England’s ‘fresh cycle’ already feels a little stale…

Sarah Winterburn

It’s been a week short of two months since England lost to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final – an achievement that will become less and less believable and more and more denigrated over the next two years – and yet the first post-tournament squad was met with groans and a growing sense of dread that we have already ‘enjoyed’ this century’s golden era and it was marked by some tremendous set-pieces, little creativity and a large slab of luck.

Gareth Southgate has talked about a ‘fresh cycle’ and yet the names on the list are all-too familiar. If this is a ‘fresh cycle’ then why are we not seeing a single uncapped outfield player? If three players have effectively been relegated, why has there not been a single promotion? How can Fabian Delph merit a call-up after not a single minute of football this season? How could Adam Lallana’s three minutes for Liverpool possibly earn him a recall? Are we the only nation in world football who would react to the loss of two attacking players with a call-up for a fourth goalkeeper, creating the absurd situation where we literally have more keepers than strikers?

There are small crumbs of comfort – Jake Livermore’s England career may finally be over – but Southgate’s determination to start the new season with the same players has made this international break an underwhelming non-event. Barring the deserved recall for Luke Shaw, this feels like a squad that Southgate picked at the end of July, with little or no regard for form or fitness. To name a squad without the top English goalscorers, chance creators and dribblers of the season feels almost wilfully obdurate. Especially when you lose two attacking players from the squad to leave you with just 18 outfielders, only three of which are strikers and only one of whom is first choice for his club. None of them are in any kind of form.

The remaining strikers – Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck – have each scored three Premier League goals in the whole of 2018. They are barely-played, non-scoring strikers. That is not to say that Southgate should abandon his principles and call up either Glenn Murray or Troy Deeney (dismissed this week with a deft “Troy is a player who really suits the way that Watford play”), but at this stage, with the pool so worryingly shallow, ignoring Callum Wilson just seems unnecessarily cruel. “He’s certainly one we have to keep monitoring,” said Southgate. But what more do they need to monitor? He has scored twice as many goals as either Rashford or Welbeck this year and – most importantly – he is actually playing football. Reading that Dominic Solanke is ‘making up the numbers’ at a threadbare England training session must hurt.

The same could be said for Watford’s Will Hughes, but of course England are awash with similar “clever players who can see the spaces” (description courtesy of Javi Gracia). If ever a player was designed to replace Lallana, it surely should be Hughes. Hint: If Gary Rowett tells anybody that he is ‘not his kind of player’, he is probably exactly what England need. The Hornets midfielder was namechecked along with Ross Barkley and Nat Chalobah by Southgate this week, but you know what’s better than a namecheck for a genuinely in-form English player? A call-up, that’s what.

This is not about blindly promoting youth – the non-playing Phil Foden should no more be involved than the non-playing Delph – as Southgate has struck that balance better than most, almost to a fault. But there should surely be some reward for starting the season at a canter for an excellent team. Calling up players from eight of the Premier League’s top ten teams but leaving out Watford and Bournemouth sends the wrong message both to the players and those of us who wanted to actually see something fresh in this ‘fresh cycle’.

Sarah Winterburn