He is no Sergio Ramos but James Ward-Prowse is making an unlikely case for becoming English football’s master of the dark arts.
The sly Saint was spotted scuffing up the spot before Birkir Bjarnason ballooned his late penalty off the island, securing England’s narrow win.
Ward-Prowse’s antics went viral and Roy Keane accused him of ‘cheating’ but Ian Wright saluted the Southampton midfielder’s ‘devilment.’
And the barrister’s son was happy to confess to adding an edge to his game that could only be described as unsportsmanlike.
He said: “At club level, we maybe had the reputation of being a bit too nice and we have maybe had to show a bit of that darker side to help us win games.
“I think it is something I have learned along the way and it has added to my game. It is an important factor in the modern game.”
Wright certainly seems to think so. The former Arsenal striker responded to Keane’s disapproval by saying: “I don’t mind that from an England player, I like that devilment about him. If that happens in a major competition and England get something from it, I’m not going to complain.”
And Ward-Prowse, 25, admitted his scraping at the turf was a deliberate act of gamesmanship. He said: “It wasn’t any digging…it was more just delaying the penalty. It was a mad few minutes.
“We’d just scored what we thought was the winning goal and then we faced the penalty so it was more a delaying tactic just for everyone to get their heads together and prepare for the penalty. Thankfully it went in our favour.”
While Bjarnason and his woeful technique were undoubtedly the chief culprits in Iceland squandering the chance of a draw, Ward-Prowse’s antics again demonstrated a relatively newly-found streetwise element to his game.
He has been involved in a running feud with Wilfried Zaha, having been accused of helping to get the Crystal Palace man sent off in a fixture at St Mary’s in January 2019 and of celebrating his dismissal. Zaha was then so riled by Ward-Prowse in a game at Selhurst Park earlier this year, he appeared to try and poke him in the eye.
Ward-Prowse later made a gesture involving his shorts that suggested he thought he had Zaha in his pocket. In that match, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team came out on top and it was another example of the win-at-all-costs mentality that Ward-Prowse is developing at St Mary’s.
He went on: “I think the manager (Hasenhuttl) showed me sides of my game which weren’t suitable for his style of play and we had an honest conversation about him wanting to see me be more aggressive and to be better against the ball.
“I love the way he plays, I wanted to be part of that and I knew that I had to go away and work hard at it. That side of the game has definitely come into it. I think with Southampton, people generally think it’s a ‘nice’ club. But I think we have added a different side to our game.”
Ward-Prowse, once the ‘nice’ young man of Premier League football, has certainly added a different side to his.