Arsenal defender Carl Jenkinson has been tipped in quarters to cap a good start to the season at club level by being rewarded with a senior call-up to the England side managed by Roy Hodgson, but does he honestly warrant a squad place at the moment?
The club’s start to the season has been over-played in the media in recent weeks, and they’ve still just won two league games out of six, but with Steve Bould coming in as assistant manager, there has been a noticeable change for the better in how the back four has been organised, with Jenkinson growing more and more into his role in the side in the absence of the injured Bacary Sagna.
They’ve kept three clean sheets so far against Stoke, Sunderland and Liverpool, while they looked decent against champions Manchester City from a defensive perspective despite the sloppy goal and Jenkinson’s rampaging performance against Chelsea, where he set up Gervinho’s goal with a ball into the box caught the eye on an afternoon where he gave Ashley Cole a torrid afternoon at the office.
However, as is the way with young players who manage to string three or four good performances in a row together, they are inevitably touted with a call-up to the national side. There’s no doubting that Jenkinson is in good form, but is he really good enough to make the step up? After all, his consistency has been called into question in the past and he is still very raw around the edges positionally.
The 20-year-old right-back has already represented both England and Finland at international level in the junior sides, playing for the England U-17s and U-19s before switching to the latter’s U-21s side which he qualifies for through his mother and he can still turn out for either side should he chose, so switching allegiances once again could still feasibly happen if England came calling.
On the subject of his international future, he told the Independent last week: “At the moment I am just concentrating on establishing myself at Arsenal and I will cross that bridge when it comes. That’s all I can really say on it. When it comes around I’ll have to think and see what I can do.” The Finns reportedly only discovered his eligibility to play for them at national level when his former club Charlton took a Finnish goalkeeper on trial a few years ago and the player’s father, a club chairman, discovered Jenkinson’s heritage.
Nevertheless, Arsene Wenger believes he has a future at international level with the Three Lions, stating last week to reporters: “I believe Jenkinson will have an impact here and you will fight for him not to play for Finland.” When it comes to being an accurate judge of young talent, there are few better around than the Frenchman.
It’s worth remembering that Jenkinson still has just 29 first-team appearances under his belt, though, and little over a year ago he was involved in the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford in what represented at the time just his 13th career appearance. He’s still extremely inexperienced and there’s a worry about elevating players before they’re ready and without trying to drum home the point too much, he was playing non-league football 18 months ago at Eastbourne Borough, so perhaps he needs more time to adjust to the rigours of the top flight first.
In a way, it mirrors the call-up that 17-year-old Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling received last month for the game against Ukraine, coming into the squad in place of the injured Daniel Sturridge. While he may well be an exciting talent, he has only made 12 senior appearances at club level so far in his fledgling career, so to elevate him to the senior squad already is laughable, especially when you consider that he hasn’t yet even played at U-21 level yet.
Brendan Rodgers has spoken about the need not to rush his development and heap too much pressure on a player who is still so young and learning his trade, yet this was all ignored by Hodgson, who seemed willing to anger the Liverpool boss in an attempt to stamp so kind of ownership over his future with Jamaica lurking and ready to pounce.
With Sterling, there is at least a case for trying to nab him before anyone else can, such is his obvious and somewhat overwhelming talent, but with Jenkinson, the reasons for the pursuit are less clear, particularly if it’s been based solely on a run of five games. Should we not at least see how he does over the course of a whole season first before we deem him worthy of the national squad? What’s all the rush for? You suspect that if Jenkinson truly thinks he has a future with England, that he’ll hold off committing to Finland for the time being.
The situation has apparently arisen given that both Manchester City’s Micah Richards and Liverpool’s Martin Kelly are struggling with injury ahead of the World Cup qualifier against San Marino later this month. Nevertheless, Hodgson still has Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker to choose from, so even as a gesture of tokenism in Jenkinson’s favour, the move doesn’t quite stack up yet given the other options available to the man in charge.
The simple fact is that at the moment, we don’t really know for sure what type of player Jenkinson could become in the future, but to dish out England caps like they’re going out of fashion on the off chance that he might turn out to be good shows a certain degree of disrespect for the national team in general. At the moment, despite a strong start to the new league campaign at a level he’s increasingly looking comfortable in, he simply doesn’t merit a place in the squad and the true test will be how he copes upon Sagna’s return to the side.
Is Jenkinson little more than the flavour of the month? Or does he deserve a place in the England squad?
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