Representing your county is the ultimate honour in any sport. Being asked to do so should be the culmination of hard work or in very rare cases, an undeniable natural talent. Nowadays little of either is required for a call up to the England football team. The latest squad begs the question: Is it too easy to get a call up?
Before this is answered an obvious trap needs to be stepped over. Previous generations cannot be compared to the current crop. There is a widely accepted opinion that the pool of talent at Roy Hodgson’s disposal is smaller than years gone by. At the current rate of decline the talent pool will soon become a puddle.
It’s down to this negative trend we have the Home Grown players rule which is constantly under review and the quota could be further increased.
So while it can be agreed the national team has less options than in previous years, the squads from Italia ’90 and France ’98 seeming so far away now, it doesn’t mean collecting a cap should be any easier. Roy Hodgson shouldn’t be taking lucky dips away with him for England games and young professionals shouldn’t be expecting a cap along with their first couple of senior games in the Premier League.
If a young Rooney bursts onto the scene, or another Gascoigne, then they obviously will be hard to overlook but right now England have no players of that ilk. Regardless, new caps are being given away based on nothing more than Premier League starts.
Some of the early appearances within the current squad make sense. Harry Kane performed strongly last season and no one will argue against his four appearances for England, his three goals backing up the case. John Stones is already being touted as a £40m player so his presence in the squad was good for his personal development.
The idea of having former U21s in or around the team is nothing new. But it should be to give them glimpses not a permanent seat on the coach. They should then return to the U21s to continue their growth. It wouldn’t have done Saido Berahino any harm to receive his call up and not play. Hopefully this is the plan for Tottenham’s Dele Alli because after just seven games in the Premier League and only two at U21 level he hasn’t demonstrated anything to suggest he warrants a full cap.
If catching Roy’s eye with the promise of being the future right now isn’t an option then joining a perceived big club is a good path to take. Ideally doing both is best, then you are guaranteed a haul of caps until you leave said big club. The club doesn’t even need to be in the top four.
Liverpool, for example, still guarantees an England call up. Just ask Danny Ings who has been given one or Jonjo Shelvey who after leaving Anfield has had to work twice as hard to get noticed again.
The exception to both of these rules is Jamie Vardy. He is 28 and plays for Leicester City. His form this season shows he deserves his place. His call up came off the back of a strong debut Premier League season. It’s not fair to criticise England for missing out on a player until he’s 28; he had been playing for Fleetwood Town until 2012 so was unproven at a higher level.
Picking form players is the only case that goes against the argument a proven track record should be the only way to get a call up. But if you look at the recent names to get the nod from Hodgson you can hardly fight their case to be in a Premier League XI, the Spurs duo of Ryan Mason and Danny Rose spring to mind.
It’s with little wonder Jack Grealish decided to represent England at senior level. In the past those with dual citizenship had a tough choice, they went for England with a better chance of qualifying for major tournaments at the risk of being passed over for selection, or someone like Ireland safe in the knowledge they’d get plenty of international game time. Grealish played for the Irish national youth teams from the age of 14 to U21 level.
Since making that decision he must have realised the chances of getting an England call up are no smaller than an Irish one.
With only nine English players involved in the last round of Champions League fixtures it’s clear there aren’t many rivals for a cap, if you’re half-decent you’ll play for England.
Roy Hodgson may have lower number to choose from but he shouldn’t make his search for talent remove the prestige associated with an England cap.