In the absence of Harry Kane, Troy Deeney could have been forgiven for thinking it was his turn to be called up to the England squad.
Daniel Sturridge’s uncertain status at Liverpool, Marcus Rashford’s lack of minutes at striker and Jamie Vardy’s uninspiring start to the season leave England’s striking berth an open one. Deeney’s performances throughout last season and at the beginning of this placed him firmly as the ‘next cab off the rank’, many thought. Gareth Southgate, however, disagreed.
Deeney should be seen as the cultured, in-form alternative to Andy Carroll. Carroll is heralded as the necessary, crude ‘Plan B’ for England. If there is a necessity for an old-fashioned target man in international football, then Deeney must be in the reckoning for the place and should certainly be ahead of Carroll in the pecking order. It is a little anachronistic to demand a bullying, back-to-goal centre-forward for England, but Deeney is a far greater all-round player than many give him credit for.
Unquestionably different from England’s striking incumbents, the 28-year-old is comfortable playing in a withdrawn role from another centre-forward or as the lone striker. Throughout the 2015/16 Premier League season, Watford’s talismanic captain completed more key passes, created more chances and won considerably more aerial duels-per-90-minutes than Rashford, Vardy or Sturridge. The sample size for Rashford and Sturridge is, admittedly, small, but this reflects Deeney’s ability to play in a deeper position, as he has alongside Odion Ighalo.
Although he may not be the long-term future of the England side, the persistent cries to pick on merit rather than reputation should lead to a clear conclusion. Deeney has, for over 12 months, been one of the best English forwards around and would offer a different option for the England manager; not just as a ‘route one’ alternative, either.
Aggressive? Yes. Physical? Of course.
However, neither of those things make Deeney a Luddite incapable of playing international football and, although the England team is blessed with a number of high-quality forwards, Deeney would be within his rights to feel at least a modicum of frustration at his latest exclusion.
Unlucky to be having the strongest years of his career at a time when there has been a revival in English strikers, Deeney is one of the Premier League’s most consistently overlooked players. Missing out on an England call-up is not the greatest aberration considering the quality he is competing with, but it does raise questions about whether the curse of playing for a club outside of the Premier League’s top six still exists.