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Adam Wharton reveals sacrifices behind meteoric rise to England’s Euro 2024 squad just five months after the Crystal Palace midfielder played in the Championship

Adam Wharton stands in a ground-floor room adjacent to the central courtyard of the 12th-century German castle that acts as England’s media center during the European Championship. Youth and the Middle Ages side by side.

This is England’s first official media day since arriving in Germany and Wharton, 20, has been chosen to kick off proceedings with the first press conference, a question and answer session broadcast live on television.

At major tournaments it has become customary for England players to play a game of darts with a member of the media before sitting down to hold their press conference. His opponent, a BBC reporter, asks Wharton if he is any good.

“Never played,” Wharton says.

Wharton’s speech is deadpan, so it’s hard to know if he’s bluffing, but it seems plausible enough. Just over four months ago he was playing in the Championship for Blackburn Rovers. There will be many firsts for him in the coming weeks.

Adam Wharton took on a member of the media in darts at England's first official media day

Adam Wharton took on a member of the media in darts at England’s first official media day

The midfielder was the player who made a late run to secure his place in the England squad

The midfielder was the player who made a late run to secure his place in the England squad

Wharton made his England debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina

Wharton made his England debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina

The midfielder was the player who made a late run to secure his place in the England squad

Wharton is not the youngest player in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, but he has played fewer top-flight games and fewer minutes at international level than anyone in the group of 26 who start their campaign against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday.

He was living in Blackburn when England reached the final of the last European Championship. He and some other club scholars went to a cafe around the corner and watched the match in a tent set up outside.

He, more than anyone else, symbolizes the audacity of Southgate’s choice. He made his professional debut less than two years ago, but his move from Blackburn to Crystal Palace in February led to critical acclaim for his performances in the Premier League.

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He is the gunner in the side, the player who made a late run and set up the likes of Jack Grealish and James Maddison. “He sees the pictures early,” said Southgate, after Wharton made an impressive senior debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina earlier this month.

Wharton plays with a maturity beyond his years, the kind of midfielder who always seems to have time on the ball, who knows where he is going to play his next pass before the ball has even been passed to him and who has the kind of game intelligence is difficult to teach.

He won’t start against Serbia, but a team evolves quickly in the heat of the tournament and his impact has been such that if a vacancy arises through injury or performance shortcomings, Southgate will not hesitate to promote him to the starting eleven.

Wharton also talks with a maturity beyond his years. He has enough confidence to be himself in front of the media, which is the deepest kind of confidence you can have.

Wharton joked that his father's description of him as

Wharton joked that his father's description of him as

Wharton joked that his father’s description of him as “a bit of a loner” was “a bit harsh” at a press conference

“How’s John Stones?” he was asked after Stones missed practice due to a cold. “No idea,” Wharton said. He went on to explain why he had no idea, but the point remains. He has a laconic character, which makes him averse to rippling embroidery in his answers. He doesn’t feel the need to impress.

When told that his father had described him in a radio interview as “a bit of a loner,” Wharton smiled slowly and let it sink in.

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“Loner is a bit harsh,” he said, with just enough self-mockery to make the audience laugh.

‘I don’t have a million friends. I kind of keep to myself. That’s actually how I’ve always been. That works for me. I now live alone in London. I’m not always out with my friends doing this and that.

“Part of being a footballer is not being able to go out at the weekend and that’s the kind of sacrifice you make. I’m not a loner, but I’m not the most outgoing person either. I’m not going to go into a room with people I don’t know and be really loud.

‘All the boys have made it really easy, they are all very welcoming and happy to have a chat. That has made it easy, but we are all involved in football and there is plenty to talk about. I’ve spoken to all the boys now and it wasn’t difficult to talk to anyone.’

Wharton was a promising cricketer for Lancashire in the younger age groups, but he comes from a football-mad family.

Wharton enjoyed a meteoric rise at Blackburn before signing for Crystal Palace in February

Wharton enjoyed a meteoric rise at Blackburn before signing for Crystal Palace in February

Wharton enjoyed a meteoric rise at Blackburn before signing for Crystal Palace in February

The 20-year-old's form for Crystal Palace led to his inclusion in the 26-man England squad

The 20-year-old's form for Crystal Palace led to his inclusion in the 26-man England squad

The 20-year-old’s form for Crystal Palace led to his inclusion in the 26-man England squad

“I have two older brothers,” he said, “and when I played with them in the yard, well, they beat me up a few times. That all helps me get used to the physical side of the game.”

One of his older brothers, Scott, plays for Blackburn, their local club, having fought his way there following loans at Cambridge United, Lincoln City, Bury and Northampton Town. “I think this is a huge benefit that I was able to get to help me transition into the first team,” Wharton said.

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“My brother had four loans before he got his chance at Blackburn. He played around four seasons in League Two and was promoted a few times. And yeah, it definitely gave me a reality check when I got through it.

‘I’ve seen a lot of his games in League Two and it’s a completely different game. It’s much more physical. I was always ready for that. I’m not the most outgoing – a bit of a loner – so having him there definitely made it easier for me to transition into the first team.”

Wharton’s own ascent was faster, but not without setbacks. He spent much of his first year as an apprentice injured, a combination that can easily kill a budding career before it even gets started.

Wharton admits it's still surreal being with the England squad preparing for the European Championship

Wharton admits it's still surreal being with the England squad preparing for the European Championship

Wharton admits it’s still surreal being with the England squad preparing for the European Championship

At that point, Wharton also had to fight.

I asked him if any championship experience typified the contrast between those days and the high status he enjoys now. He made it clear that for him the Championship was what he knew and that it was a privilege to play in those stadiums early in his career. Once again he felt confident that he didn’t feel the need to dissemble.

“It’s a surreal feeling to be here,” he said. ‘To be honest, I didn’t really expect this. I’ve only just gone to the Premier League. It was more of a bonus when I got into it, so I’m definitely happy. There’s nothing better than being able to do what you love on the highest stage.

“But if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

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