Gareth Southgate's reasons for omitting Jack Wilshere all wrong
Gareth Southgate stated that Jack Wilshere wasn't included in latest Three Lions set-up due to not featuring regularly for Arsenal. But, looking at other squad selections, the roles they have at respective clubs and minutes played, the England manager's reasoning, simply, doesn't fly.
The England squad for upcoming friendlies against Germany and Brazil, two nations the Three Lions, perhaps foolishly, hope to topple in next summer's World Cup, was announced on Thursday. There are, as ever, many surprises.
The inclusion of Chelsea loanees Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The overload of players who currently feature at left-back for their clubs. The squad's youthfulness, with only four men over 30, one a goalkeeper in Joe Hart, and another a striker, Jamie Vardy, who established himself at a later age. Perhaps the most controversial decision Gareth Southgate made, however, involved a 25-year-old midfielder: Jack Wilshere's absence is significant.
Before Southgate announced his squad, Arsene Wenger stated that Wilshere deserves an international call-up. Now, it's not unexpected, as every club manager thinks their players deserve national team selection. The Arsenal boss is no different. But if there is one person qualified to cast judgement on Wilshere's fitness, technical levels and readiness, it is Wenger. The Frenchman has an innate, detailed understanding of his player. He knows him at his best; he also knows him at his worst.
Southgate chose another route though. He was within his right to do so. As England's manager, he's paid to make big decisions. But the reason given doesn't stand up to scrutiny. When asked about Wilshere's exclusion, Southgate stated:
I don't know how you get in an England squad without getting in the Arsenal team. There is no question about his ability, his football brain or personality. We just need to see him playing before he comes back in because unfortunately there has been a history of injuries. I'll be having discussions with Arsene about him. We think he is a top player so for him it's about game time.
In a vacuum, that is a perfectly valid reason. A major gripe among fans is when underperforming players are selected for international duty merely because they represent big clubs. As Southgate implies, how can a player who isn't featuring every week be justified as an England selection?
A quick glance through the squad, though, and you will see Southgate has broken his own rule.
One example: Southgate has selected Jesse Lingard. Although the attacker has made eight Premier League appearances this campaign, accumulating 217 minutes, seven were from the bench. He has played four times in the Champions League, 102 minutes, but three came as a substitute. In fact, the Manchester United man has started only four games this season, the same amount as Wilshere. For both players, two came in the Carabao Cup. Therefore, it's difficult to argue that Lingard has a more prominent role at his club than Wilshere at Arsenal.
Similarly, Southgate also picked Danny Rose. The left-back has garnered only 91 minutes all season, however. And of those, 81 came in the Carabao Cup. As we have seen previously from Southgate's logic, that competition isn't considered proper playing time. The Tottenham defender's remaining 10 minutes of football was against Real Madrid in the Champions League, as a late substitute to kill the game. Now, the Rose decision is acceptable. His absence for Spurs doesn't reflect the quality he possesses, it is due to injury. He can work his way back into the team, making this a very different scenario. Rose's presence in the Three Lions' squad raises other questions, though, concerning both Fabian Delph and Ashley Young.
Strangely, Southgate has included four players currently deployed as left backs for their respective clubs. The aforementioned Rose, Delph and Young, as well as Southampton's Ryan Bertrand. Only two men are usually selected for each position. So, ostensibly, the England boss is selecting Delph and Young as midfielders or wingers. Neither has played any position other than left-back this season, despite it not being considered their natural role.
Even more significant, Delph was included in Southgate's previous squad for final two World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania. At that point, he had only played 20 minutes for Manchester City and as we already know, regular Premier League football is what matters most for Southgate.
I don't have a particular issue with Wilshere's non-selection for England duty. Southgate is correct, to an extent. A player should be playing first-team football for his club before earning an international call-up. It is the reasoning, and the hypocrisy, which is wrong. The England manager believes Wilshere isn't worthy of selection as he hasn't played enough minutes this season. So why isn't that a problem for Lingard, Rose, Delph and Young?
Southgate has contradicted himself with selections, both in most recent and past squads. Jack Wilshere may or may not deserve a place, opinions differ, but Southgate's reasoning doesn't fly. It is frustrating in the present, and even more worrying for the future.