6 of the Best: Englishmen outside the Premier League
With so much at stake financially for Premiership sides, youth development has continually taken a back-seat to the importation of expensively-assembled foreign talent since the leagues inception in the early 90s. With the constant yearly reduction of available players plying their trade in England’s top-flight; Roy Hodgson will no doubt have little choice than to search elsewhere for future England squads. Selection of England players from outside the top division isn’t particularly new; Steve Bull made 13 appearances for England in the build-up to Italia ’90 and most recently, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha made his senior international debut in the recent friendly against a Zlatan-inspired Sweden. The call-up of Zaha shows Hodgson understands one of the major challenges facing the English national side and a willingness to look outside the Premiership as a means of combating it. We look at six players from outside the Premier League who could yet help the national cause.
1. Gary Hooper – Celtic
Two seasons ago, a suggestion of Gary Hooper playing for England would no doubt have been laughed at, but a ratio greater than a goal every other game for Celtic, including four goals in this season Champions League run has brought Hooper to the attention of a number of Premiership clubs and reportedly Italian champions Juventus. If he continues his current goal-feats, it would be surprising not to see his name on an England squad-list in the near-future.
2. Max Clayton – Crewe Alexander
Just eighteen and the latest product of the prestigious Crewe production line, Clayton’s pace, composure and finishing abilities have been likened to a young Michael Owen. With scouts from clubs across the Premiership regular visitors to Gresty Road and Arsenal reportedly preparing a £3m January bid, it seems only a matter of time before the young striker follows former team-mate Nick Powell to England’s top league. If he continues to progress from there, full England honours could well follow in the build up to France 2016.
3. Fraser Forster – Celtic
With the recent dip in form of the previously unflappable Joe Hart, the England goalkeeping position is once again an area for concern. Forster’s form for Celtic this season has been outstanding and his performances in Europe against Barcelona earned him the nickname The Great Wall (La Gran Muralla) in the Spanish press after his heroics enabled a 2-1 victory over the Catalans. Although as yet to win his first full cap, having been involved in three recent match day squads, Forster is beginning to look like a viable alternative if Joe Hart’s current slump continues.
4. Eric Dier – Sporting Lisbon
Since moving to Portugal as a seven year old, Dier has moved with distinction through Sporting’s youth system, famed for producing such talent as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Luis Figo. Another member of a crop of England age-group players raised on a more continental approach, Dier retains all the classic English physicality, but matches it with a comfort on the ball and a range of passing that is as easily applied to a holding role in midfield as it is to his usual centre-back position. Having broken into the Sporting first team in November with back-to-back man of the match performances, the eighteen year old looks set to progress through the England ranks in the near future.
5. Will Hughes – Derby County“To do what he has done at 17-and-a-half just goes to show the potential he has got. He's a level-headed lad and he's kept everything in perspective, which is something we really like about him.”
(Derby manager Nigel Clough)
With the possible exception of Wilfried Zaha, Will Hughes is the most talked about player in the Championship right now. Still only seventeen and linked with a January transfer to most teams in the Premiership as well as being the subject of scouts from Barcelona, it seems only a matter of time before Hughes is a household name. The World Cup in Brazil will probably come too soon for Hughes, but with continued progression he could yet play a major part in England’s progress towards the next European Championship.
6. Joey Barton
What ever you may think of Joey Barton - talented, thug, clown or...er...football’s next gay hero, the fact remains that Barton remains an exceptionally good footballer consistently let down by issues of his own making. At 30, the time has probably passed on his England career, but when you consider Andy Sinton won international recognition twelve times, it makes you wonder how many more caps Barton may have added to his single appearance had he not continually shot himself in the foot.