The announcement of Sam Allardyce’s inaugural England squad brings with it five alterations to Roy Hodgson’s calamitous European Championship selection. In come the popular recalls of Danny Drinkwater and Luke Shaw, as well as returns for Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Theo Walcott of Arsenal.
Perhaps the most notable inclusion is former non-league journeyman Michail Antonio. The versatile wingback rose to Premier League prominence last season and has continued his good form this term at Allardyce’s old club, West Ham United.
However, it’s those left at home that have caught most of the attention. Jack Wilshire and Ryan Bertrand both lose the places they were contentiously awarded back in May, as do youngsters Ross Barkley and Marcus Rashford.
Gareth Southgate, much to the fulfillment of Jose Mourinho, had already named Marcus Rashford in his Under-21 side prior to the young forward’s latest batch of heroics against Hull last Saturday.
Allardyce fears too much too soon could prove disadvantageous to the nations budding starlet, a sentiment shared by the player’s club manager. The general consensus is that Rashford’s “demotion” is more of a subtle deceleration than a public snubbing.
Barkley, on the other hand, has not been afforded such courtesy and, despite an outstanding start to the season, it seems his lack of involvement in the summer was a sign of things to come. The Everton man’s obvious rejuvenation will not continue on the international stage this time round.
There are inconsistencies in Allardyce’s selection process. The omission of Jack Wilshire comes as a direct result of his lack of playing time, however the same circumstances have not affected the involvement of Chris Smalling, Daniel Sturridge, or indeed Joe Hart – though the latter’s loan move to Serie A, along with a recent clean sheet in the Champions League, ultimately justifies his inclusion.
That said, it isn’t clear whether form or reputation carries more weight with the new manager. One thing’s for certain, with such a shallow selection pool, we’re likely to be seeing the same interchangeable faces for some time to come – nothing new there then.
So it’s not the rulebook tearing revamp that many had hoped for. The thing is, as satisfying as it would be to see the timely demising of a few long standing international careers, it is neither likely nor necessary at the present time.
The defeat to Iceland signalled the perfect time for a revolution but the fact is, there’s just no real need for one where England are concerned. England will qualify for Russia’s World Cup, that much is all but certain; it’s really a case of who will be allowed the opportunity to flourish on this most basic of assignments.
The good ship England FC has a new master, his task: to take a group of overhyped social media experts to tournament glory, and national folklore.
At the centre of Big Sam’s time at Bolton Wanderers – his most successful spell as a domestic manager – was an abundance of experienced professionals. Glamorous old pros such as Ivan Campo and Youri Djorkaeff twinkled through their twilight years, re-energised under a cocktail of technical nous and effective man management.
In the age of the ‘wonderkid’, Allardyce proved that experience could trump exuberance.
Elements of that philosophy were expected in his England reign and given his connections with both Sunderland and West Ham, it was inevitable that names such as Jermain Defoe and Mark Noble would warrant a mention.
Neither was picked, signalling the cessation of any potential future appearances for the pair, and many others alongside them.
John Terry, who’ll be watching Sunday’s game from his Portuguese villa, rebuffed the latest calls for his return whilst James Milner announced his retirement before ever being considered. It’s a young man’s game.
One man who is clinging to the midlife of his professional career is skipper Wayne Rooney. Much to the dismay of many, Rooney has retained the armband for his final campaign with the national side. At least his impending retirement – 24 months away though it may be – offers something of a countdown to his long-standing detractors.
Though England’s record goal scorer has been at the forefront of many a failed campaign, he remains the only member of the squad to reach the quarter-finals of a major competition (Euro 2004, World Cup 2006). Surely that twinned with his commitment to continue – even in spite of the unscrupulous scapegoating he regularly receives – emphasises the blinkered desire he has to do well for his country.
After all, the state of the national football team is hardly the sole accountability of one player.
Following every previous biennial summer disaster, calls for a fresh start have been laid at the door of the new boss. It’s the same this time round. The only difference now is: this IS the new generation, these guys ARE the alternative. The failings of this latest assortment, as well as the appointment of Sam Allardyce, should signal a realism this nation’s football fans desperately need to embrace.
However, at risk of sounding like Steve McLaren, there are positives to take solace from, not least the form of youngsters Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw.
Allardyce has a penchant for pace and width, hence the respective inclusions Messrs Walcott and Antonio and a more direct approach is to be adopted under the new regime.
Allardyce represents real change (whatever that is!). And anyway, with public opinion at an all time low and with the expectation levels of the nation’s next Eurovision entry, there’s hardly a lot to live up to.
Besides, no one will give a toss until May 2018.