Question marks over England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, have been present ever since he took charge of the side. The majority of them were fair – his lack of experience and his reserved and cautious personality are usually enough to discard candidates CV’s. While he has not answered any of the questions that were asked when he took over he deserves some credit. He took over in the strangest of circumstances and lead England to a World Cup. It could have been a disaster and while it was not pretty at least it was successful. The issues with the English national team runs deeper than the manager.
The biggest factor Southgate had in his favour during the search for a new manager was his experience with the younger players. He had coached the under 21 side for 3 years before being promoted to the senior role. As the squad was put together this time there was joy as some players who have never been involved in the senior squad were included. Success at youth level on the national circuit meant that this was somewhat exciting.
Unfortunately it has not been of Southgate’s choosing to throw in the younger and less experienced players. From his original squad choice for these games 7 players have returned to their clubs due to injuries. This begs the question, do the English players still take pride in wearing the famous three lions?
The major loss to the England squad is Tottenham’s Harry Kane. The man who captained England in their last fixtures picked up a knock against Crystal Palace. Kane is England’s main man and genuinely world class. While these games are only friendlies the standard of opponent means they are good preparation for the World Cup in Russia.
England will be without Kane’s Tottenham team mates Dele Alli and Harry Winks which will hurt England but nowhere near as much as missing their star striker. Oddly enough Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has declared Kane fit for their next fixture. Tottenham take on Arsenal in the North London derby next and it seems funny timing for the Spurs manager to make such a statement.
While Southgate remains adamant that there is not club vs country debate it seems there is. Kane’s absence from England duty is more than likely precautionary a decision has more than likely been made that his club duties are more important than his national ones.
“I am hearing this talk of club v country but it is a nonsense, the players are injured and cannot play. I knew Harry Kane was in trouble because he stayed down. Harry Kane doesn’t stay down. I knew already we had a potential problem. Both him and Harry Winks were scanned. Both scans our medical department have viewed and no way they are available for our two games.” (Gareth Southgate)
While what Southgate is saying makes sense, it is difficult to believe. If Kane had this injury in the run into a World Cup or competitive game would he be out? Certainly not. What if a player like Tammy Abraham or Jamie Vardy put in 2 world class performances against 2 of the biggest national football powers? Do they go ahead of him in the queue? No they would not. So why would Kane play in this game and risk further injuries? It does not make sense for him. Southgate needs to be strong and make some big decision in the run in to this World Cup and side with players who are willing to give their all.
Other players missing include Raheem Sterling who has had an indifferent time for England. He performed out of his skin against Italy at the 2014 World Cup but has been inconsistent since. Manchester City team mate Fabian Delph also drops out for the second consecutive time. While injuries are part and parcel of football it seems to happen to regularly and conveniently for the City pair.
Jack Butland has suffered an injury that will see him sidelined for some time and Jordan Henderson of Liverpool will also miss out.
The issue here is complex. Genuine injuries happen, it cannot be stopped. But should players be allowed to withdraw due to knocks and save themselves for club duties? Of course they should. But they should face consequences. Players who answer the call and perform to the best of their ability should not lose their places because of somebodies reputation. Southgate needs to be strong and hold pride in representing the country and eagerness to play in high regard.
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