Five years back I wrote an article that blew up in the comments section with a multitude of Manchester United supporters calling for my head. Tom Cleverley had just received his first England call-up – based primarily on an impressive Community Shield outing – and my bone of contention was that it was ill-deserved. Their bone of contention was that I was spouting rubbish.
He’s class, they claimed. Just you wait and see.
He’s anything but, I countered. He is a slightly-better-than-average talent who has been ridiculously hyped due to the club he represents. His fast-tracked international recognition was entirely down to big club favouritism and he is destined to enjoy only a handful more caps before he moves to a mid-table club whereupon he will never be considered for the Three Lions set-up again.
I was wrong in the event. Everton are a much bigger and better club than I imagined. I was thinking West Brom.
Around that time I was gaining a reputation among the tiny, teeny fraction of Reds who knew of my existence for being something of a troll, a blogger who delighted in talking down their club for kicks. Maybe, maybe not, but on this particular occasion their accusations were well wide of the mark and I would have written with the same degree of annoyance if Cleverley had played just a few good games for Chelsea, City or Arsenal.
Because not many things exasperate me more in the game than big club favouritism or – as a direct extension of that – players who would improve the England squad being over-looked due to playing for a supposedly unglamorous club.
It amounts to snobbery and stupidity in equal measure. It amounts to choosing an inferior and pricier product because it’s found in Tesco and not Aldi. And it was all supposed to stop. When Sven Goran Eriksson selected Charlton’s Chris Powell for his opening game back in 2001 it was all supposed to stop then. When Roy Hodgson stated he would be prioritising form ahead of reputation it was supposed to stop then, too. Ask a consistently excellent midfielder for West Ham how that noble intention panned out.
The sad truth is a player’s club will always be a big consideration for any England gaffer despite there being little to no benefit in favouring those from the traditional big six in reality. They have more experience of top level games such as Champions league you say? Okay, accepted, but let’s return to that one in a moment’s time.
Because on these very pages this week Josh Challies put together ten things you didn’t know about Jesse Lingard. I’d like to add an eleventh if I may: that the Manchester United winger is a perfectly decent player but nowhere close to being international standard.
Despite this, the 23 year old was depressingly and predictably included in Gareth Southgate’s squad to face Scotland this weekend, a selection that bumped out Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha among others.
Zaha is a player reborn this term: according to Whoscored.com he is the top rated Englishman in the Premier League and has four times the number of assists afforded to Lingard. He has ripped into his opposing full-backs with relish and consistently posed an attacking threat. Lingard meanwhile has done little more than underwhelm to such an extent we are already seeing Mourinho favour more reliable options. Like Cleverley you feel his destiny ultimately lies away from Old Trafford at a club willing to indulge his flaws in exchange for the odd flash of brilliance. Like Cleverley it’s hard to envisage Lingard enjoying more than a handful of England appearances before he slips down to his natural level and off the international radar.
Yet once again we see big club favouritism at work, only this time it is all the more befuddling because even the slender counter-arguments don’t apply. Lingard’s Champions League experience over Zaha? That would be precisely four games back in 2014. In fact in his United career so far his only success on the big stage was scoring the extra-time winner in last season’s FA Cup final over Zaha’s Palace. If his rival had scored instead would it be Zaha ensconced at St George’s Park right now?
Is that how it works? Or does the fact that the inferior and less effective Lingard trains regularly with Ibrahimović come into the equation? Or does it simply come down to the more illustrious club badge? This is all getting suddenly silly but it’s hard to find logic in the plain stupid, and plain stupid is what big club favouritism boils down to.
If Jesse Lingard’s 37 appearances in the top flight had been for Bournemouth or Sunderland or Stoke then he would find himself behind not only Zaha but Nathan Redmond too for an England jersey. If his five distinctly average showings so far this season had been while wearing a Watford top he would not even be in the reckoning. How is that right? How is that fair? How is that sane?