. He was always impressive.

"He is, for me, one of the most under-rated players in the game. Even now he's still churning out top performances, getting goals and is Southampton's key player.

"He's never been the one that has been sold on but whenever I watch Southampton he's always been one of their main men."

Davis's ability is more evident when he plays for Northern Ireland given he was one of just four Premier League players currently available to O'Neill.

Yet Johnson, no stranger to promising youngsters in his current role as Blackburn's Under-23s boss, remembers a player that never let his talent go to his head.

"He was always very mature with how he handled himself - he was nice, polite, respectful," Johnson added.

"Working with young players, you see they have a little bit of a swagger and cockiness. He was always confident but never arrogant. He knew he was a good player.

"He knew when to pass forward, he could create, tackle, run around. You were thinking, 'There's nothing this kid can't do'."

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern

One of O'Neill's first acts as manager was to make Davis captain and it was his skipper who rose to the occasion with a brace in the win over Greece that secured their qualification for Euro 2016.

It is that style of leadership that has impressed Johnson, who believes Davis belongs in the pantheon of Northern Irish greats.

"He's not the most vociferous, not that ranter and raver - but his attitude and how he goes about it has always just set the standard," Johnson said.

"People like that command a huge amount of respect and young players can look up to him. He's a terrific role model.

"He's been one of the best players we've ever produced. He'll go down as a Northern Ireland all-time great and rightly so."

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