By Tony Leighton
Barnsley's on-loan Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland will be taking a keener interest than most players in The Football League when Friday's draw is made for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil.
The 20-year-old stopper, who last year incredibly made his England debut before playing a first-team game for his then parent club Birmingham City, is desperate to be part of the national squad for what promises to be a great tournament.
He is not in Roy Hodgson's current squad, but he told football-league.co.uk: "If I'm playing well at a good level it gives me the chance of getting back into the squad for the World Cup. If I don't make it that will be tough, but my target is to keep playing and playing well to be on that plane to Rio."
Butland has not yet played in the Premier League, having been loaned back to Birmingham for the second half of last season following his January move to Stoke, and then to Barnsley on a three-month loan that ends on Boxing Day.
Pundits may feel that playing below the top flight will adversely affect Butland's chances of World Cup selection, but the keeper shrugs off the suggestion that he may be frustrated at his lack of Premier League opportunities to date.
"All that's on my mind is playing games," he insisted. "I didn't go to Stoke expecting to just walk into the starting line-up, I'd never be so naive to think that.
"Going to Stoke was a big step in my career and I feel that I've improved since I've been at the club. Coming to Barnsley has given me the opportunity to play regular first-team football and set me up for the second half of the season.
"I don't know what will happen when my loan finishes, but I need to continue playing games. If it's for Stoke, that would be brilliant, if not then by the end of the transfer window I'll look to go out [on loan] again.
"If I'm not playing it's difficult to knock on doors and say, 'give me a chance.' So I don't want to be sat on the bench, I just want to play and keep on developing."
Butland is already remarkably well developed for a goalkeeper not yet 21. When he made his England debut against Italy in August last year he became the youngest ever keeper to don the national jersey, having just a month or so earlier memorably played for Team GB at the Olympic Games.
Now he is hoping to add a World Cup appearance to his impressively expanding CV, but at club level and, more immediately, his task is helping Barnsley to climb off the bottom of the Sky Bet Championship table.
A surprise midweek win at Brighton - after losing at home to Butland's former club Birmingham last Saturday - boosted morale at Oakwell, but now the Tykes face an arguably tougher task at third in the table Burnley on Saturday.
Butland said: "It was a tough experience for me, playing against the Blues. It's the club where I grew up and it was quite an emotional afternoon.
"I didn't want the result to go against Barnsley, but we bounced back really well at Brighton - it was a brave performance and we deserved the win.
"Now we've got to go to Burnley with the same attitude and confidence. You're not going to get away from the bottom of the table by feeling sorry for yourself, you have to go out and play aggressive, positive football.
"I think that Barnsley can do that. If I don't return to the club on loan then I'll wish them all the best and hope that they can stay in the Championship.
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