England should look to the Championship for talent

Date published: Friday 30th October 2015 2:50

Jamie Vardy

The next international break will be upon us quicker than we know it and with it comes another chance for Jamie Vardy to fly the flag for promoted talent.

Currently the top scorer in the Premier League, Vardy started his career at a non-league club having been let go by Sheffield Wednesday as a teen. He worked his way into a professional club and after being promoted with Leicester is now scoring for fun in the best league in the world and in the reckoning for a place in England’s tournament squad.

There is a lot of talk in the media about the state of the English game and how the ‘preference’ for foreign managers and players is restricting the English national team but little is spoken of how the mentality of British managers and players is an inhibitor for the national team. Gareth Southgate spoke about the Under 21s a while back and how he was shocked that so few considered themselves attacking players. It’s not surprising when so many coaches put an emphasis on size, power and defensive attitude.

You need only look at the praise Scott Parker would get on a weekly basis and compare it to the stick Mesut Özil gets to understand that even the fans are part of this “British bulldog spirit” mentality that inhibits the free expression of talent.

In many ways the Championship is a much more forgiving league than the Premier League and that may explain why so many good players are coming up from there and proving their worth. Many pundits, ex-professionals and websites like Coral refer to the Championship as one of the most unpredictable leagues, and thus most exciting to watch and bet on, in the world where promoted teams from League 1 are just as likely to get into the playoffs as a relegated team from the Premier League is to scrap it out to avoid a successive drop.

The nature of the league lends itself to patience. The recently relegated sides tend to have Premier League hangover and their reactions are still timed to the kneejerk pace of England’s top flight but the rest are generally accepting of the unpredictability of results.

A by-product of patience is freedom of expression. Some call it a lack of expectation and that might be true but a less pressured environment can sometimes be what a player needs to realise their true potential. Benik Afobe of Wolves was under huge pressure at Arsenal to break through and be the “new Ian Wright” yet left the Gunners having never played a game for the first team.

Successive loans helped very little as they were all about proving his worth to Arsenal, not to the clubs he was playing for. His final loan at MK Dons possibly signalled the end of his Gunners career and with it came the freedom to just play his game. A season later he has scored 20 goals for Wolves and is consistently linked with moves to the Premier League.

Benik_Afobe_and_Josip_Čalušić

 

This is a guy who could be playing for England. Ings and Austin proved their worth with promoted clubs as Vardy is now but why does the England manager wait for them to prove it in the Premier League? Why not call them up whilst they are in hot form and let the combination of confidence, pride, surprise and form carry them through games? Harry Kane struggled to hit a barn door for large swathes of the early season (as did Diego Costa) so why not pick an in form goal scorer?

The gap between the Premier League and Championship is not what it once was. The influx of TV money, parachute payments, cheap ‘discarded’ talent from elite academies and increasing ticket prices in the Championship has lifted the general quality of the squads.

Watford are performing wonderfully as a defensive unit in the Premier League yet blew away the Championship with the goal scoring exploits the season before. Championship clubs are no longer one trick ponies that ride a wave into the Promised Land only to crash spectacularly. They can mix things up.

Charlie Austin won’t be getting a call up as he is in the Championship but he did in May when part of a relegated QPR team – he was in all but name a Championship player at that time. He hasn’t suddenly become a worse player.

Greg Dyke, and many others, want to put restrictions in place they feel will help the England national team and encourage more Premier League clubs to use English talent. Some of these suggestions seem counter-intuitive. The Premier League, and the English players in it, benefit from the top class imported talent. The competition it brings raises the level of our players and discouraging them from coming by reducing the quality of the league for superficial reasons will make our players worse.

Instead, why not promote English excellence by ignoring conventional selection from just the top league and give chances to talent from the Championship? Benik Afobe, England international is more attractive to a top half side like Liverpool or Everton than Benik Afobe, scored a few for Wolves.

Promotion of talent can be done without removing obstacles and competition and boy does the Championship have some talent worth promoting.

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