How we described Jake Livermore’s performance v Germany in November:
‘His job is to recycle possession, yet he was constantly putting tin cans in the garden waste bin. His job is also to press in central midfield and ensure his opponents do not enjoy too much time on the ball, yet Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan all too often enjoyed the freedom of Wembley to roam and create. Would not be starting were it not for the injury epidemic, but still feels like such an underwhelming option.’
How we described Jake Livermore’s performance v Brazil in November:
‘I’ve nothing against Livermore, but he looked so far out of his depth against Brazil that he needed armbands, float and rubber ring. Please can this extended experiment end soon?’
So when Gareth Southgate defends his decision to retain Jake Livermore in his squad in March – with Livermore’s unbelievably poor West Brom marooned at the bottom of the Premier League – and says “he did really well for us against Germany and Brazil”, we call bullsh*t.
“I know when I pick Jake it is going to get a certain sort of reaction,” says the England manager, and he says that precisely because he knows it is an indefensible selection. And yes, it was indefensible even before Livermore was part of a drunken posse of West Brom players who commandeered a taxi in Barcelona in an unfunny parody of Brits Abroad behaviour.
Livermore is an achingly average player who has not started a Premier League victory since August and yet he is in an England squad less than three months before a major tournament, seemingly as a reward for leaving his holiday before getting on the plane in November when he had been dropped and then recalled when Harry Winks got injured. Of course he did; a very bloody unlikely England career was being given an extension in World Cup year. Who answers the phone and says ‘no mate, off to Crete’?
“I think that has to carry some weight when you are building the spirit and culture around your team,” says Southgate. Sorry but no. This is an England squad in March of a tournament year; this is not a game of Pass the Parcel being rigged so that every participant wins a prize. This is not the time for pats on the head and ‘best team man’ awards. The fact that Livermore first had to be dropped in November to earn ‘untouchable’ status in March borders on the perverse.
“It’s an important message for the group that if you are left out and have disappointment, first of all there is opportunity to come back in, secondly we want you to take that opportunity and respond in the right way, and who knows what might happen?”
Alternatively, Southgate could have sent ‘an important message for the group’ by recalling a far superior central midfielder in Jonjo Shelvey, abandoned by England in November 2015 and presumably still sidelined for reasons other than football. While Livermore can barely remember starting a Premier League win, Shelvey has lost only to Manchester City in 2018. Oh and he hasn’t got drunk and stolen a taxi for absolutely ages.
Now that would have been a message – that a) doors are never closed and b) England still has ambitions of playing something close to dynamic football. Instead the message is that being average need be no bar to international recognition, just as long as you always say ‘yes’. It doesn’t sound like the kind of message Joachim Low or Tite would send.
Sympathy is certainly due to Southgate for inheriting an England job at a time when exciting English talent is at a premium, but that sympathy expires when you defend the selection of a soon-to-be-relegated midfielder on the eve of a World Cup with ‘well he turned up’.