Never the quickest or most athletic of strikers during his younger years, at the age of 34 Glenn Murray is one of the Premier League’s wisest and wiliest old foxes.
The winning goal against Arsenal last weekend was poignantly symptomatic of the Brighton striker’s season; while the critical focus was mostly on how Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscienly failed to handle a largely routine ball into the box, the Gunners pair are by no means the only experienced Premier League centre-backs to underestimate Murray’s netting prowess this season.
Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Winston Reid, Steve Cook and even Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson, whose top flight performances last term earned rave reviews, have all been on the pitch to watch Murray find the net against them this season.
While not all belong to the bracket of truly world-class, most on paper would be expected to contain an ageing front-man with just 79 Premier League appearances under his belt from a whole career in English football.
But Murray’s defining gift remains his niche movement, and it’s a characteristic we’ve often seen from players who have spent significant chunks of their career in the Football League. Dele Alli, Rickie Lambert and Charlie Austin have all demonstrated a seemingly natural positional intelligence in the top flight to suggest its where they should have played their football all along.
Even then though, Murray’s movement is particularly exceptional, and it has played a hand in far more goals than his direct eleven in the top flight. Masterfully timing positive runs, his ability to draw away defenders has oft allowed Jose Izquierdo, Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert the space they need to aid Brighton’s survival hopes with goals from midfield as well.
There’s a clear ruggedness about those three aforementioned former non-leaguers too, a readiness if not eagerness to make their area of the pitch a physical battle, and Murray shares that trait as well. Inconceivably expensive Premier League defenders may be taller, stronger and quicker than him, but the Seagulls star always finds a way to hold his ground.
That was evident on Sunday as Murray won five aerial duels and three fouls to vitally bring his team up the pitch while Arsenal attempted to come back from two early concedes. And this isn’t the first instance of the veteran excelling in that manner against such lofty opposition either; during his Crystal Palace days, it was Murray who inspired a shock win over title-chasing Manchester City in 2015.
Making a mockery of Vincent Kompany’s reputation as one of the best and most physical centre-halves in the world, Murray scored the opener, won an incredible 10 aerial duels and seven fouls – probably his greatest performance to date in the Premier League. In both instances, those returns represent exceptional centre-forward play, not only affecting the scoreline but also the match by giving his team real footholds in the final third.
The big question now is whether Murray can once again silence those who underestimate him, amid rumours English football will soon throw another seemingly impossible challenge his way. The Sun claim, at the age of 34, Murray is now being considered for a shock England call-up as Gareth Southgate maps out his squad for coming friendlies with the Netherlands and Italy. He would be the oldest debutant since Kevin Davies got the nod against Montenegro in 2010.
The idea will make some scoff, but based on current form Murray is the leading choice for England’s fourth forward slot at the World Cup, with Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford seemingly nailed on to be part of Southgate’s strikeforce in Russia.
Admittedly, that’s as much a consequence of the modest form of the many alternatives this season than Murray’s own returns, but the statistics speak for themselves and the only English players to score more top flight goals this term are Kane, Vardy and Raheem Sterling – another player nailed on to be in the squad, if not start the first game, when the summer tournament comes around.
Likewise, the usual suspects have all endured disappointing, disrupted seasons. Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe have all suffered too many injury problems and accordingly failed to pick up enough minutes to justifiably take a place in the squad, while Tammy Abraham has run out of steam since being called up to the senior side back in November.
Suddenly, the candidates boil down to players like Charlie Austin and Callum Wilson, who have equally little international experience as Murray and haven’t produced to quite the same levels this season, and the eternally-mooted chaos option, Stoke’s towering 37-year-old Peter Crouch.
So, England fans, if you were in Southgate’s shoes, which striker would you take to Russia as the Three Lions’ fourth choice? Let us know by voting below…