Dele Alli is the only member of Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad to produce more key passes during the last three Premier League seasons than Leicester City’s Marc Albrighton.
He’s also ranked second for successful crosses by English players in the Premier League for two of the last three seasons, dropping down to only fourth during the excepting campaign, and boasts something just three members of England’s current roster can also claim to have – a Premier League winner’s medal.
And yet, the idea of Albrighton representing the Three Lions has rarely been mentioned in the media during that time, let alone actually crossed the thoughts of England’s three managers – Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce and Gareth Southgate.
A few weeks ago it was reported that Southgate had considered giving Glenn Murray a shock England debut at the age of 34; Albrighton though, has never received even an alleged acknowledgement of his domestic form by a Three Lions gaffer via the tabloids. It’s as if there’s a tacit understanding that Albrighton is one circle on a venn diagram and England are the other, but there will never be an overlapping third drawn in between.
It’s becoming increasingly harder to quite understand why, especially as England don’t really produce wingers in Albrighton’s conventional mould anymore. Marcus Rashford is a striker who plays on the left so that he can cut inside, Raheem Sterling is a nomadic inside forward, Jesse Lingard has proved most effective in central areas for Manchester United and Dele Alli is at his best when ghosting into the penalty area behind Harry Kane.
While football has moved on from the days of traditional touchline-hugging wide-men with crisp crossing delivery, the transition has nonetheless left Albrighton a unique, niche entity – one you’d expect an England manager to want in his squad, especially with a world-class striker in Harry Kane who can be so deadly in the air.
Admittedly, Albrighton lacks the exciting, inspiring promise of those aforementioned names, or the same level of dynamic athleticism. Output is an inevitable criticism as well; during the last three campaigns, despite having a prolific striker to feed in Jamie Vardy, the Englishman has scored just six goals and laid on 19 assists from 101 top flight appearances.
Hardly an exemplary return – in fact, Alli contributed to the same number of league goals for Spurs, seven assists and 18 goals, just last season alone.
“I really like Marc Albrighton, he’s a very under-rated player in many ways. He can open up teams, cross with both feet and he can defend quite well. I think in the last couple of seasons you could say he has warranted one (an England call). We are blessed in attacking areas at the moment when you think of Lingard, Rashford, Sterling, Lallana, Vardy, Kane and Dele Alli.But I think Albrighton is one of those who is some people might think should have a chance.”
But the 28-year-old is nonetheless an incredibly consistent, hardworking and handy player. As Danny Murphy recently argued on Match of the Day, he can play on either wing, he rarely makes defensive mistakes or leaves his full-back exposed, and his crossing ability with either foot can hold a candle to anyone in the Premier League.
The real beauty of Albrighton – who Transfermarkt value at just £7.2million – is that you know exactly what you’re getting, and even when he’s struggling in terms of final ball, he’ll still run himself into the ground regardless. It seems quite incredible that three consecutive England managers haven’t seen any real need for that in their many squads.
Perhaps that isn’t quite enough to earn a spot in this current England team, which admittedly has surprisingly strong competition for attacking roles – especially when Kane is fit. But consider some of the other midfielders who have been given chances during the last three years: Jake Livermore, Nathaniel Chalobah, Dominic Solanke, Jack Cork, Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse, Jonjo Shelvey, Ryan Mason.
While the look towards the future is understandable if not inevitable, have any of those at any point produced a level of form to truly justify a place over Albrighton, and have any of them produced it anywhere near as consistently?
Some will point to big-club bias, some will argue Albrighton is below England’s calibre, and some will claim his style of play is a little outdated for the international stage.
But it’s so incredibly strange for an English player to perform consistently well in the Premier League practically ever since first breaking through at Aston Villa in 2010 to never even be mentioned as a potential Three Lions call-up, especially amid an era in which England’s managers aren’t exactly luxury to an embarrassment of riches.
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