‘Is Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts for Euro 2016? is the headline on one leading north-east newspaper’s website. ‘Is he f***’ is our immediate reaction. But we are willing to investigate further. ‘Jermain Defoe for England? They could do a lot worse’ is certainly a compelling argument but no, we shall celebrate the returns to form and fitness of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge and hopefully consign such nonsense to the delete button.
There are always those who plead for an England team picked purely on form. Disregard the last two years of preparation, disregard on-field partnerships, disregard tactics, disregard any notion of enduring class, Defoe/Danny Drinkwater/Scott Dann/Jason Puncheon/Jack Colback/Mark Noble (always Mark sodding Noble) has been absolutely brilliant this month.
These people dismiss Wayne Rooney and call for Jamie Vardy to play in his ‘proper’ place as an out-and-out striker, ignoring the fact that England have cruised to European Championship qualification using an entirely different system to Leicester. If England were planning to have 35% possession and play an awful lot of long balls into the channels, then Vardy would be perfect. Unless Roy Hodgson is planning a curious kind of incredibly risky revolution, that seems highly unlikely.
There are those who will be genuinely flabbergasted and splutter about big-club bias if Jack Wilshere returns to play five matches at the end of the season and is picked ahead of Drinkwater. Never mind that Wilshere was man of the match six times over in Euro 2016 qualifying, he is an overrated crock and Drinkwater – who could have been a Pointless answer to a ‘Manchester United Academy graduates’ question a year ago – has been brilliant all season (or at least in that five-minute highlights package on Match of the Day).
If you are in the ‘temporary form is class’ brigade, you will be terribly disappointed when Hodgson names his squad. You will mutter ‘same old, same old’ when looking at a list of players who have been consistently winning games for England since the World Cup. Yes, same old, same old best English players available to Hodgson. Same old, same old players who know England’s system, Hodgson’s methods and each other’s games.
“We’ve had time to see a lot of players in the qualifiers because we’ve had so many injuries to contend with,” said Roy Hodgson in October. “Now we are going to concentrate on a core group who, if they’re all fit, will be with us in France next summer. The November games won’t be a moment to give someone a chance just because he’s scored a goal on a Saturday. People will have to work very hard to break into the group now.”
A month later – when injuries forced him into call-ups and he chose the youth of Jesse Lingard and Ryan Mason when pundits were calling for Jason Puncheon and Noble (of course) – Hodgson was banging the same drum: “I didn’t want to turn to an individual for one game who would not have a chance again in the future.
“That explains the inclusion of Jesse Lingard and when we lost Delph we turned to Ryan Mason, because we’re pursuing a policy that we set out some time ago and we are trying to stay faithful to it.”
That policy is clearly only to call up players who have the potential to be England players over the next six years rather than six months. Is Mason better than Noble right now? No. Will he be better in 2022? You would like to think so. Thankfully, that rules out Defoe, defying those who blindly point to a list of top scorers and declare that he is the third Englishman behind Vardy and Kane.
We have consistently – to the annoyance of many – predicted in our England ladder that Welbeck and Sturridge will go to Euro 2016 if fit. We have consistently picked them ahead of Vardy, even when he was on the verge of making history. I am personally convinced that Hodgson would prefer not to take the Leicester striker at all, but his tally has now passed the point at which it is worth the uproar of leaving him at home. “He should be happy at the moment to be in the squad,” is a telling quote.
The last England team picked by Hodgson boasted no player bar Rooney with more than three international goals. And that is why Welbeck with his 14 goals in 33 games is a welcome returnee even if he plays only from the bench in Arsenal’s run-in. It’s why Daniel Sturridge – surely the most gifted English striker of this generation – is worth the risk if he can somehow get to the end of the season without further injury.
To put Welbeck’s statistics into context, Olivier Girioud – an out-and-out striker – has scored 13 goals in 45 games for France; Pedro – often played wide like Welbeck – has scored 16 goals in 55 games for Spain; Eden Hazard has scored just 12 in 62 for Belgium. And yet if Charlie Austin scores six goals between now and the end of the season, Hodgson will be ‘snubbing the in-form striker’ when he inevitably ignores him in favour of a player whose contribution for Arsenal this season is likely to be filed under ‘cameo’.
In Winners and Losers, Daniel Storey listed 20 English players who started for a top-six side this weekend, which bodes incredibly well for the future. But it’s two attacking players who don’t meet that criteria who will have cheered Hodgson this weekend. Welcome back Danny. Welcome back Daniel. Jermain Defoe for England? They could do a lot better.