Ivan Toney for England has been one of themes of this week after his magnificent hat-trick against Leeds on Saturday — and it will be intriguing to see if Gareth Southgate resists the clamour to include the Brentford marksman when he names his latest squad a week tomorrow.
England manager Southgate has previously suggested that there is a higher bar for attacking players to break into his set-up, given England’s quality in forward areas, and including Toney in the final camp before this winter’s World Cup in Qatar would be a statement of sorts.
The time for experimentation is passing and Southgate will only want to work with players for this month’s Nations League games against Italy and Germany who have a serious chance of making the World Cup squad.
Tammy Abraham, who is continuing to impress for Roma, and the rejuvenated Marcus Rashford will also be in the manager’s thinking and perhaps ahead of Toney as potential understudies to Harry Kane, while Jadon Sancho is another forward player pushing for a recall.
The question for Southgate is what he is looking for in a second striker, and whether Toney’s qualities fit the bill as a Kane understudy.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was nominally England’s ‘Plan B’ up-front at Euro 2020, but his only appearances were as a 92nd-minute substitute in the opening game against Croatia and the final 25 minutes of the quarter-final win over Ukraine, when Southgate’s side were already leading 4-0.
Even with Kane struggling for form during the group stage, Southgate’s go-to was Rashford, suggesting he is not entirely convinced by the option of an old-school striker, who can provide his side with a direct route up the pitch but may encourage bad habits in his players.
It would be a disservice to think of Toney as merely a big man, however, and his performances for Brentford since the start of last season prove that he is developing into a complete centre-forward.
As Toney’s Bees team-mate Bryan Mbeumo explained: “For me, he has so many qualities and abilities: He can pass, shoot, finish, drop and play with the ball, lead the line. And that all makes him a very hard player for the opponents to deal with, because he has the capacity to change his type of play.
“He has a different and unique profile, and for me he really deserves his chance with his country.”
That said, there are still compelling reasons to think that Toney could be the perfect alternative or even partner for Kane in tight situations in Qatar.
Last season, only Chris Wood and James Tarkowski (both of Sean Dyche’s direct Burnley side until Wood joined Newcastle in January) won more aerial duels in the top-flight than Toney, and the way he unsettled Lisandro Martinez in Brentford’s win over Manchester United suggests he could be the perfect option to target weak links in opponents.
For all their progress since the 2018 World Cup, set-pieces remain one of England’s biggest weapons, and Toney would offer them a huge threat in the box, while he is not only good at scoring free-kicks but winning them; last season, he was the third-most fouled player in the Premier League.
Toney’s penalty record, which was highlighted by his manager Thomas Frank this week, is another reason to consider him.
He has scored each of his last 18 spot-kicks, and if Southgate is considering introducing specialist penalty-takers for future shootouts, as he did with Rashford and Sancho in the Euros final, there will surely be few safer bets than Toney.