It’s just not a proper World Cup unless England go into it without an injury concern to one of their best players. The nation needs that sweet, worrying anxiety to really ramp up the excitement ahead of the tournament.
Harry Kane this week has become the latest player to join Michael Owen, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney in an exclusive club of players who’s body parts have become subjects of national importance and had more scrutiny and attention than literally any Brexit plans. In 2002 Beckham’s metatarsal became a bigger household name than most of the rest of the squad. If there had been Twitter back then there wouldn’t be enough time in the day to block the numerous ‘Beckham’s Metatarsal’ parody accounts.
The Tottenham no.10 went off against Bournemouth on Sunday with an injury to his right ankle, something he is making a habit of having injured the same body part in September 2016 and March 2017. His club are convinced he will be back in training next month but either way his potential absence has shone a light on Gareth Southgate’s attacking options and…yeah, they’re not great by any stretch of the imagination.
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Kane could hobble off the plane in Volgograd in June and probably still start against Tunisia on account of there really not being anyone else good enough to lead the line for England. For a start there is no-one else like him in terms of his all-round game and whether bringing them off the bench or starting them ahead of an injured Kane, Southgate would have to adapt his tactics to get the best out of any of the following.
The two most obvious options to replace Kane are Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford but both are very different players to the Tottenham no.10. Both play on the shoulder of the back four and look to get away with a burst of naturally fast acceleration; Vardy won a Premier League off the back of it. But that’s not how Kane plays and that’s not how England play.
Then there’s the fact that Rashford has spent most of this season being forced out wide left by Jose Mourinho and, let’s be honest, has not yet proven he has the attributes or confidence to lead the line as a no.9. If Southgate wants to pick Vardy or Rashford he’ll have to shift the entire ethos of his attacking approach, and that’s from a man that hasn’t changed his haircut in 25 years.
Then there are the big men. The traditional target men like Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and Glenn Murray. Yes, Glenn Murray. He has 13 goals to his name so far this season which makes him the joint fourth highest scoring Englishman this season. Players have gone to World Cups for far less. But there are factors against all three of these guys, and that’s before you get to the fact that Murray and Crouch have a combined age of 72.
Kane may act as a target man up top or England but he does so much more than that; running the channels, bringing team-mates into play, chasing down defenders, all things the aforementioned big men don’t really do. Plus there’s the fact that Carroll is only ever fully fit each season for the amount of time it takes to do one lap of the London Stadium running track.
There are more options for Southgate but it depends how bold he’s feeling and how much of the bottom of the barrel he wants to see. Ashley Barnes is having the season of his life for this year’s surprise package Burnley although Southgate may, bizarrely, find himself in a battle with the Austrian FA if he wants the 28-year-old. Barnes played for the Austria’s under-20 side in 2009 but has never got the call for the senior squad although after his form this season national team manager Franco Foda has admitted he is watching the Clarets no.10.
Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson isn’t terrible and is scoring some goals while Daniel Sturridge has the ability to be considered an option but has the hamstrings, hips, knees, ankles and calves to potentially be a waste of a spot in the squad. And then there’s Danny Welbeck; the footballing equivalent of a the TV show Heroes; a great first season but every one since made you wonder why you liked it.
Then are the attacking midfielders who could possibly play at false nine if Southgate really wants to shake things up. Raheem Sterling has played there for Manchester City this season and is having the best campaign of his life while Andros Townsend played in a double false nine attack with Wilf Zaha while Christian Benteke was out injured back in the Autumn and immediately Palace started scoring goals after going the first seven games of the season without any.
Which brings us to the last resorts. And I’m not talking about the likes of Tammy Abraham, Dominic Solanke and Michail Antonio although, hey, anything is possible. The real last resorts are the old boys, one of whom has retired from international football and the other probably should. Jermaine Defoe is still going but has seen the goals properly dry up this season – and was called up for the game with Lithuania in October while Wayne Rooney retired from international football back in August.
But would the call to come back and save England one last time be too tempting to turn down? Maybe. Just maybe.