Henry Winter called it ‘ridiculous’ and ‘inexplicable’ and he was not the only journalist who was spluttering at the news that Sam Allardyce had opted against calling up Ross Barkley to his first England squad. ‘Why would anyone who had a talent like Barkley available not want to work with him?’ asked the Daily Telegraph’s Matt Law while the Daily Mail’s Sami Mokbel bemoaned the loss of England’s two ‘most technically gifted talents’ in Barkley and Jack Wilshere.
Apparently the decision was baffling. Barely anybody noticed that Phil Jagielka had been bizarrely sneaked back into the squad when Ryan Shawcross and Scott Dann make excellent and much younger cases for inclusion, and almost nobody questioned why anybody should use the words “the journey” to explain the call-up of Michail Antonio as if it were an X Factor audition. Yet there was wailing and gnashing of the teeth at the exclusion of a player who had been very lucky to even make England’s Euro 2016 squad just a few months ago.
Seriously, what did anybody expect? Allardyce was lauded as the most modern of managers, who believes in the extensive use of statistics and is immune to the power of reputation, and then you are shocked when he picks a player based on statistics rather than reputation. Journalists have long adopted Barkley as a cause celebre, comparing him to Paul Gascoigne, Wayne Rooney and every other heavy-set working-class hero, but Allardyce – a manager obsessed with the effectiveness rather than style – will look at the numbers and see waste rather than precocious talent.
He watched Barkley at Goodison Park on Saturday and saw a player dispossessed five times; that took him to 14 for the season and that is a statistic ‘beaten’ by no other player in the Premier League. He may also have clocked a lower pass completion rate than any other Everton player against Stoke and absolutely no successful tackles or interceptions. He might then have checked the stats for the season and seen that Barkley has attempted seven tackles and been dribbled past five times.
While journalists marvel at Barkley’s technical ability, Allardyce was checking whether former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder Steven Nzonzi could be called up by England. Nzonzi is yet to be dispossessed in two La Liga games this season and has not yet missed a tackle this season. He’s also French – which proved a slight problem – but exactly the kind of player that Allardyce likes. Barkley is patently not and, if pushed, he would have no problems showing his workings-out.
The clamour for Allardyce to be appointed was incredibly loud from a mainstream media who wanted somebody English, and they were keen to tell us that he was no prehistoric neanderthal but a man with a laptop and a clear plan. His laptop tells him that Barkley is a risk and his plan is to cut down on risk and play percentage football. The only thing that’s ‘ridiculous’ is the reaction to him following that plan.