Unproven International Players England Should Consider Over The Next Qualifying Campaign
Another international tournament, another abject failure from an England team, this in spite of decreased expectations. Defeat at the Euro’s to Iceland was a new found low for English international football, inevitably leading to a public inquest into the state of the national game. (Seems as though we have been here before doesn’t it …) It appears England fans are fated to endure an eternal 3-part cycle of 1)hope, 2)crippling despair and 3)realisation - that we are not as good as we think we are. When the dust has settled and the emotions we felt at the time have eased, we then go on to effortlessly dismantle every team in qualification, win a few high profile friendlies and our hope in an all conquering national team has been restored and the cycle goes back to 1) once again.
At this current juncture we are still at the 3) realisation stage; the nation is still a bit down in the dumps and nobody is even prepared to think about the prospect of the international break, which cruelly disrupts the momentum of the domestic campaign. However there is solace to take from our dreary summer; with the departure of Roy Hodgson; Sam Allardyce has been appointed as the new man at the helm.
Big Sam (as he is affectionately known as and Sam Allardici by others) represents the working class, not only because of his modest beginnings, growing up on a Dudley council estate but also his straight-talking, no-nonsense approach. Until this point of his career Allardyce has been ignored by the elite of the English game, a characteristic identical to the struggles of the working class. This sentiment can be extended to many unfancied footballers who have been ignored by the previous regime but could be welcomed additions to Sam Allardyce’s England squad. It also presents a huge opportunity for young players who have not yet been afforded the chance beforehand to impress and make the next step up to senior international level.
Here are some unproven players at international level who have the ability to cement their place in the England squad over the next qualifying campaign and beyond.
Mark Noble — West Ham
Where do we start with Mark Noble? The West Ham skipper was impressive last season with 7 goals in 37 Premier League matches. Not only was he one of the best performing English centre midfielders in the league last season but was arguably one of the best outright. Yet to the dismay of many England fans was left out the squad completely in favour of Jack Wilshere, Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson who all struggled for form and fitness throughout the season. An argument put forward by Hodgson for their inclusion was the fact all three were heavily involved in the qualifying campaign where England excelled. Nevertheless, with all three playing so little domestic football throughout the campaign, then subsequently expecting them to perform to continental standard was short-sighted and naive by the management. Furthermore, Hodgson justified his decision for Noble’s exclusion in March by comparing the midfielders form to Grant Holt’s before the World Cup, effectively writing off his chances of making the Euro’s.
Roy Hodgson surely must realise in hindsight what many fans had to the foresight to understand, that his decision to exclude Noble from the squad was a bad call, considering what the Hammers midfielder brings to the table. Noble’s composure on the ball, vision and his leadership abilities would have been invaluable for one of the youngest assembled squads England has ever produced. Another notable absentee from Euro 2016 was Michael Carrick, who unlike Noble possesses international experience. However his 34 England caps belies his abilities as a player, and has consistently been unappreciated and underused by England managers. Now at 34 Michael Carrick is hardly a viable long term option for Allardyce and should instead turn his focus on the younger Mark Noble (29) who has earned his England chance.
Wilfried Zaha — Crystal Palace
Wilfried Zaha missed the greatest opportunity of his career so far when his dream move to Manchester United didn’t go as expected. In Zaha’s defence, he joined a United team that was in a state of flux; having been signed by Sir Alex in January 2013 but not joining until that summer when Moyes became the successor. Whether it was due to unsavoury rumours or his attitude and application in training, Zaha quickly found himself out of favour and his fortunes did not change when Louis Van Gaal took charge 12 months later.
He was immediately loaned out upon Van Gaal’s arrival to former club Crystal Palace in the 2014/15 season which became permanent during the January transfer window. Van Gaal decided he didn’t fit his preferred formation of the time 3–5–2 and didn’t believe he was suited at either wing back or as a central striker. It appeared when his chances of making the grade at United petered out and so seemed his chance of making an impact at international level.
However since his departure from Old Trafford, the Ivorian born winger has been given a new lease of life at Selhurst Park, his explosive pace, wizardry dribbling ability and unpredictability in the final third, could make him a valuable asset for Allardyce. Especially since the team was void of any wide players with those attributes during the Euro’s. Big Sam has an abundance of options in wide areas including Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Michail Antonio, Demari Gray and Southampton new-boy Nathan Redmond at his disposal. Nevertheless, I think Zaha has a real opportunity to push for an international spot, only Mahrez managed more take-ons (132)than Zaha did last season (125) and if he can remain injury free and continue to be consistent for Crystal Palace there is no reason why he should not be considered for Allardyce’s squad for September’s qualifier in September.
Jesse Lingard — Manchester United
Jesse has now established himself as a first team Man Utd player and finds himself above the likes of Adnan Januzaj and Memphis Depay in the United pecking order, which is no small feat considering the hype that once surrounded the before-mentioned pair. He may not possess the technique of Januzaj or the natural ability of Depay but what lingered has over the pair is his superior footballing brain, able to make the right decisions in the right areas and make the right runs. 2015/16 Lingard’s breakthrough season after going on numerous of loan spells at Leicester City, Birmingham City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Derby County before finally getting his chance at United. He was part of the Man Utd 2010/11 youth team squad that won the FA Youth Cup that consisted of talented players such as Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Michael Keane, yet Jesse is the only player from this team to cement his place as an important first team player; Will Keane is another player from that squad but hasn’t yet made his mark at senior level. His role as a first team player was cemented in May, when he scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace, firmly placing himself into Man Utd folklore.
His omission from the Euro squad was expected but what was peculiar was that many media outlets did not consider Jesse to be a contender to make the squad despite impressing for one of the biggest clubs in the land. Jesse can play on the either flank and has been used by united as a no.10 during last season. He would have been a good option from the bench, an energetic and agile player who would have added an extra dynamism to England’s attacking play, similar to the impact Rashford made when he came on. If Lingard can impress Mourinho and can continue to play first team football for the biggest football institutions England has to offer then Sam Allardyce will have little choice but to select the man born in Warrington for future England squads.
Aaron Cresswell — West Ham
The Liverpool born left back had an outstanding domestic campaign for the Hammers and was unlucky to miss out on a Euro 2016 place, with Ryan Bertrand and Danny Rose selected ahead. The two left backs picked by Hodgson warranted their places in the final Euro squad with Danny Rose particularly impressing. However if Cresswell can continue to build upon his form at club level, an England call-up is surely not be too far away. However the left full back position is among England’s most competitive, with England possessing genuine depth in that position. As well as the three I have previously mentioned, Luke Shaw will return from his horrific injury and the 21 year old will most likely be the one to take the left back mantle as his own. Cresswell will be a brilliant back up option for Luke Shaw if needs be but Cresswell quite clearly has the ability to perform soundly if he is given the opportunity to represent his country. He is technically gifted, defensively sound and arguably among the best crossers the Premier League has to offer. Unfortunately Cresswell won’t be able to make his England debut for at least another 3–4 months due to a knee ligament injury sustained during a Pre-season friendly.
Ravel Morrison — Lazio
Maybe a surprise name to some of you to be appearing on this list as England hopefuls, nevertheless Ravel Morrison remains one of the most talented players to come out of United’s prestigious academy. He was an integral part of United’s highly acclaimed 2010/11 FA Youth Cup winning side, where he was the start of the show, in a cast that included now first team player Jesse Lingard and global superstar Paul Pogba. Now jumping to the present time, you would be expecting to see Ravel starring at Old Trafford with Mourinho preparing to form his squad around the technically gifted midfielder. However sometimes life does not go how the plan it and in 2012 Ravel left Man Utd to join Sam Allardyce at West Ham. The midfielder impressed many during his time at the Hammers but soon found himself out of favour with the new England manager and found himself off on loan to QPR and Cardiff before joining Serie A outfit Lazio in 2015. Since starting afresh in Italy however, Ravel hasn’t received the game time he would like especially after January. But this summer the clubs seems to be going through a crisis with fans protesting against the Chairman and key players such as Balde Keita and Antonio Candreva expressing their desire to leave. This could present a huge opportunity for Morrison to stamp his mark in Italy and give him an edge in England selection. He would be one of the only players playing outside of England in a top European league too, which will undoubtedly bring additional understanding of a different footballing culture which will benefit the squad as a whole.
Michael Keane — Burnley
Michael Keane is another Manchester United academy graduate to make it on to my list, (I’m not biased I promise) he was part of the same group as Ravel Morrison and Jesse Lingard that won the FA youth cup in 2010/11. In 2012 Keane was awarded the Denzil Haroun Reserve player of the year at United beating Jesse Lingered for the award. He looked set to make the next step to the first team and in 2014 moved on loan to newly promoted Premier League outfit Burnley where the centre back impressed.
To the surprise of many United fans Keane moved permanently to Burnley during the January transfer window, due to prospect of playing first team football for a Premier League side. The player spoke about his frustrations at the time as United were going through a defensive injury crisis which would have meant more game-time for Keane. Nevertheless, the player was keen to further develop his game which has been able to do under the guidance of Sean Dyche. 2014/15 saw Burnley relegated to the championship but were able to bounce straight back in no small part due to Keane’s commanding performances at the heart of the defence. His performances have attracted the attentions of many Premier League clubs, including reigning champions and Keane’s former club Leicester City, where he spent 2012/13 season on loan.
England no longer possess a plethora a great centre back options of 6–7 years ago, no longer are we blessed with the quality of the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Jamie Carragher and Ledley King. So it may be Big Sam’s intentions to blood in younger centre halves who can challenge the likes of Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and John Stones, who have the potential to become great players and Michael Keane and others like Liverpool’s Joe Gomez or Arsenals Callum Chambers fit this mould. Joe Gomez would have made this list due to his obvious talent and how quickly he adjusted to the rigours of the Premier League however due to his recent injuries problems it is unlikely when we will see the player sporting a Liverpool jersey again for the time being. Ryan Shawcross is another name who should appear on Big Sam’s radar, he has not been given a fair crack of the whip at international level with just a solitary England cap to his name but I feel Keane maybe more suited to international football in the long run. However this is reliant on how Michael Keane can fare in the Premier League a second time around with Burnley or perhaps another outfit if the speculation surround his future begins to materialise.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek — Chelsea
This could be the season where Ruben Loftus-Cheek blossoms and cements himself as an indispensable member of Conte’s Chelsea. The 20 year old midfielder is the Crown Jewel of the Chelsea academy and one is the very few young players to get an opportunity to play for the first team squad which is testament how highly regarded he is at Stamford Bridge. He has already demonstrated his talent for the first team when he was given a run in the first team by interim boss Guus Hiddink. His abilities were on full show in Chelsea’s game against Man City in April, despite featuring on the losing side, Loftus-Cheek showed his full repertoire of talents and looked like he belonged on the same pitch as elite talents like De Bruyne and Yaya Toure.
He carried his form into the summer, where he dazzled for England who were victors in the U21 Toulon Tournament. He was comfortably the star player on display and was awarded the Player of the Tournament, the first English player since Alan Shearer in 1991 to win it (we all know what a successful playing career he had). If Ruben Loftus-Cheek can cement his place in Chelsea first team under Conte, it would be impossible for Big Sam to overlook the 6ft3 tall man and with England’s midfield options looking thin it could also mean opportunities for fellow Toulon Tournament Midfield Stars James Ward-Prowse and Lewis Baker.
James Ward-Prowse currently plies his trade at Southampton who have a rich recent history of giving young players a chance and Lewis Baker is currently on loan at Vitesse from the same club as Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea. Both players displayed great technical ability with both showing a degree of comfort on the ball when presented to them in difficult areas, an attribute not usually associated with English players. In spite of the fact Baker will feature in the Eredivise next season, Big Sam should keep a close eye on the playmaker and consider integrating him into the senior squad, as his experience of playing in another country could add an extra dimension to a lifeless England squad. All three players all have the ability to take advantage of a fairly mediocre England midfield, Ruben Loftus-Cheek in particular and if they can continue the form shown in Toulon Tournament they will certainly be giving Allardyce something to think about.