Steven Davis will go down as one of the best players ever to wear the green shirt, and his influence and ability on the pitch will be greatly missed when he decides to hang up his boots, which unfortunately will be in the not too distant future.
He is Northern Ireland’s most capped outfield player, and with only two caps separating him with Pat Jennings’ record of 119 caps, the UEFA Nations League Final against either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia at Windsor Park could see Davis equal the record, should Northern Ireland squeeze past Bosnia and Herzegovina.
When he retires there will be a huge gap to fill not only in the captaincy department but also in the midfield. There are several young players coming through, along with more established internationals that may just the player that takes on the dominating, controlling and calm nature of the ‘Davis’ position.
The ‘Davis’ position is one where he drops deep to get the ball and tries to make something from that, often turning on the spot and pinning a ball to the other side of the pitch, something like what Steven Gerrard used to do at Liverpool. He stays calm throughout the match and often is the most underrated player on the pitch, but still seems to win the man of the match all of the time.
A player with a lot of potential, who has already claimed a starting spot in the International side, Saville has impressed many and is seen as a natural replacement for Davis. His ability on the ball is fantastic and has been a key player for Middlesbrough this season.
He has often been deployed as a left-winger in the Northern Ireland side, with the sides previous fixtures against Germany and the Netherlands being examples of this. He often would come into midfield to get the ball, looking for the overlapping run of the left-back or chipping the ball over the backline into the forward.
His composure on the ball would see him as a good option to have as the Davis replacement. The added height would lead to more aerial balls being won in the middle of the park, leading to Northern Ireland getting the ball forward more quickly, and creating more chances.
Although the ‘Davis’ position is going to be difficult to fill, Saville has a number of qualities which can help him to grow into the role over time, however, I feel like his more natural position is further forward on the pitch, not as a left-winger but a more attack-minded midfielder, using his height and strength to cause the opposition problems when on the ball.
The player for me that will have the biggest impact on the Northern Ireland in the future, Thompson has been signed by Michael O’Neill at Stoke and may already be developing into the natural replacement for Davis. Although he did make his first start for Stoke against QPR playing as a left-winger, O’Neill puts Saville out there for international matches, so they are similar.
Thompson may be the most attack-minded player on this list, but this may benefit the 23-year-old, with this eye for a pass and presence in the final third. From the sparse international appearances, he has made so far, I have always been impressed by him. He does like to drive forward with the ball, after collecting it from deep and his style does resemble that of Davis.
He is a player that needs to get into the starting XI at international level fairly soon, with players like Donnelly and Sykes coming through to challenge for the extra sport in midfield. Playing him as a central midfielder would allow him to go from box to box, be a threat on the counter but also dictate the tempo of the play, something that in time will come to him.
Thompson is a player that I think will be a future star for Northern Ireland, and although the ‘Davis’ role might not be the most familiar to him, he certainly has the potential to claim it for himself. Playing in the ‘Davis’ position would allow Paddy McNair to continue in the more attacking midfield role, like Jordan Henderson at Liverpool creating a partnership between these two and Saville, allowing them to can rotate and cause mayhem for the opposition.
Another play that O’Neill has crafted into an attacking midfielder, Evans has been a crucial part of the success in the Northern Ireland side over the past number of years. In recent games for the Green and White army, he has been put out on the right-wing against Germany and played as a holding midfielder alongside Davis against the Netherlands.
Evans is the most experienced player out of the three which I have been discussing, but like Thompsons’ attacking ability, the experience may benefit Evans. He is only 29 years old, so will have at least three more years left in the tank. The nature of the ‘Davis’ position is quite slow, one that would suit an ageing player perfectly.
His ability to intercept the ball while also perfectly judging runs from teammates would allow him to replicate that of Davis, with the experience bringing composure, something that Thompson and Saville have not yet proved. He is also a threat in the final third, often playing as a centre forward when closing down opposition, especially in the game against the Netherlands.
Evans is a player that would be the perfect placeholder for the ‘Davis’ position, with his experience allowing for the gap to be tapped over temporarily to get the younger players up to speed and so they can become natural in the position. Playing alongside Davis frequently will have allowed Evans to pick up the traits that Davis possesses, while the experience of Evans captaining his country on a few occasions, and his brother playing in the heart of defence being a reassurance for Evans, lifting the pressure of him slightly.
Out of all these players, Thompson would be the player that I would most like to see play in the ‘Davis’ position, but any of these players would do a good job. Liam Donnelly, Ethan Galbraith and Mark Sykes are all honourable mentions, which shows the strength in depth that Northern Ireland have at their disposal. When Michael O’Neill leaves after the end of the current campaign, the new manager might not even want a player to play in the ‘Davis’ position, but as long as Davis remains a professional football, playing international football, the Northern Ireland midfielder will bring a calm and reassuring feel to the midfield, along with one of the most underrated abilities in world football.