TIM Ream has barely looked back since binning the razor, but will Wanderers’ player of the season make the cut this weekend as the USA assemble their World Cup party?
Twelve months ago, you could never have imagined the laid-back defender would be clutching a raft of awards and holding out hope for a place in Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man preliminary squad, due to be announced on Monday at the latest.
Ream had looked plain uncomfortable in his first season of Championship football and, tarred with the brush of being an Owen Coyle signing, there seemed little hope of redemption.
But the American’s transformation into one of Dougie Freedman’s most consistent – not to mention bearded – performers has been as rewarding to watch as anything else at the Reebok this season. And while that improvement has come outside the bright lights of the Premier League, it might just be enough to convince Klinsmann to take a second look at a player clearly in the form of his career.
The German coach will wait until the FIFA deadline of June 2 to name his official 23-man squad for Brazil this summer, with friendlies against Azerbaijan and Turkey to come before a final tune-up against Nigeria.
Ream is sitting back, knowing he has done all he can.
“Anyone who plays this game professionally dreams of playing for their country at the World Cup and I’m no different,” he said.
“That’s where I’d like to be come the middle of June. But whether I get an opportunity or not is not up to me. With any luck, the USA staff will have seen what I have done this season and appreciate my efforts so I can hopefully get that chance.
“If it doesn’t happen for me then I will just go again next time. When I started the season it wasn’t even on my radar with all honesty. Truthfully, it hasn’t really been in my thinking until the past few weeks when it has become a hot topic of conversation.
“With things like this though you can’t allow your mind to be wrapped around it or get caught up with it. As soon as you do that you lose focus on your everyday performances which will ultimately get you into the international scene in the first place.”
To use an Americanism, it is very easy to “root” for Ream. He may lack some of the Hollywood glitz of his compatriot Stu Holden but he benefits from having just as much approachability.
And he also has the same brutally honest streak – and pulls no punches when assessing how he struggled at first with life outside the top flight in England.
“The past two years have definitely been a real eye-opener for me,” he said. “Last season I didn’t feature as much as I would have liked but when I did I was a little unnerved purely by how different the style was to other leagues.
“There are so many demands in the Championship and to begin with I probably wasn’t prepared for that. But it definitely gave me motivation going into last summer to really contribute this season.
“Whether people believe it or not, if you are not settled off the field then it is hard to settle on it. It got to the point last summer I had to focus on making sure my life outside of the game was comfortable so that I could perform at my best on it.
“In my own mind I feel happier than I ever have in all aspects of my life. My wife and I welcomed our little boy two months ago too.
“He’s thriving and sleeping through the night which is obviously a bonus for me.”
Ream’s success on the pitch is not the only thing that has changed this season – his appearance has altered dramatically too.
Since filling in as a makeshift full-back the 26-year-old has sported a white mask to protect a broken nose sustained against QPR in January and grown a sizeable beard.
After turning to the hirsute look, Ream’s luck has certainly changed for the better, so no wonder he has stuck with it.
“The guys who can actually grow beards started doing it when it was no-shave November and it just stemmed from there,” he told Bolton’s matchday programme.
“Obviously a few of the lads gave up once the month was over because they couldn’t deal with itchy faces. But me and a couple of the others kept them.
“My wife claims that little kids and babies recognise people with beards more than those without – I’ve no idea how true that is!
“We’ve since had Liam Trotter come in who can grow a mean beard and Matt Mills’ is epic.
“I’ve actually trimmed mine but I don’t think he has. He definitely has the best one in the team.”