Following the announcement of the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, more than one overlooked player will have grounds to grumble. Here are the four who could, and perhaps should, be wearing the three lions later this month:
Glenn Murray – Crystal Palace
With the call-up of Murray’s teammate Wilfried Zaha back in November, Roy Hodgson showed he is prepared to cap players from the Championship; which makes the decision to overlook the country’s leading scorer a strange one.
With 30 goals already this season, statistics show that when considering the top two divisions in the five leading European leagues, only Lionel Messi is more prolific than the 29-year-old Palace striker.
Quite simply, he knows where the goal is, and as good as the quartet of Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck can be, they have scored only ten more goals between them than Murray has on his own.
Ryan Shawcross – Stoke City
While the headlines are all about Rio Ferdinand’s return, perhaps we should be questioning why a 34-year-old is being picked over younger, long-term prospects.
While many will say Ferdinand is past his best-before-date, his recent club performances alongside Jonny Evans have pointed to a more confident, dominant defender than his early season wobbles suggested. But he is still a stop-gap rather than a solution, and would Shawcross – who has excelled since joining Stoke City and is consistently one of their best performers – really do a worse job than his former club-mate?
Shawcross isn’t the only defender who will wonder what he has to do to get into the England squad. But he may be the player who has been wondering the longest.
Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace/Manchester United
Before I get accused of a Palace love-in, the simple fact is Zaha deserves a place both for his form in recent matches and the energy he would bring to an otherwise sparkle-free squad.
If this were the start of the season, that sparkle would come from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. But he is overdue a rest, as his performances in the second half of the season prove. He hasn’t gone completely off the boil, but fully-energised, there are few with his pace and bluster. Until then, Zaha is playing with the same youthful exuberance that could change a game.
Ashley Young, still to regain the form of his early months at Manchester United, should feel very lucky to be picked over his soon-to-be-teammate.
Liam Bridcutt – Brighton & Hove Albion
Gordon Strachan pulled a major surprise when calling Liam Bridcutt into his first Scotland squad earlier this month. But Seagulls fans will wonder why Hodgson didn’t act first.
The 23-year-old is a combative midfielder able to break up opposition plays and initiate attacks. And while much of his work goes under the radar, he could be the closest thing this England team (almost) had to Owen Hargreaves.
While it could be argued that both Tom Cleverley and Scott Parker do a similar job, the former is more comfortable going forward and the latter is coming to the end of his international career.
Despite being the least obvious player on this list, Bridcutt is fast-becoming an expert in an unsung art; an invisible catalyst of which there are few, one fewer now he has joined Strachan’s revolution.
image: © geetarchurchy