West Ham midfielder Kevin Nolan recently questioned the logic behind his lack of recognition at international level with England, but was it simply a case of the player in question straying into self-importance or does he have a point?
The national team’s 4-2 defeat to Sweden, aside from quickly becoming the Zlatan Ibrahimovic show, also saw Steven Caulker and Leon Osman handed their England debuts by manager Roy Hodgson, with both players at complete opposite scales of their respective careers. The Tottenham centre-back has just broken through into Andre Villas-Boas’ first eleven and continued his steady rise up the ladder, building on his performances for Team GB at this summer’s Olympic Games.
While Caulker is just 20 years of age, the inclusion of Osman divided many, given that the diminutive Everton technician is 31-years-old and with the World Cup in 2014 on the horizon, many didn’t see the point of including a player from the start who stood little chance of making the squad in two years’ time, let alone an impact at the tournament itself. We can all agree that Osman should have had an England cap by now, and had he played for the red half of Merseyside, it would have come long ago, but does that mean he ‘deserves’ one now?
The same problem appears to stand in Nolan’s way, because like Osman, he is in his thirties, and like Osman he’s been a consistent and pivotal performer for his club in the Premier League for quite some time now and to an extent, it’s strange that he hasn’t got a solitary cap to his name yet, particularly when in his pomp at Bolton, Sven Goran-Eriksson was doling them out like sweets.
When you consider the list of people that have actually won England caps – Steven Guppy (1 cap), Scott Carson (4 caps), Anthony Gardner (1 cap), Kieran Richardson (8 caps), Francis Jeffers (1 cap), Paul Konchesky (2 caps), Michael Ricketts (1 cap) and Gavin McCann (1 cap) plus many more equally undeserving players, then it beggars belief that Nolan hasn’t been awarded one yet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he warrants one now. Righting past wrongs is tempting during international breaks such as the one we’ve just had; handing out debuts in pointless friendlies, but the same argument used against Osman applies to Nolan – what use will he really be in two years?
Playing for England is like an exclusive members’ club and once you’re in, then you’re in, otherwise, how else can you explain why Kieron Dyer, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Phil Neville all have more appearances for the national side than Matt Le Tissier. It’s never gone on reputation alone, and the currency of playing for a club of status, or one competing in the higher echelons of the league at least, has always seemed to outweigh the merits of an individual’s own form.
A CV which includes stops at Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham isn’t to be sniffed at, but each period Nolan has been at these clubs has also coincided with a poor spell for the team at one time or another. He’s played in the Championship with his last two employers and struck 29 goals in 87 games from midfield, a superb record, but it’s hardly conducive to an international call-up, unless you are a speedy winger it seems. Plus, you simply couldn’t pick a more unfashionable club than Bolton if you tried, even during their hugely successful spell under Sam Allardyce.
His face has never quite fitted. Deeply patronising terms such as ‘hard working’, ‘agricultural’ and ‘honest’ are freely used to describe Nolan, which when coupled with a nation maintaining lofty ambitions of a ‘Golden Generation’ that always failed to deliver, and it only resulted in him being continually passed over when he at least deserved a try as a squad option.
Nolan sounded resigned to his fate, though last week, stating: “It does hurt I haven’t got one [England cap] I must admit, and it does hurt a bit, but it is something I have got to live with and I’m a big boy.
“I don’t know what more I can do to be quite honest. I’ve scored goals consistently for a number of years, I dropped down a division but consistently scored goals down there. I think I have at least deserved a call-up and a chance to prove myself at that level.”
It’s difficult to argue with him, but handing him one now would likely be viewed as little more than a token gesture due to past form rather than an appreciation of his talents and the player he is today. That’s not to say that he hasn’t been playing well this season, he has, and he’s one of the main reasons why West Ham currently sit as high as sixth place in the league table, with Nolan chipping in with four league goals in eight games along the way.
However, with Osman, his tidy, one-touch play in the middle of midfield at least serves a purpose at international level and fits in with the style the team play. He linked up well with Steven Gerrard against Sweden while also providing a goal threat from deep, but you have to wonder what role Nolan would occupy for England had he been called up? Would he have played in that role that Tom Cleverley started in, just behind the striker? Perhaps, but he hardly suits the fluid, quick, counter-attacking line-up that Hodgson was clearly going for.
You sense that his time may have passed, which is not really his fault, but that’s the reality of the situation and he looks destined to join the likes of Steve Bruce, Jimmy Case and Howard Kendall as being players that should have had decent international careers but were somehow denied the chance.
Osman’s recent call-up offers a ray of hope for players like Nolan still chasing that first elusive cap, but whether he actually still has a role to play in the side going forward is another matter entirely, and unless the two have similar answers, then you’re simply straying into ‘lifetime achievement’ territory, which devalues the value of a cap much in the same way Sven used to.
If he was just ten years younger, he’d be looking at a healthy return, but while the timing of his forward runs have been a trademark of a successful club career, when it comes to the international stage, timing has never been his strongest suit.
Should Kevin Nolan have won an England cap by now? And would you award him one in the future? You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1 and let me know what you think.