In 2014, Miroslav Klose became the all-time record scorer for his country. Yet the Germany legend scored more goals internationally than he managed for any club he played for.
Take that to your next trivia night. Klose was an endangered species in the modern game. He was an international specialist; a true hibernator, who you would seldom hear from outside of summer months. He played alongside another in Lukas Podolski, a fellow Polish-born poacher who played 130 times for Die Mannschaft… but struggled to get into an Arsenal side ahead of Olivier Giroud.
Giroud himself is three goals from eclipsing Thierry Henry's all-time goal tally in a Les Bleus shirt – but has considerably fewer pundits declaring him the trickiest opponent they ever faced. Football is a strange beast, isn't it? It makes a mockery of the rules of physics: what goes up does not necessarily have to come down. And with that in mind, there are stranger things a-foot than Harry Maguire still being in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
It sounds so terribly middle-aged to begin a sentence with, “The problem with this country,” but perhaps there are lessons to be gleaned from the last two countries to lift a World Cup. In France or Germany, it’s not weird to leave out incredible players if you have a functioning XI. In England, it’s a national conversation.
Everyone is guilty of it. Ivan Toney has got into the England squad “based on his good form,” according to the countless reports – and Brentford fans, no doubt. Harry Maguire still being in the England squad is daft, according to some, given that he hasn’t been playing well for Manchester United. Questions persist over the constant call-ups of Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings, when Fikayo Tomori and Ben White are literally just there.
Perceptions need to change. We tend to see an international cap akin to a knighthood. Pundits tip players for England caps as a reward for hard work, good form and an example of the finest we have to offer. Danny Drinkwater, Mark Noble, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, James Maddison: they’ve all been touted for international selection, not so much based off their talent but as a prize for a good season.
Caps are not given to who’s performed best at domestic level but who would best fits the system for England. International football is slower, defences sit deeper and forwards don’t press with the same intensity.
A leader at the back is more valuable than a technical unicorn, while poachers thrive more than false nines. It shouldn’t be so controversial to pick the more rounded players over the more talented ones: Kieran Trippier getting minutes over Trent Alexander-Arnold might boil the blood of some but it makes plenty of sense.
Southgate seems to get it, too. The Golden Generation era was about more than simply wasting the unbelievable talent that we had on offer – it was about the crowbarring of four superstars into the same midfield and expecting it to steamroller the opposition based on its talent alone. It was about the dearth of left-footed options in an era when such width was a necessity. It was about the ego of a Lion and the selection of media favourites.
Times change: it’s about time fan opinions did, too. Your favourite player not getting in the England squad is not the snub it seems.
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