If you have a look at the Twitter reaction to Danny Drinkwater’s exclusion from the England squad, you would think that Roy Hodgson had chosen to drop Marco Reus or Diego Costa. He didn’t, by the way.
Drinkwater spending his summer on a private beach in Marbella may seem cruel after his stellar season in Leicester’s superhuman midfield, but it just isn’t, unfortunately. Much like the hysteria around Mark Noble not making the 26 or only picking three centre-backs, this was Hodgson’s own decision and not one as ludicrous as many would lead you to believe.
The Leicester man has been extraordinary for much of this campaign at what he does. Distributing quickly, hitting direct passes into open spaces and being tactically astute, has it’s place in the modern game, for sure, but it is not something that is as Sergio Busquets-like as some seem to think. Drinkwater’s impressive form would often have earned him a place on the plane to France – or Eurostar – and it wouldn’t have been a travesty if he was selected, but this is not like leaving behind a star. England have plenty of options in the centre of midfield and, although I would’ve liked to see Drinkwater in the squad personally, it is justifiable.
A lack of international experience was an issue, particularly with the occasionally naive Eric Dier, Dele lli and Ross Barkley in the 23. Drinkwater is yet to play in European football, nor has he had to compete with a slower pace of football that international football offers. As much as he has been an excellent launchpad for Jamie Vardy, it is a different role that he would play in the England side. England have no N’Golo Kante to play the combative role alongside Drinkwater, either. As perfectly as he might slot into a midfield four with Rooney, Dier and Alli, it is not a leap of faith to understand just why he has been left behind. In a worryingly inexperienced squad, another player with only a handful of caps could’ve been quite the risk. Hodgson clearly, and understandably, opted for the extra nous of Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson.
It really cannot be stressed enough how the extreme reaction is so inappropriate. A tidy player who is on top of his game, Drinkwater would’ve been a nice option for England and his telepathic relationship with Jamie Vardy could’ve been a cute ‘Plan B’, but it is not like England have left Harry Kane out of their squad – or something similarly absurd. Depth in the England midfield is good, on the whole, and, with Rooney likely to drop deeper, it was probably a straight shoot-out between Henderson and Drinkwater for that final slot in the middle third. Henderson’s injury worries aside – Drinkwater can be called back into the squad if they resurface – the Liverpool captain has experience at this level and is actually a few months younger.
This is another factor that has been rapidly glossed over. Drinkwater, late bloomer or not, is not the youngster that many tend to portray him as. The Leicester central midfielder is 26-years-old, not 21, and is not ‘one of the future’ like some of the fresher faced members of the England 23. If – rightly or wrongly – England are seeing this tournament as a building block for the World Cup in 2018, Drinkwater is unlikely to improve much between now and then. England have the most players under 23 and the least over 30 at this summer’s tournament and, although he is far away from veteran status, will Drinkwater really progress much from his current state?
Hodgson has done all he can to help England look to the future and there is a lot to be excited about in this current squad. The football is free-flowing and a weak defence makes matches end-to-end, so it could be a summer of fun for English football fans, and the negativity surrounding a touch-and-go player on the periphery of the England squad is sadly diminishing that excitement.