Category: England Latest- news and opinion

England fans should get behind Southgate…for now

Two sluggish 1 nil wins and England made it to the World Cup to a chorus of apathy and disapproval. In the media scrum that followed everyone had their say and sadly that meant a ‘speak your brains’ phone in on Five Live. Depressingly someone called in to say sack Southgate and replace him with Harry Redknapp or Carlo Ancelotti apparently because Ancelotti speaks better English than ‘That other Italian they had.’ A word of advice for anyone who feels like phoning in live on air- know the names of the people you’re taking about!

No Instant Fix

Quite a few people have suggested the newly out of work Ancelotti, but I wouldn’t agree on the grounds that when England went foreign in the past it was to get the best out of a highly gifted generation of players so you could understand the FA seeking out the best first team manager available. Now the aim is to bring through the youngsters, set a template for the junior sides to come into in years to come and improve on the awful tournament performances of 2014 & 2016.  With the emphasis on bringing through the players and coaches parachuting in a high price overseas manager isn’t a fit.

As for Redknapp he should have got the job in 2012, but let’s be clear in 2017 he’d be a disaster. He was fired from his last successful job in 2012 and since then made a disastrous mess of QPR and more recently Birmingham due to overspending on veteran players. If ‘arry got the England job his first move would be to recall John Terry, Peter Crouch & Michael Carrick- anyone who doubts that should look back at his comments last season that Terry was the answer for every Premier League side struggling at the back, he then offered Terry a truckload of cash to join Birmingham. If the focus is on bringing through youngsters it would be like appointing Mario Andretti to run a speed awareness course. And thats before we get to the due diligence required to check into any skeletons in his closet.

Ultimately changing the manager won’t fix the problems and England need a manager who is bought into their long term plan.

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The next man in

When The FA appointed Gareth Southgate the cupboard was bare, one year on the candidates for the England job are there but all have questions to answer and missions to complete at club level first;

Brendan Rodgers has long been established as a good coach and provided a standard of play at Liverpool not seen since the late 80s (admittedly helped by having Luis Suarez in the side). After things went pear shaped at Anfield but he’s enhanced his reputation with Celtic, where the job he’s done should be measured in improved performances rather than domestic silverware, it’s also been long rumoured Rodgers coverts the England job.

The elephant in the room with Rodgers is he isn’t English, could the man from Northern Ireland manage England? Many have pointed out that with every other coach at St Georges Park having to be English the program could be undermined by having an Ulsterman at the top of the tree. Of course Rodgers isn’t comparable with Fabio Capello, he has come through the ranks in England and clearly there isn’t a cultural problem.  The other issue with Rodgers is his goal of making Celtic a credible european force is only partially completed- they have improved but need a run (more likely in the Europa League) after Christmas to complete what he started. And then there’s his tendency to turn into David Brent.

Sean Dyche has done a great job at Burnley taking them to 2 promotions and looks like securing a third straight season in the Premier League. The problem with Dyche is he really needs to do it with a bigger club first, his ideal next step would either be given greater resources at Burnley or move on to one to next level premier league club (West Ham, Everton or Newcastle all spring to mind) before considering a move to international football. There’s also his tendency to come out of with stone age comments in press conferences- comparing English managers to own brand supermarket jeans isn’t a good look.

Eddie Howe- An easier fit for the FA than Dyche, Eddie Howe has achieved a lot with Bournemouth and his sides no play nice football. But he currently needs to fight his way out of a relegation fight and like Dyche may need a higher profile and better resourced club job first, he also failed to get a tune out of Jack Wilshere and has struggled with big signings. All that being said if the job came up tomorrow Howe would be favourite.

Paul Clement- Clearly a world class coach from his time with Real Madrid, Clement made a big impact on arriving at Swansea and kept a relegation threatened side in the Premier League. Clement’s sides play possession based football and he clearly has a lot to offer. The negative is like Howe he’s in a relegation battle right now and not only needs to win that, he has to progress Swansea up the Premier League table to prove he has the management nouse to match his coaching chops.

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I’m not saying Southgate is a better manager than any of these fellas, what I think is important is they need more time in club football to hone their craft and if the aim is for 2020 and 2022 it’s better to wait and see if they can progress the way we hope rather than throwing them in at the deep end. And we should remember that Southgate didn’t want the job, his preference was to gain more experience with the under 21s and have a go at the U21 Euros of 2017 before being ready to go for the senior job, unfortunately Sam Allardyce walked into a bar with some undercover reporters and that was that.

The Pros and Cons of Gareth

Nobody should make an argument for Southgate being a top class manager, there’s no evidence of that. He’s at best a work in progress manager who’s had to step in and learn on the job. The style has been none existent but Southgate is a studious man who has successfully avoided the pitfall of experimenting in qualifiers- which ultimately did for Steve McClaren.

Southgate’s best work appears to have been behind the scenes with the players clearly bought into his program and working to make improvements in grassroots football. He’s also promoted youngsters, shown a tactical flexibility that Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Erikkson lacked, steering clear of 4-4-2 and using a safe 4-2-3-1 for qualifying and experimenting with 3-4-3 in friendlies. He speaks well, is promoting youngsters and isn’t going to do something stupid and embarrass his employers (unlike the last bloke).

But the style or lack of it is England’s biggest problem and there’s been little on display over the last 12 months, notably in the last 6 games (Scotland, France, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia & Lithuania). Part of that is down to the lack of central midfield options (what he would’t give for a Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard or even Jenas.) But he hasn’t shown much sign of crafting a solution around that weakness- perhaps the switch to 3-4-3 will be the best way of doing that. And although England haven’t conceded many goals in qualifying (3 and 2 of those were direct free kicks)  we’ve yet to see if Southgate can forge a tight defensive plan.

One coach Southgate unfortunately reminds me of is former England Rugby Union Head Coach Stuart Lancaster. The parallels are obvious, Lancaster came from the RFU backroom after doing well with the junior levels and got the big job on the basis of a successful stint as interim manager. Lancaster jettisoned the veterans and brought through the young players but couldn’t quite blend them into a winning team and ultimately failed at the Rugby World Cup, his successor Eddie Jones has since made the same team into a ruthless winning machine. Of course Lancaster made some enormous selection blunders (Sam Burgess, dropping Mike Ford) and there’s no sign of Southgate doing that thus far.

Another major issue with Lancaster was his players were clearly not ready for tournament rugby at the World Cup with many overwhelmed by the experience. And that’s probably Southgate’s strongest card. As a veterans of 4 tournaments under 4 different managers as a player Southgate should have a better feel of what will and won’t work in the pressure cooker of tournament football, indeed he’s already adopting some of Terry Venables ideas.

There’s also one area in which Southgate’s side have shown tangible signs of improvement- mental toughness. England’s mental fragility has been their biggest problem at recent tournaments. Southgate was quick to point out his side didn’t drop to their knees when 2-1 down at Hampden Park instead they kept their cool and equalised. There was more of the same when Slovakia got an early goal at Wembley. Will they do that in a tournament? We’ll have to wait and see but for now England fans need to stick by their manager and hope he knows what he’s doing, and no more talk of ‘arry.

 

 

 

 

 

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England 1-0 Slovenia takeaways

  1. I think it was Sir Alf Ramsey who stated you wear your boiler suit for the qualifiers and your dinner suit for the finals. Gareth Southgate has followed th first half of that statement (not literally). This was an awful performance, it never quite reached Iceland levels of awfulness but it did remind me of Algeria af the 2010 World Cup.

Of course we should bare in mind as that statement suggests most qualifiers are tense but poor partly because of the lack of preparation time (4 days). last night Argentina failed to beat Peru whilst last time out France couldn’t beat Luxembourg, another big name will cock things up tonight and or tomorrow- England are not alone in struggling to find a performance in the qualifiers. Germany who’ve had the same manager for a decade and the spine of the team in place since 2010 and Spain who’s cast reads like an a-z of Champions League finalists have been consistently good in this campaign.

One final point on this- England’s best World Cup in living memory (Italia 90) was preceded by the dullest qualification campaign I can remember (and required the late intervention of a crossbar in Poland) whilst England’s best qualifying campaigns were the perfect 10 of Euro 2016 and the rampant performances of Capello’s England enroute to South Africa- and we know how that turned out.

2. Gareth Southgate’s priorities between now and next summer are- sort out the midfield, try some different midfielders and rejig the midfield. Dier and Henderson just aren’t a pairing, Dier needs partner who can find a quick and questions remain over his international class whilst Henderson has only ever looked International class when partnered with Jack Wilshere. Wilshere is inevitably becoming better in our heads through absence but must get a run of games to be an option. Elsewhere it would be wise to give Harry Winks the start against Lithuania and Fabian Delph must play In November if he can retain his current form. It looks like Nat Chalobah will have to wait for the spring internationals. One thing we’ve learned for sure; Jake Livermore isn’t the answer.

3. Joe Hart is repaying his managers faith (sort of). Hart made a splendid double save when Slovenia created their best chance deep into the second half. Some took this to be Hart guaranteeing himself the job next summer. They forgot to mention he gave away a stonewall penalty which the referee happened to miss. Hart had a good game that keeps him number one for now but with the friendlies likely to see others given a shout he’s not home and dry but at least he isn’t turning into David James or Rob Green. Butland and Pickford have been good this season but neither has made a watertight case for the start as yet, that and his own competence is keeping Hart at the front of the queue.

4. Rashford is brilliant- he really is! Rashford was again dynamic and exciting with a confidence and freedom not seen from an England forward since Rooney in 2004

5. Jesse Lingard has earned a start- picking winners out of last nights performance (other than Rashford and Kane) is a biggest Pygmy in the village contest but Lingard (who came on after 63 minutes) certainly advanced his case by simply being willing to run and not being Oxlade-Chamberlain (more on him below) A certainty to start on Sunday.

6. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain won a lot of credit with Southgate by scoring a fine goal at Hampden Park. It’s fair to say he’s spent the lot over the last 4 games. He was absolutely rank in central midfield against France and contributed next to nothing in 3 successive games on the wing on the grounds Lallana and Welbeck were unavailable- once they’re both back he’s gone unless he secures a regular start at Liverpool.

7.  Some major team surgery is required- in the ITV commentary team. The loss of key players has seen Mark Pougatch over promoted to team captain whilst the team continues to struggle after the transfers of Roy Keane (who provided the hard knocks) and Gareth Southgate (who provided calm analysis). Now we have Ryan Giggs still struggling to find his feet at this level and Ian Wright who provides a fans perspective (media speak for being banal, obvious and occasional moronic). The World Cup is still 8 months away and the upcoming friendlies give the editor the chance to experiment, much more of this and said editor might resort to lighting a large Tactics Truck beacon in the sky over Wembley for Andyman to return- things are that bad!

England v Slovenia preview

So here we are England will seal their 6th successive World Cup appearance and 9th in the last 10 with a win at Wembley against Slovenia.

With a 5 point lead in Group F and a big goal difference advantage over the rest a point will almost certainly be enough. But against a side ranked 55th in the world a win at Wembley will be expected and for Gareth Southgate a perfect sign off on a successful qualifying campaign in front of 80,000 Home fans. But mess things up and a frosty night in Lithuania awaits to stumble over the line.

Despite their low ranking Slovenia gave England a rough time in a 0-0 draw in Ljubljana a year ago and sit only a point behind second placed Slovakia so arrive at Wembley with qualifying ambitions of their own. Their brightest star is Athletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak who’s impressed in Atheltico’s recent run of Champions League campaigns. Going forward the main creative threat will come from Serie A regular Josip Ilicic- who clocked up 100 appearances for Fiorentina before moving on to Atalanta this summer.

History

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The draw Slovenia gained last year was the first time they managed to avoid defeat to England- losing the previous 4 meetings. The most notable being the final group match of the 2010 World Cup when Jermain Defoe stabbed home the only goal of the game and secured England’s only win of a largely awful campaign. More recently the sides met in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. England came from behind to win 3-1 at Wembley and then 3-2 in Slovenia when Jack Wilshere bagged a memorable second half brace.

Team News

Since the squad was announced last Thursday Fabian Delph and Phil Jones have been ruled out with injury whilst Dele Alli will serve his one match ban for flipping the bird in the Slovakia game last month. It’s a particular blow for Delph who was likely to play following his good run of form for Manchester City. But Delph’s injury is short term and he should be back for City when the Premier League resumes, he currently looks a key component to Pep Guardiola’s side so should get his chance in the November internationals.

England Squad Takeaways

The late call up to the squad is Tottenham’s Harry Winks who’ll be hoping to make his debut. Winks has been promoted from the Under 21’s and with Delph joining a lengthy injury list in midfield has been given his chance sooner than expected, but the talented young playmaker looks a confident player who may well grab his opportunity with both hands and it is good to see a young player with potential getting the late call up rather than a veteran with little upside.

There’s been no word yet on team selection but inevitably there’ll be a lot of focus on the goalkeepers. Southgate backed Joe Hart after his error against Scotland in the summer but then was partly to blame for Slovakia’s goal at Wembley. Southgate needs to give his other keepers a chance with at best 7 games remaining before the World Cup (assuming we make it!) I’d like to see Jack Butland given the start but I suspect the manager will stick with Hart.

Elsewhere the absence of Jones means a change in central defence- the favourite must be John Stones after a good start to the season with City and his ball playing skills should be a huge asset against a side likely to sit deep for long spells.

Prediction

Slovenia will come looking for a point and hit on the break when they can. I expect England will score in the first half and should run out comfortable winners 2-0.

 

England Squad Takeaways

Gareth Southgate has confirmed his 26 man squad he expects to secure World Cup qualification next week. So what does this squad tell us;

  1. The field is narrowing– Nobody was dropped from the September England squad with Vardy, Welbeck, Chalobah and Heaton missing out through injury and Forster & Delph coming in. The current injury group reads Heaton, Clyne, Rose, Shaw, Chalobah, Lallana, Antonio, Welbeck & Vardy. If you’re not amongst the 9 injured players listed, the 26 selected or playing for one of the age group squads (Gray, Solanke, Abraham, Davies to name 4 who are) you’re not currently in contention for Russia. The biggest names missing at present are Jack Wilshere, Jamaal Lascelles, Marc Albrighton, Nathan Redmond & Alfie Mawson. Lascelles is the one who will consider himself unlucky after an excellent run of form for Newcastle. Wilshere meanwhile is hardly unlucky but remains the player most hope will get a run going to force his way in- England simply don’t have an equivalent talent at present, but as we saw at Euro 2016 picking Wilshere whilst short of games isn’t an option.Arsenal v Aston Villa - Premier League
  2. Goalkeeper race wide open- Fraser Forster is back after a good run of form with Southampton. With Tom Heaton injured it appears to be a 5 horse race for the gloves. So far Southgate has stuck with Joe Hart, but his club form is the worst of the 4 ‘keepers selected and he was partly at fault for the goal England conceded against Slovakia. It seems likely the manager will give someone else a chance for these 2 games.
  3. Centre back competition looks tough– England looked woefully short of centre backs 2 summers ago, now there appears to be an abundance. There are six centre backs in this squad meaning England could afford to overlook Mawson and Lascelles. The current pecking order appears to be Cahill- Jones- Stones- Keane- Smalling- Maguire. The presence of Smalling is slightly frustrating given his lack of games for Manchester United but with Southgate not ready to trim his squad it appears experience is keeping the United man in the race for now.
  4. Fab’s Back. Two weeks ago this would have been a shocker but today it’s no surprise. Fabian Delph got himself back into the City first team in the EFL Cup, then scored a stunner at the weekend and was excellent for 90 minutes in the Champions League. With Gundogan, Mendy & Kompany all injured Guardiola has shuffled the City pack and Delph is back. It’s nicely timed for England with Nat Chalobah injured, Delph offers a superior central midfield option to Jake Livermore and is likely to add to his 9 caps next week.C85uuZqXsAA-2SI-750x400
  5. Youngsters staying with the Under 21s- As in September Southgate continues to keep the youngsters together with the under 21s. For now giving the Under 21s the best available squad (bar Marcus Rashford) seems sensible much as I’d like to see Tammy Abraham given a senior cap. After the run of trophies won by England’s youth teams this year the Euro Under 21s of 2019 is high on the list of priorities for England as they build to Wembley hosting the Euro 2020 final and the much heralded timeline of winning the ultimate prize in 2022.p055b0rw

England squad:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (West Ham, on loan from Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Jack Butland (Stoke) Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester), John Stones (Manchester City), Michael Keane (Everton), Chris Smailling (Manchester United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham)

Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Dele Alli (Tottenham)

Forwards: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Bournemouth), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)

 

The blocked pathway- How the Premier League is failing young players, England and its own Champions League ambitions

This week in the Premier League only 65 English players started games that’s 29.5% last week it was 64. It’s a shocking yet predictable statistic. It gets worse- those numbers include retired England players Milner & Rooney and veterans Jagielka, Barry & Ashley Young.

Since it’s formation 25 years ago when the elite clubs gained independence from the Football League the Premier League has exceeded expectations in all areas bar one- helping the England National Team. We now have a league that has provided greater entertainment, a higher standard of play and world class facilities. Yet the pool of homegrown players has been reduced to a puddle.

Let’s be clear here the foreign players have been fantastic for English football. From the early years of exotic number 10s like Cantona, Zola & Bergkamp to David Silva & Eden Hazard. The foreign players have increased the technical level and professionalism of English football- notably United’s class of ’92 took their lead on training standards from Cantona.

The decline in English players in the Premier League over recent years has been justified by two points- firstly England isn’t producing good enough players and secondly The Premier Leagues leading clubs need to import to stay ahead in The Champions League.

On the first point England are now Under 20 World Champions, under 19 European Champions, Double Toulon tournament winners and European Under 17s runners up.

On the second point the last Premier League team to win the Champions League were Chelsea in 2012. Since then only 2 of the last 20 Champions League semi finalists were from the Premier League whilst La Liga produced 4 champions.

Meanwhile despite the Premier League’s vast riches the worlds best players remain out of reach. Whilst Morata, Mendy and Salah did come to England M’Bappe, Neymar and Dembele (the best players on the market) went elsewhere and the brightest new star of next summers World Cup will join either Real or Barca, as Ozil did in 2010 & James in 2014.

There are a lot of theories doing the rounds as to why the Premier League clubs keep failing in Europe.

One problem I can see is none of the current premier league clubs have a club culture. By that I mean a leadership group of players who have been at the club a long time, set the standard for the team. The importance of this can be seen in the recent list of Champions League winners: Bayern (Lahm & Schweinsteiger) Barca (Xavi & Puyol and later Iniesta, Busquets & Messi) & Real (Ronaldo, Ramos & Marcelo).

England’s triumphant Premier League sides all had this- Man United 1999 (Keane & class of 92), Liverpool 2005 (Gerrard & Carragher), United 2008 (Scholes & Giggs) & Chelsea (Lampard, Cole, Terry, Drogba). As these examples show being at a club a long time doesn’t mean you have to be a national or even an academy product. It’s also notable no such long serving core exists at CL underachievers Paris St Germain.

It’s difficult to see many players who fits that bill in the current premier league- Kompany if he could stay fit, Cahill at a push but seriously there are very few others. The transient nature of recent premier league squads makes this difficult.

So if England is producing young talent, academies are receiving huge investment, we fail in Europe and the best in the world go to Spain, Bayern or PSG so why is the pathway from youth team to first team so hard to cross?

One obvious reason is the pressure for instant success applied to managers- but with most big clubs now employing top class managers some seem to be adopting a more long term strategy (Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool). But most Premier League clubs still see youth development as a hindrance to success unless the player happens to be a Gareth Bale level player.

In Germany and Spain youth development is seen as key in first team success- even at Real Madrid where Marco Asensio (aged 21) has been promoted to the first team possibly explaining why Real allowed Morata to join Chelsea.

Meanwhile at Stamford Bridge John Terry said on departing the club one of his reasons to go was he didn’t want to stand in the way of Nathan Ake, Nat Chalobah & Kurt Zouma making their first team claims- by the end of the the transfer window Chelsea had sold 2 and loaned out the other of those 3, together with Ruben Loftus Cheek, Christian Atsu & Dom Solanke. A penny for John’s thoughts now!

The curious case of Jadon Sancho

Whilst most eyes this summer where on Manchester City’s big money imports there was a significant export- 17 year old Jadon Sancho who joined Borussia Dortmund. The academy product was one of 2 outstanding individuals in England’s spring run to the Under 17s European Championship final along with City teammate Phil Foden.

Sancho turned down a £30k a week contract at City because he didn’t see a path to the first team. Foden did sign and started on City’s preseason tour but is yet to start a game this season.

If Sancho makes significantly faster progress to the Dortmund first team than Foden to City’s (as seems likely) it will influence the career decisions of future academy graduates at City and beyond. It could also prove acutely embarrassing for City if their top prospect left to succeed at a club who’ve consistently outperformed them in Europe. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out with Sancho currently waiting on a work permit but he has been handed the no7 shirt at the Westfalenstadion, replacing 18 year old Ouse Dembele who joined Barcelona for £97million.

The threat of regulation and quotas

English clubs tanking it up in the Champions League is there own business but the England teams failures have far greater reach. If England fail again next summer and beyond the Sports Minister will be asking questions. The FA will point to their ongoing success at youth level and rightly claim they’ve put their house in order (and not before time!) Fingers will then be pointed at a league that continues to spend heavily on ready made stars whilst not offering young players a chance.

Many will point out England’s past failings didn’t lead to anything changing- true but the last World Cup saw their first group phase elimination since 1958 and the ensuing Euros saw elimination by Iceland- we are in uncharted waters. It should also be noted when the British Olympic team reached its nadir in Atlanta 1996 the BOA chief was swiftly summoned to Whitehall to explain and changes swiftly implemented with Britain’s Olympic performances improving at every Games since.

Player quotas are a terrible idea that won’t work but that doesn’t justify the Premier League being the polar opposite. Currently teams cannot exceed 17 imported players in their PL squads (meaning players trained in academies outside England & Wales).  It’s been proposed that could decrease to 13 but this has yet to happen. The issue isn’t so much the star players it’s depth of squad made up by ready made signings (regardless of nationality). Another solution might be an NFL style salary cap- a rule that was brought in to stop the best teams hoarding an entire depth chart of top class players.

The Hope

Hopefully the league will learn itself without the need for regulation (regulations are only ever brought into an industry when it proves it can’t regulate itself). Sir Alex Ferguson often said the success of the national team was vital to the health of the Premier League and perhaps Phil Foden & Dom Solanke will make themselves indispensable to City & Liverpool respectively in the League Cup next week. And if the Premier League can’t/ won’t give chances to young players then more will need to follow the trail blazed by Eric Dier in Portugal and move abroad as Sancho & Reece Oxford have.

The exodus at Chelsea this summer suggests young players are getting the message and moving to clubs that offer first team

Football (Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah, Abraham) albeit some are going on loan but it’s an improvement on sitting on the edge of an 18 man match day squad

The Fear

Next summer will see another tidal wave of money spent on ready made stars with opportunities for academy products reduced even further.

Let’s take Manchester United as an example. I’d predict United will average 3 English players a game this season: Rashford, Jones and either Shaw or Ashley Young at left back. With their young academy prospects who showed potential at the end of last season like Alex Tuzanabe limited to League Cup and dead rubbers.

Over next summer United will make 3-4 big signings likely to include a winger, left back and forward with the possible outcome only Rashford will get a game from the home grown group. It may prove difficult for the marginalised likes of Lingard and Shaw to find transfers as both are on wages beyond the means of most and United won’t sell to a title rival. I’ll stress this hypothesis on United is repeatable at all leading PL clubs.

We’ll have to wait and see how things play out. But the Premier League’s long term future can’t be placed solely on the transfer window. And England must not let their promising youth teams go to waste on the margins of PL squads.

6 England Squad Takeaways

The most fitting adjective I can think of for Gareth Southgate’s squad is sensible, I’d have preferred scintillating but sensible will have to do for now. With such exciting prospects at youth level ‘doing for now’ seems to be where England are right now. There were few surprises so what can be read into this selection?

That’s a lot of players

28 in total! The message is clear if you didn’t get in and you’re not in an England youth squad, injured/ short of fitness or suffering transferitus then you’ve got a lot to do if you want to go to the World Cup.  Only 2 players have been dropped Ben Gibson (now of the Championship) & Fraser Forster (England’s number 5!) Forster’s Southampton teammates Nathan Redmond & James Ward-Prowse are amongst the few who might have been expecting the call and didn’t get one, must do better lads!

That’s a lot of goalkeepers

Southgate’s insistence on picking 4 keepers is on the face of it odd. But there is some logic to this, for the first time I can remember the England Goalkeeping jersey is up for grabs. Previously it’s been a case of 2 similar level goalkeepers fighting for the gloves; Seaman & Woods, Seaman & Martyn, Green & James and hmm Carson & Robinson. This time it’s anybody’s to claim, Jack Butland is favourite but Jordan Pickford is rapidly improving. Joe Hart’s still around and officially number 1 making Tom Heaton the fourth man.

My suspicion is if Hart doesn’t get picked for any of the next 4 England games he’ll announce his international retirement, I just can’t see him wanting to travel to a World Cup as third choice a role I could see Heaton filling. Much of next week’s back pages will be dominated by this issue as we wait to see who’s wearing the number 1 shirt in Valetta next Friday.

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New boys added

Only 2 new call ups; Harry Maguire & Nathaniel Chalobah. Maguire was a surprise to some but his early season form has been great. He’s clearly got a range of passing and composure on the ball that Southgate wants- bad news if you’re Chris Smalling and perhaps explaining the exclusion of Swansea’s Alfie Mawson. With Maguire following Michael Keane into the squad England suddenly don’t look so dependant on John Stones converting promise into performance as a ball playing centre back.

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Chalobah’s call up was widely predicted. 18 months ago it looked like the precocious midfielder would suffer the same fate as Josh McEachran- endlessly miles on the Chelsea loan treadmill followed by a career in the Championship.  But Chalobah has finally made it to Premier League regular with a move to Watford. If he continues to develop I suspect Vicarage Road will only be stepping stone to a bigger club but for now he’s playing well and likely to win his first senior cap to go with the 97 he has at junior level.

Midfield worries

Whether it’s 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 the central midfield pair is England’s biggest problem. Chalobah’s call up means we have 3  holding midfielders (Chalobah, Livermore & Dier) and Jordan Henderson, if Henderson’s unavailable who comes in? Against Scotland the midfield was too cautious and lacking creativity because we had 2 holding midfielders against a side happy to defend, these 2 qualifiers will provide a similar challenge.

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There are extenuating circumstances with Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley & Danny Drinkwater all currently unavailable whilst this World Cup will probably come too soon for the likes of Lewis Cook, Harry Winks & Tom Davies, we’ll just have to make do for now.

World Cup Winners kept back

Nobody from England’s victorious Under 20- World Cup side has been promoted to the senior side, but 13 of that squad have been selected for the Under 21s. It’s a smart move from Southgate, keeping a winning group together (for now) and letting them develop at the next level of the international pyramid.

Previous England managers would have picked Dominic Calvert-Lewin straight away, but that’d have been short sighted. Had he been picked he’d have sat on the bench and maybe got 15 minutes for his debut, whereas now he’s likely to play twice for the Under 21’s- the first a tough away qualifier in Holland, which will he get the most from? Exactly.

Welcoming back the Welbler

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Danny Welbeck is back- 18 months and a major injury recurrence on from his last cap. Welbeck was a favourite of Roy Hodgson due to his versatility, he may well have a roll to play next week, particularly if England go 3-4-3: where he fits anywhere across the frontline.

Welbeck needs to make an impression next week, he’s got Lacazette & Giroud ahead of him in the Arsenal striker pecking order and his recent run in the side has been largely due to the absence of the returning Alexis Sanchez. Might he need excusing from England training to finalise a late move to Everton or if desperate Newcastle?

Was Rooney called up?

Gareth seemed a lot less sure than Wayne that he’d have been recalled. Rooney claimed the manager was going to pick him on announcing his retirement. Southgate meanwhile side stepped the question saying he was under consideration. He went to hail Rooney a legend and state he would ask him to come back if needed, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

 

Farewell Wayne

 

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Imagine my surprise when the article I was writing about the merits of Wayne Rooney’s imminent England recall were torpedoed by the announcement Rooney was retiring from international football.

It’s the right decision for Rooney, for Everton and probably England too. Rooney has got himself in condition, found form and is rekindling his old flame with Everton, good luck to him.

The challenge of a 38 game league campaign plus cups plus Europa League is a sizeable undertaking for a 31 year old without the additional demand of internationals. If he ends  Everton’s 22 year trophy drought it will provide a final flourish to a glorious career.

Yet somehow Rooney has never quite become the loved figure his record seems to merit. As has been poured over this summer following his departure from Old Trafford, he left Manchester United with the clubs goalscoring record, a truckload of medals and accolades but never seemed to quite have the love of the Old Trafford faithful afforded Charlton, Best, Law & Ronaldo.

His England career will inevitably be summed up with this sort of sentence- He’s England’s record goalscorer and he never delivered in a major tournament. It’s the Rooney paradox.

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Rooney arrived with England to tremendous hype- the final piece of the golden generation jigsaw, the superstar to bring glory to England’s hugely talented side. Rooney’s first tournament with England was by far the best- setting Euro 2004 alight with  three stunning displays and 4 goals from the group phase. But then came the first metatarsal injury in the quarter finals and his tournament came to an abrupt end.

In 2006 he suffered another metatarsal break at the tail end of Manchester United’s season and the nation went into a month long ‘will he won’t he go debate’. What’s alarming looking back at the 2006 media furore is I can’t remember a single journalist or pundit giving serious consideration to what England would do without him. But it seemed the nation didn’t need to worry, Rooney was training and declared ‘injury free’ by Sven so it was panic over.

Of course the term ‘injury free’ was carefully selected and really meant he wasn’t match fit or even fully recovered. He was kept out of England’s opening game but brought off the bench in the next and it became evident quickly he was at best 50% fit, his frustration grew and ended in a red card in the quarter finals.

The biggest scar on Rooney’s England career (and many others) came in South Africa in 2010. Rooney arrived at the tournament England’s great hope, but left with 4 appearances no goals and no assists. Again a pre tournament injury meant he wasn’t 100% fit but that didn’t explain why he suddenly couldn’t trap a ball, his post match rant about supporters after an insipid 0-0 draw with Algeria didn’t help his standing.

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Fabio Capello kept faith with Rooney for Euro 2012 qualifying and Rooney rewarded him with goals, but in England’s final qualifier for Euro 2012 Rooney picked up his second England red cad- with a 2 match suspension slapped on as punishment. England started the tournament well picking up 4 points from 2 Rooneyless games, new manager Roy Hodgson brought Rooney back straight away but again a lack of match sharpness told. Alex Ferguson always maintained Rooney needed games to reach his maximum level and was not a player who could make an immediate impact, it’s hard to argue with his assessment.

And so to Brazil 2014, Rooney’s last chance to make a major impact at the World Cup, sadly the England squad of 2014 was a pale imitation of 2006 with few major stars. A tough draw did for Hodgson’s limited side but notably England’s only goals came from a Rooney cross against Italy and his neat finish against Uruguay, had he been in a better side maybe that would’ve been his tournament.

In 2015 Rooney became England’s record goalscorer by despatching a penalty against Switzerland in Euro qualifying. By the time England arrived at Euro 2016 a new generation of strikers were available to England: Kane, Rashford & Vardy. Hodgson shuffled Rooney into midfield with initial success but when England crashed into the Icelandic iceberg Rooney was heavily criticised.

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In 2016/17 Rooney’s form faded and new England manager Gareth Southgate wisely dropped him, Rooney to his credit took it professionally and got on with it. Ironically  Southgate wanted to recall Rooney this week when Wayne decided it was time to go.

It’ll be interesting to hear Southgate’s thoughts on Rooney at tomorrow’s squad announcement, was the proposed recall with the World Cup in mind or a reward for his club form this season? Southgate had always maintained he would recall Rooney if his form merited inclusion.

Part of the conundrum with England was his various England managers (he played for 6) had different ideas about where to play him; Sven saw him as a deep lying forward, Capello an out and out number 9, whilst Hodgson eventually put him in central midfield having previously played him as a striker, wide attacker and number 10.

Another issue was Rooney’s lack of tactical discipline, he always seemed to follow the ball rather than hold his position, the worst example coming in 2014 against Italy where he wad deployed on the left of a 4-2-3-1 but failed to provide Leighton Baines with cover and Italy cashed in.

All that being said Rooney was a fine player for England lighting up Euro 2004, many a night at Wembley and dragging England’s chestnuts out of 1numerous qualification fires. While he was never quite the Leo Messi he was once hailed but he was a great international player.

I’ve said before he reminds me of former Spain & Real Madrid striker Raul- a creative forward with an eye for goal who left the Bernabeu with a bookful of records and a suitcase crammed with medals. For Spain he enjoyed a hugely credible career playing 100+ times and setting a new goal scoring record but was never quite the  national saviour he was hailed and never got beyond the quarter finals of a major tournament- sound familiar?

Interestingly Rooney’s resignation statement ended with this reference “One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan – or in any capacity” referring to the possibility of England winning something. Is he hinting at a coaching career? Maybe not but it’s important Rooney passes on his knowledge of international football to England’s next generation and remains visible at St George’s Park perhaps helping the juniors or even just giving talks about his England career.

Rooney was a great servant to England and Gary Lineker was probably right in saying we have under appreciated him. But it’s the right time for England and it’s most famous player to move on.