What does Gareth Southgate do right now, pick club bench-warmers or take a punt on those actually playing 90 minutes?
After the euphoria of England’s World Cup run in Russia, everyone was convinced (and still is) that Gareth Southgate was on the brink of doing something crazy, which was to actually produce a crop of England players who didn’t fail under the weight of the nation’s expectations. People’s next question, after a semi final showing at football’s elite competition, was to ask how can we compete with the Spains, Brazils, Germanys of this world and perhaps win out right in Qatar 2022!
Well, fast-forward two months and the question has altered somewhat, now the question on everyone’s lips is, how do you put an England side out that is actually fit enough to last 90 minutes? The Premier League season is still young but already there are troubling signs for England’s top stars of the future, with an increasing number of Southgate’s future key players, firmly routed to their club bench. And it isn’t just one of two!
Let’s take a look at the bare facts, here are the England players with little or no minutes so far in the new Premier League season and remember that we are four games in:
Jordan Henderson 138
Danny Rose 83
Ruben Loftus-Cheek 33
Danny Welbeck 21
Fabian Delph 0
Here in lies the problem. Those five names would be bankers to make Gareth’s upcoming squads, but can he pick players who are not even deemed ‘good enough’ by their club managers to play week in week out?
On Sky Sports Football’s ‘Debate’ show Paul Merson makes a powerful point that back in his day this wouldn’t even be a question, if you were not playing for your club then there was categorically no chance that you would play for England. You wouldn’t even bother thinking about it:
“If you weren’t playing, you weren’t in the squad, as simple as that. If Gaza wasn’t playing for his first team then he wouldn’t get picked.”
So what is the solution? Well apart from Southgate crying down the phone to the top six managers and begging for his young stars to get some game time, perhaps the obvious way out of this is to look elsewhere. Take James Maddison for example, the young midfielder has been on top form for Leicester City since his summer move from Norwich and already he is knocking on the Three Lions’ door quite loudly. Many would say that it is too early for a player like Maddison, which may be wise, he’s only played a handful of Premier League games and is yet to prove that he belongs at this level, however how valuable is the fact that he’s actually playing 90 minutes?
Chelsea’s Ross Barkley, whose England stock is falling with every passing week would love to be in Maddison’s position and if he was, he’d undoubtedly be in the England squad in a second.
So the choice is being pressed further and further under Gareth Southgate’s nose, does he play unfit, rusty England players who he believes in for the future, or does he switch focus to players who are actually playing every game and crying out for a call up?
At the end of the day, he needs to pick whichever method will get him results! It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.