Emphatic for England, tepid for Tottenham. That is the dilemma Andros Townsend, Roy Hodgson and Mauricio Pochettino now face.
A blistering 79th minute stunner against Italy this week, bearing stark resemblance to his equally aesthetic strike during England’s 4-1 win over Montenegro in October 2013, secured the result the Three Lions’ committed and calculated second-half display deserved – an almost inevitable 1-1 draw.
But it’s a rare high point amid 18 months of relative anonymity for the Spurs winger; his regularity at club level, particularly under Mauricio Pochettino, largely dependent on injury-stricken, superior-in-quality absentees.
Hodgson only had further superlatives to add regarding Townsend’s performance and a goal that made a draw feel almost like victory in an relatively competitive friendly – even claiming there ‘should always be a place for guys like him’ (in other words, match-winners) in England’s 20-odd man squads.
Indeed, Ross Barkley’s introduction after 55 minutes and Townsend’s a quarter of an hour later gave the Three Lions the impetus and verve they needed to truly test Italy’s water-tight three-man defence, both succeeding where Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane – amongst others – had failed in running, powerfully and directly, at the Azzurri backline.
That makes it three goals in seven England appearances for Townsend and not the first time he’s changed the game from the bench for his country.
Yet the prominent return and promising performances internationally are juxtaposed by just three goals in 41 Premier League appearances for Spurs during the last two seasons, one of which was a wayward cross that somehow sneaked over the head of Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan. The trigger-happy Towsend, whose 56 shots in 25 appearances last year produced only the aforementioned accidental goal, is one of those players who can almost score from anywhere. The problem, for Tottenham at least, is that he rarely does, leading to regular accusations of ineffective greed.
The only genuinely stellar moments in Townsend’s Premier League career came during the short-lived loan spell at QPR that catalysed his rise to the England squad and subsequent comparisons with Arjen Robben, courtesy of Harry Redknapp.
Since then, Townsend’s been a peripheral figure and a particularly criticised one at that. Few would have fluttered if Spurs sold the 23 year-old on last summer, and it will be a similar scenario at the end of the campaign.
How last night’s performance influences Mauricio Pochettino however, remains to be seen. Townsend’s found decent form in the Europa League this season and now on the international scene too which, in theory at least, should be an even tougher challenge than Premier League football. Just as form on the continent obliged the Argentine to give Harry Kane a chance at the start of the season, a similar case could now be made for his England team-mate.
Vice-versa, how long can Hodgson realistically stand by the Tottenham misfit, should he continue to endure fringe status at White Hart Lane? The England gaffer appeared determined to maintain his faith in Townsend long-term last night and generally make some selections irrespective of club form, but there will soon be a point when that view becomes unjustifiable.
It can’t be one rule for Townsend and another for those knocking on the Three Lions’ door. There can’t be a situation where the winger become’s football’s Ian Poulter – a lucky mascot of unspectacular ability that miraculously produces the goods on the international stage. Fortunately, at this moment in time, international-standard English widemen aren’t in copious supply.
The logical solution would be for Townsend to move on this summer and join a club where he’ll be playing regularly. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy too, shouldn’t see too much of a problem in cashing in whilst the winger’s stock is uncharacteristically high.
But the young wideman has already been given ample opportunities to leave White Hart Lane – particularly to Southampton – only to decline. Should that continue to be the case, at some point, either Pochettino or Hodgson will have to buckle on their current estimations of England’s unlikely hero.