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A test of the strength of any England Under-21 squad is the inclusion or absence of Connor Wickham. So when Gareth Southgate filled his latest squad with players who are actually scoring goals - Saido Berahino, Danny Ings, Nick Powell, Tom Ince, Jesse Lingard - and there was no place for Wickham (one goal in 32 Premier League games), those of us who care about the England teams of the future could rejoice.
And the rejoicing does not stop there - this looks a genuinely excellent England Under-21 squad, also featuring Nathaniel Chalobah, Tom Carroll, Will Hughes, James Ward-Prowse, Ravel Morrison, Wilfried Zaha and Nathan Redmond as midfield options. Then there are full-backs Jack Robinson, John Stones, Luke Shaw and Carl Jenkinson - two of which are likely to play in the Premier League this weekend. And as for centre-half...oh.
And the rejoicing comes to an abrupt end. Such is the paucity of Southgate's options in central defence that he has named only two specialist centre-halves in Manchester United's Michael Keane - soon to be heading to the Championship on loan - and Sporting Lisbon's Eric Dier. Andre Wisdom's suspension has reduced their centre-half options to just two players, with Stones and Chalobah as out-of-position, back-up options. Southgate is lucky that they are only facing San Marino and Lithuania in this set of fixtures but there will be tougher obstacles to come. Barring Wisdom's return from suspension, his squad is unlikely to get much stronger in that department.
At senior level, the picture is not much brighter. England's distinctly underwhelming first-choice partnership of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka is supplemented by two defenders who have not started a single Premier League game in that position this season. Phil Jones has faced only Wigan in the Community Shield as a centre-half while Chris Smalling is a small step ahead, having at least played in competitive cup games.
Beyond that quartet lie Steven Caulker, Michael Dawson and Joleon Lescott, with only Caulker of that trio likely to be an option in five years' time. When putting together an uncapped England XI earlier this week, the selection of Curtis Davies and Ben Turner illustrated the shallowness of this particular pool. Most vaguely knowledgeable football fans would struggle to pick the latter from a line-up. Both are very likely to remain uncapped while Ryan Shawcross could retire with just 15 minutes of international football and one Zlatan beasting to his name.
We're not the Daily Mail and our default position is far from a blind belief that everything was better in the olden days but clearly, England's traditional strength at centre-half has dissipated. Actually, forget dissipated, it has plain disappeared. While the future looks relatively bright at full-back, it looks incredibly dim in the middle. That Martin Kelly went to Euro 2012 with 24 top-flight games under his belt is wonderful for him but pretty damning for the alternatives.
Kelly is one player who needs to somehow sustain fitness and fitness to be a viable option for the England senior team because right now, it's difficult to see a 2020 side that does not feature Jones and Smalling. And that only works if we make the rather large assumption that some point they will play regularly in England's latest problem position.
England's center-halves may often have looked dim, but they're brighter than they look.- Samesan