England’s Limbo Men

When the transfer window officially opened on Saturday, players all over the world were still thinking about their futures. The football summer brings a fiery environment of questions that are fired at them like an episode of Mastermind, as they consider their status at their current clubs. Are they happy where they are? Have they done enough to stay? Have they done enough to earn a move elsewhere? Do they move abroad? Is it time to hang up the boots? These are just a sprinkle of the thoughts that must ring in the mind of our heroes and foes.

Simultaneously, it is now less than a year before the 2018 World Cup starts in Russia. This inevitably starts the investigations and enquiries into the state of the England team, and the optimistic pub chat regarding our nation’s hopes on football’s most prestigious stage. Gareth Southgate’s men are far from golden in the eyes of the fans, with the defeat to Iceland frozen to our recent memories. With a recent defeat to France highlighting the gorge between the Three Lions and their closest rivals, the grey mist refuses to clear and the promise for next summer is dissolving before it’s even begun.

The summer prior to a major tournament is arguably the most important element of the match to ignite the flame of a place in the tournament squad. If you make the right move, you’re likely to thrust yourself into the manager’s viewpoint; alternatively, an ill-advised switch could have the adverse effect.

It’s been a positive start for the likes of Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford – who have joined Everton for a combined £55 million – yet there is still a potful of England hopefuls that find themselves in the grey zone. If these players can’t organise their futures before 1st September, then their World Cup chances could be limited to London fan zones and Panini sticker books.

So without further ado, meet England’s Limbo Men… 

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The Youngsters

With both the U21 European Championships and the U20 World Cup taking place this summer, 2017 is a crucial year for some of the Premier League’s brightest starlets. As the debate rages on about their development and playing time, the international scene gave the youngsters the stage to perform. For some of these players, it was the most consistent minutes they had played all season.

A handful of the players that were involved in South Korea and, especially, Poland can potentially throw their name into the World Cup hat. The likes of Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse and Jordan Pickford are guaranteed to be playing regular Premier League football next year, and will be under the watchful eye of Southgate week in week out. However, not everyone is so fortunate…

The Chelsea guard have been stalwarts in the England youth setup for some time now, and have even been favourites of Southgate in his time with the U21s. As a result of this, it would be reasonable to suggest that Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are genuine left-wing shouts to be on the plane to Russia next summer; but they need games.

Their teammate Tammy Abraham has sealed a loan move to Swansea City and could score his way into contention, if given the opportunity. It’s safe to say that Chelsea’s bench is not the place to do that. Baker has impressed on loan at Vitesse Arnhem but needs the publicity of the Premier League to show just how good he really is; Chalobah is considering his options after a bit-part season at Stamford Bridge; Loftus-Cheek has never been on loan and only has a smattering of minutes for the Blues.

These players have won countless medals at youth level and have even been part of senior victories in major competitions but, at their age, nothing is more valuable than minutes on the pitch. There’s only so much that these players can be loaned out or ‘treated’ with an 85th-minute substitute appearance with their team 3-0 up. It’s time that they take control of their careers.

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Players in this Category: Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah, Lewis Baker, Calum Chambers and Ben Chilwell

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The Seniors

This section is arguably where the biggest problem lies. The worst case scenario for Gareth Southgate and England is that their squad’s important assets are not getting regular time for their club team, and even worse when it’s because they’re not up to scratch. Whilst the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Danny Rose and basically every Tottenham Hotspur player are thriving with constant game-time, and embracing their star status at club level, this is not the case for every member of the Three Lions squad.

Starting at the back, we have the issue of Joe Hart. Exiled from Manchester City, Hart didn’t particularly excel on loan at Torino last season. He had a 6.51 average rating in 36 Serie A matches last season, only keeping five clean sheets and making the same number of errors that led to goals. These numbers are frankly embarrassing for an England number one, and with Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Tom Heaton waiting in the wings, it wouldn’t be unruly to suggest that we would see another starting goalkeeper in Russia next year.

A fellow loanee, and a similarly ‘marmite’ character among football fans, is Jack Wilshere. Once dubbed the future of the English midfield, the Hertfordshire-born midfielder is rapidly being known as ‘the guy who had one good game against Barcelona’. Yes, injuries have ravaged his progress, and are probably to blame for a large part of his downfall, yet his performances on loan at AFC Bournemouth last season were tepid, to say the least.

The ‘playmaker’ produced two assists and zero goals for Eddie Howe’s side in 27 appearances, resulting in no particular urgency to renew the loan or pay-up for a permanent deal. Southgate is crying out for midfield options, yet Wilshere’s current level of performance is nowhere near enough to be relied on in Russia.

Wilshere isn’t the only England talent with injuries clinging to their back. Daniel Sturridge was touted by many as a world-class striker after his impressive 2013/14 season alongside Luis Suarez. He was quick, innovative and clinical from any spot within the 18-yard box. Since that magical season, the striker has made 25 starts in three years; this is one less than he made in the 2013/14 season alone.

His comeback at the end of last season correlated with an upturn in Liverpool’s form, proving that he still had something to offer. However, it now feels like, fairly or unfairly, Sturridge’s Anfield career is on a tight-rope of fitness, and one more injury could push Jurgen Klopp’s patience over the edge.

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The reason I’ve written about these players is not that they’re bad, but that they still have a great deal of talent to offer the national team, if they can crank back into top gear. The issue is that there are no obvious suitors waiting to revive their careers, and the next stepping stone appears less clear with every passing day.

Whilst Sturridge may have more time to prove himself at Liverpool, it appears that Hart and Wilshere’s careers with their parent clubs are over. Can two senior internationals realistically go out on loan again at 30 and 25 years old respectively? You wouldn’t assume so, and therefore it ‘s more essential than ever that they suck up their pride and look for permanent moves down the Premier League ladder.

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Players in this Category: Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Chris Smalling

To a lesser extent: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Phil Jones, Ross Barkley

To a much lesser extent: Gary Cahill, Raheem Sterling (If Chelsea and Manchester City continue to sign defenders and attacking midfielders/wingers respectively)

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The Legend

Before anyone starts throwing their arms up in the air, there are few arguments you can give to argue that Wayne Rooney is not an England legend. With 53 international goals, the fact is that Rooney is his country’s all time top goalscorer. Combine this with his 253 Manchester United goals and record-breaking status at Old Trafford and you have quite the CV. Yes, he hasn’t always performed on the biggest stage for England, rarely actually, and he isn’t the most endearing of characters but, since breaking through in 2002, he has undoubtedly been at the top of English football.

Rooney doesn’t make it into this article because I think that he should be considered for further England duty, far from it, but there’s no denying that his situation is an interesting one. Whilst it would appear that he is halfway through the exit door at Old Trafford, he still made 39 appearances last season. Add to this the fact that he is only 31 years old and you would suggest that a player of his calibre is more than capable of continuing his career at a high level.

The problem, in my eyes, is that Rooney’s uniqueness and spark revolved around his natural physicality, speed and agility on the ball. His dynamism made him an unplayable striker. Whilst age doesn’t take away technical talent, it certainly effects the physical aspect of a player’s game and it appears that this has hit Rooney earlier than most. He often looks sluggish in games and can’t dictate the pace of the game like five years ago.

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For this reason, people are tipping him to head to the footballing equivalents of a retiring home; China or the USA. From past history and contract disputes with United – which led to two separate transfer requests – it’s well-known that money is an important aspect of Rooney’s outlook on the game, and a big money move to either the MLS or the Chinese Super League may be more attractive to him than other 31 year old internationals. That being said, his lust to earn is matched by his drive to compete, and subsequently the opportunity to stay in the Premier League – potentially with boyhood club Everton – may prove too much for him to turn down.

Whilst at different stages of their careers, Rooney might want to take a look at John Terry who turned down offers from abroad to stay in England and fight for promotion with Aston Villa. If money isn’t an issue, there’s no shame in dropping down a bit to maintain the fire of competition in your career; and Rooney wouldn’t even need to go near the Championship to do that.

Players in this category: Wayne Rooney

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A running theme throughout this piece is pride. This can also be misconstrued with arrogance – a term that has so often been used to diagnose the modern generation of English players – but whichever way you prefer to spin it, it’s clear that it’s hindering these players’ careers. It’s clear that Daniel Sturridge is too good for a mid-table side – on his 2013/14 form – but when did he last hit that form? He certainly isn’t good enough to be pursued by the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, as has been reported before. Maybe a move to West Ham United or Newcastle United would be more beneficial for his career?

These are the clubs that have been linked with a loan move for Joe Hart, and the calibre of club that would throw themselves into the mix if Jack Wilshere was to be openly made for sale by Arsenal. On their day, they shouldn’t be anywhere outside of the top six teams in the league, but it’s been so long that memories of those days are fading fast. If they want to be part of the England discussion without moans and groans following the mentioning of their names, then it’s essential that they reel in their egos and make the right move this summer.

This could be the first step in improving the overall mindset of the England setup. If young players see the senior players accepting a lower profile move to maintain their game time and development, then they will be more likely to do equally – as opposed to being a glorified spectator on the benches of the big teams. Wilshere’s move to Bournemouth and Hart’s move to Torino were great starts on paper, but petered out into the embarrassing revelation that they’re not actually as good as we (and they) previously thought. However, I still believe that this is the way to go, and minutes on the Premier League pitch can lead any player to good form and a ticket to Russia.

Thanks for reading.

Follow We’re Talking Football on Twitter  – @TalkFootballPod

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Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Images courtesy of – Liverpool Echo, Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Huffington Post, The FA, Smoke Media

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