There is no room for the Premier League’s second-highest scoring Englishman. Nor a forward with the best shot conversion for anyone in his position to make as many or more than his 29 appearances. An attacking English midfielder who ranks third behind Mason Mount and Jack Grealish for progressive play into the final third that includes creating chances from open play will also have to make his own plans for the summer.
With a provisional 33-man England squad increasing the amount of cheer to be dished out ahead of the European Championships, so too were the servings of disappointment laced with extra salt. And for Patrick Bamford, Danny Ings and James Maddison, theirs will be the warmest and hardest to stomach.
What battlegrounds there have been drawn against their respective exclusions can largely be covered by club allegiance. That’s not to say the trio are not unlucky, especially given the broader nature of this selection. A squad of 23? An outside chance for one. 26? Those odds are a little better for all. 33? Up until a week ago, you’d not have been laughed out of town for pencilling in all three.
And yet, already it’s worth throwing forward to a month’s time and wondering, in those darker moments that come up all too often as an England fan, which of their names will we utter to ourselves but loud enough to be heard by our fellow viewers in the pub? Would Bamford *really* have scored that? Could Ings have done something that another didn’t? What unique rabbit does Maddison have in his hat that Gareth should have known about?
Again, these aren’t criticisms. But maybe they are reasons, not so much against the three of them, rather in favour of the 10 listed under the “FORWARDS” who made the cut.
Within this section is plenty of goals, creativity and even positional dexterity. Phil Foden can easily slot in as a midfield three, Grealish at a push. Bukayo Saka has already been spoken up as an option at left wing-back to go with his ability to operate off either touchline. Even among the “MIDFIELDERS” lies Mount, who has operated further forward for Chelsea’s bigger tactical battles, while Jesse Lingard’s inclusion in this bracket feels like a wedding planning move to ensure all the tables are full. Don’t worry, he knows Declan from West Ham – he’ll have someone to talk to.
As ever, Wednesday’s announcement was the easiest of the tough decisions ahead. The next will be whittling down 33 to 26 and then, for the purposes of training ground walkthroughs, to 22. And just as the top end of the squad have caused the greatest headache, it is here where the biggest conundrum will come for the England manager when it comes to handing in that first team sheet for Croatia on 13 June.
As it stands, there are nine players with a claim for the two spots either side of the skipper. Not necessarily “vying” per se given the malleability of some, but certainly options to be championed and scrutinised for two roles vital to how England have operated on the break and in advanced areas during Southgate’s tenure.
No sooner had we admired the depth were we delving into who the chosen two should be. And it speaks of all the quality on offer that it is perhaps only when considering the worst-case scenario can we uncover relatively common ground.
Against superior, ball-hogging opposition, a case for energetic pressers in Mount and Foden, both with plenty about them to utilise possession decisively and sharply, is sound. Then with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Grealish available to replace them from the bench?
At the same time, there’s what we might term nuclear, Fifa 21 option. Park the caution to one side, throw on the most creative types, pin down that sprint button while occasionally strumming that toggle for a bit of extra juice. It’s what the most cavalier among us want and, yet, it has never been as reasonable as right now.
The reality lies somewhere in the middle, which is perhaps the best indication of how balanced the forward options are. That there is even middle ground between the extremes of conservatism and rude indulgence is an indication that it has arguably never been harder for the man in charge.
While the rest of us dream, worry or coast our ways through these circular arguments, only Southgate has to find out where this conversation ends. And no doubt provide us with a new and higher jumping-off point.
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