One of the more bizarre stories in the world of football yesterday was Grant Holt’s attack on England selection policy. Not because of the lunacy of the idea that there could be faults with the process that leads to the picking of the England National team, but the timing of the burly forwards comments was just plain strange. The 31 year old is frustrated at not getting a chance to represent his country but this season has netted only once, a consolation goal in last weekend’s thrashing against Liverpool.
Last year the Norwich skipper was the second highest British goal-scorer in the Premier League and yet never got the nod at a time where there is a dearth of proven goal-scorers plying their trade under St George’s banner.
If ever there was a time when Fabio Capello, Stuart Pearce and now Roy Hodgson’s decision to overlook Holt looked justified it is now. The centre forward is struggling to replicate his form from last year backing up theories last year was a flash in the pan streak where the Football League journeyman was in the form of his life rather than the norm. When you look at the list of players picked ahead of Holt it is also easy to understand the England brasses decision. Danny Welbeck played regularly for the Premier League runners up and justified his selection with some decent group stage performances, Andy Carroll also netted at the Euro’s earning his spot after changing the dynamic of a major cup final, with his unstoppable performance in the FA Cup final. Jermain Defoe is arguably the most natural goal-scorer of his generation and has been hitting the back for the net for the past decade in the Premier League, Wayne Rooney quite simply is the most talented English footballer of at least the past decade and may well be the best England striker of the last 30 years. The Three Lions back up strikers Daniel Sturridge and Peter Crouch also had genuine cases for inclusion ahead of Holt. So while the ex Rochdale man’s exclusion is understandably frustrating its not as if the players wearing the England jersey were unworthy of the position.
Holt didn’t just mention himself in the article but several other options shining in England’s top division, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham at Swansea who both at one point in the last twelve months have had backing to get a chance in the set-up. Another interesting prospect in an England shirt is Rickie Lambert, since his arrival in the Premier League Holt’s former strike partner has under-lined just how good a finisher he is. He also proved there’s more to his game than goals dominating Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja at St Mary’s last month. Looking at the three players individually I’ve seen nothing from Danny Graham to suggest he’s as good let alone better than Hogdson’s preferred attackers. The 27 year old has great movement and an immense work rate but Welbeck and Carroll better him physically, while I believe Darren Bent and Defoe are more natural goal-scorers. Nathan Dyer is a curious one the rapid winger thrived for Swansea but perhaps lacks the defensive qualities Hodgson looks for in a winger. When assessing him against Aaron Lennon I see little difference in the two’s respective abilities but can understand the ex West Brom boss is favouring a winger who has produced before for England and played Champions League football, over someone contending with Wayne Routledge for a starting berth at club level. From the outside looking in Lambert has perhaps got closest to making an England squad.
Last month when assessing the early form of capped England striker’s it would have been easy to make a case for Lambert replacing an injured Carroll for fixtures against Ukraine and Moldova. However I can equally see the logic in Hodgson opting not to invite an un-capped 30 year old as back up if the Southampton man is not in his long-term plans.
Only two occasions in recent times have concerned me about a big club bias surrounding the national team. Jake Livermore’s promotion to the national team ahead of more proven Premier League performers seems a bit hasty. A fringe player for Spurs last year Livermore rarely made an impact in one of the league’s most effective midfield’s. Despite only a handful of Premier League starts the 22 year old has an England cap and one of the Premier League’s stars last year, Leon Britton, doesn’t. Britton also had reason to feel aggrieved when Jordan Henderson was called up ahead of him for the Euro 2012 squad as late injury replacement. Britton consistently out-performed the over-priced playmaker in the Premier League. The harsh reality of the pick was likely age-related, Britton is 30, while Henderson at just 22 could yet improve and gain from his experiences in Poland and Ukraine.
While I think you clearly have a better chance of impressing England officials at the country’s biggest clubs, as Raheem Streling’s instant England inclusion proved. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as an England fan I want the player’s of Champions League calibre representing my country and if that means a majority of England’s representatives come from the top clubs, so be it. But then I would say the same of England management and Roy sadly fell short when given a giant opportunity at Liverpool. So with the sorry state of the current national team, more players from outside the top six deserve a chance but every move England have made in selection under Hogdson has had a great deal of justification behind it.