So… here we are again… we’ve reached the summer of 2016 and there’s an international football tournament to follow.
As an ex-pat football fan, living in a country where the sport of the summer is baseball, the World Cup and the Euros, every other year, provide a welcome "football fix" for me after the English domestic season is over.
Therefore, normally, I look forward with much anticipation to a tournament when are England playing. This year, however, as a Leicester City supporter, a significant dampener of disappointment tempered my enthusiasm – at least for a few days.
England’s manager Roy Hodgson announced his final squad of 23 for the tournament, and excluded Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater. In his place, England "favourites" Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere were given the nod. Henderson had an indifferent season at Liverpool, and Wilshere was out, for Arsenal, with a long-term injury until the last three matches. Indeed, the last time Wilshere played a full 90 minutes for Arsenal was apparently in September 2014, a 2-1 defeat to Southampton!
Drinkwater, however, had by far the best season of his career so far, forming a championship-winning partnership with the tireless N’Golo Kanté in midfield for Leicester. Surprisingly, there is only one player in England’s squad from the Premier League champions – Jamie Vardy – and somehow even that feels like a reluctant pick from Roy Hodgson… him giving in to public pressure, perhaps, or simply unable to argue with the stats (Vardy’s 24 premier league goals, including a record-breaking 11-game scoring streak).
This post is not intended to be too much of a rant at Roy Hodgson’s selection, and certainly not his tactics, before a ball has even been kicked in the Euro 2016 tournament. However, in the various warm-up games, we’ve seen Danny Drinkwater get man-of-the-match against the Netherlands - in his first international appearance – and now excluded from the squad completely. We’ve seen Jamie Vardy deployed repeatedly on the left wing, for England, instead of up front in a partnership with Harry Kane.
Much has been written about Hodgson trying to force square pegs into round holes, and not using players in their "correct" positions, so I won’t repeat it here. You can look on any of several sports pages for deeper analysis of England’s tactics in their pre-tournament friendlies.
The point of my post, here and now, is different. Yes, I’m hugely disappointed for Danny Drinkwater that he’s on the outside looking in. And I’m hoping that Vardy is not shoved out to the wing, and instead is played in the position where he’s played best all season for Leicester… through the middle, looking for a through-ball or an over-the-top pass to chase… where he WILL beat most, if not all, defenders to the ball. But I (and, in my opinion, all English football followers) have to approach the Euros as an ENGLAND fan, not as a Leicester fan any more.
I write this one day before England’s first game against Russia, and I’m more hopeful than I’ve been for a while that they can really challenge in this tournament. Can they win it? Probably not. We’ll need a bit of luck, and a series of top-level performances from everyone concerned, to do that. But on their day, England are a match for anyone in this tournament.
Jack Wilshere IS still a very good player in midfield, and if – IF – he really is fit enough, then he should do well. In fact, if the choice were between Drinkwater and Wilshere, at full fitness, then I’ll concede the point that Jack Wilshere probably just scrapes it.
As a Leicester fan, I’ve become accustomed to watching a series of players giving absolutely 100% in every single game, all season long. That’s one of the main reasons Leicester won the league! If England’s players do the same thing throughout these Euros, then, as I said, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone. The concern is that history has shown us that, even though they really are good enough (or, certainly, CAN be), there seem to be too many who feel like they’re "automatic" or "entitled" to represent their country, and so don’t give that 100% where it matters – on the pitch. Spectators really can tell!
However, as the tournament kicks off, then as an England fan, I AM excited, and eager for their first game against Russia. I’ll be cheering for the boys, no matter who’s selected. I’d love to see all the players playing with as much heart and soul as Leicester did throughout the season. That’s how Leicester’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, described his team’s performances all year, and if England can do the same, then I believe we can surprise a few.
And if we get to the final, and Vardy scores a winner in the 89th minute… in the same year as Leicester just won the Premier League… well, what a season of football that would make!