It’s officially down time for international football, with no games scheduled until March. As a result news to discuss is thin on the ground at England Football.org Towers. So here’s a quick round-up of the January England news.
Southgate in demand?
It was revealed in the Daily Telegraph that Gareth Southgate is on Manchester United’s shortlist to become their next permanent manager. The two inevitable questions for England fans are will it be offered and will he take it? On the first point it’s widely reported Mauricio Pochettino is top of United’s wish list, but it may be difficult to dislodge him from Tottenham. Southgate appears to be one of four alternate candidates alongside Zinedine Zidane, Diego Simeone and caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. Solksjaer’s excellent start in Manchester may well put him joint top of the list, inevitably if United make the Champions League or win the FA Cup Solksjaer will be very hard to turn down. So it would seem whilst Southgate is on United’s list, he’s probably not first choice.
On the second point, would he take the job were it offered? In short I expect Southgate would stay with England. Whilst United is still one of the biggest four club jobs in world football (alongside Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern) the clubs recent struggles have made it far from a once in a career opportunity, indeed if Southgate stays with England until the 2022 World Cup it’s easy to believe the United job will be open again around that time. Southgate is ambitious and has stated he’d like to return to club management one day, but it would seem out of character to walk out on his contract with the FA. More importantly Southgate is aware he’s in the middle of a project with England, has the buy-in of his players and crucially has a generational opportunity next summer. Should England qualify for Euro 2020, it will be virtually a home tournament with England potentially playing all but the quarter-finals at Wembley. It seems even if United come calling, Southgate will stay put.
Young England hopefuls on the move
The first half of the Premier League season saw depressingly low numbers of English players getting a regular start. The fallout has seen numerous hopefuls looking to move in the January transfer window. Dominc Solanke moved to Bournemouth for £19million after failing to make a single appearance this season for Liverpool. Meanwhile Solanke’s fellow Under 20 World Cup winner Kieran Dowell has made a loan move to Sheffield United. Another forgotten man of Anfield, Nathaniel Clyne has also moved with Solanke to Bournemouth whilst veteran strike Jermain Defoe has left the Vitality Stadium to join Steven Gerrard at Rangers.
But the story of the window has been Chelsea teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi. The youngster was offered an extension at Chelsea but is determined to see through a move to Bayern Munich. The German giants have offered in excess of £35million for Hudson-Odoi who they see as the long-term replacement for the retiring Arjen Robben. Chelsea clearly want to keep the player, but it’s not hard to see his reasons for wanting away. Chelsea have one of europe’s finest academies but the short-term thinking in the first team has meant the last player to graduate and become a first team regular was John Terry. Maurizio Sarri has picked Hudson-Odoi in cup competitions this season but has kept Hudson-Odoi on the bench in the league behind veterans Willian and Pedro. With Chelsea set to sign Gonzalo Higuain, it appears the queue to play out wide is going to get longer with Eden Hazard set to move out of his false nine position. It looks certain Hudson-Odoi will be going Jadon Sancho in the Bundesliga, the only question is will it be now or in the summer?
This week former England right-back Glen Johnson announced his retirement from professional football. Johnson was an early signing of the Roman Abramovic era at Chelsea before moving on to a highly successful spell with Portsmouth which saw him become England’s first choice right-back. That success saw Johnson move to Liverpool and finish his career with Stoke City. Johnson won 54 caps after being given his debut by Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2005. But it was under the stewardship of Fabio Capello that Johnson became a regular and saw the defender become first choice at 3 successive tournaments for his country. The highpoint of Johnson’s England career came at Euro 2012 where a series of fine defensive displays saw him narrowly miss out on UEFA’s team of the tournament. Often characterised as better going forward than back towards his own goal Johnson won 1 Premier League, 1 FA Cup and 2 League Cup winners medals in a fine career.
Was it a slow news week or a question that cut to the heart of English football? It’s debatable which was the case, but there’s no denying the ‘spy gate’ scandal prompted a staggeringly wide range of views across the game. For those who don’t know, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United sent a scout to watch Frank Lampard’s Derby Country training the day before the two teams played each other at Elland Road.
It prompted a media storm with everyone having their say and former England players have lined up on opposing sides of the debate. Stuart Pearce called for the 3 points Leeds gained from the win to be handed to Derby whilst Stan Collymore demanded the game be replayed- a bit harsh on Derby who were mauled 6-1 over two games against Leeds! Martin Keown, Jermaine Jenas and Steven Gerrard were amongst the former England men in team Lampard with varying calls for Leeds to get a points deduction.
Gary Neville called out the media for hypocrisy, pointing out to Henry Winter among others that the press have repeatedly stooped to far lower tactics to find out England teams before international matches. Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Matt Le Tissier, Peter Crouch and Chris Sutton were amongst the loudest voices in team Bielsa. The EFL and FA are looking into the matter, but most observers agree a points deduction is highly unlikely.
It’s been a bad month for injuries to England internationals with Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harry Maguire all missing significant stretches for their clubs, at present all are expected to be available when England reconvene in March.
Of those on the pitch Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford have both found a new lease of life at Old Trafford since the arrival of Solksjaer, with Rashford excelling as a central striker. Ademola Lookman has finally started getting a regular start at Everton but club mate Jordan Pickford has been through a rough patch in-goal. Ben Chilwell has continued his progress at Leicester, Tom Heaton has helped revive Burnley since regaining the gloves from Joe Hart and Harry Winks looks increasingly key in Tottenham’s first team.
Away from the Premier League Jadon Sancho continues to impress at Dortmund whilst Tammy Abraham is enjoying a prolific spell in the Championship with Aston Villa. The Championship has also seen the emergence of two exciting young talents in Harvey Barnes- now recalled to parent club Leicester and Leeds winger Jack Clarke, expect both to be in contention for England’s as part of the Euro Under 21s this summer in Italy.