August 14, 2016
Brandon Austin (17)
TJ Eyoma (16) Jonathan Dinzeyi (16) Joy Mukena (17) Jaden Brown (17)
George Marsh (17) (c)
Sam Shashoua (17) Jack Roles (17) Tashan Oakley-Boothe (16) Keanan Bennetts (17)
Reo Griffiths (16)
Phoenix Patterson (15) for Bennetts, 61.
Aramide Oteh (17) for Roles, 74.
Moroyin Omalabi (16) for Shashoua, 83.
Subs not used:
Nick Tsaroulla (17)
Alfie Whiteman (17)
Southampton Under-18s: Adam Parkes, Connor Langan, Aaron O’Driscoll (c), Harry Hamblin, Jake Vokins, Siph Mdlalose, Ben Rowthorn, Callum Slattery (Will Smallbone 54), Tyreke Johnson (Harlem Hale 75), Archie Thomas, Dan N’Lundulu.
Spurs formally announced their new intake of Academy players this week, with photos and biographies appearing for the following:
Timothy Joel (TJ) Eyoma
The key name missing was Nya Kirby, who is still without a club having turned down a scholarship at Spurs. 16-year old Belgian goalkeeper Jonathan de Bie was not listed, amid rumours of his signing a three-year contract. It will be interesting to see where he fits in or whether the signing will be announced (much like the club took a long time to announce the signings of Miloš Veljković and Nabil Bentaleb).
Four of the first years started on Saturday morning as the team got off to a flier against a decent Southampton outfit.
David Pleat and Paul Mitchell were in attendance on an early afternoon which flitted between overcast and sunny. Keiran McKenna was seemingly not on the Spurs bench, but John McDermott was a big enough presence to make up for his absence.
Spurs lined up with Brandon Austin in goal, behind a back four of TJ Eyoma (normally a centre-back) at right-back, Jon Dinzeyi and Joy Mukena in the centre and Jaden Brown at left back. George Marsh seemed to be the dedicated midfield anchor, with Jack Roles and Tashan Oakley-Boothe ahead; Sam Shashoua and Keanan Bennetts started wide, and Reo Griffiths — prolific last year in the Under-16s — was up front.
Griffiths’ first impact came when he was clearly fouled when playing a cushioned first time pass into the path of Bennetts, who won a corner. This was a facet of the forward’s play throughout, preferring to try to play forward first time or to turn and run, rather than to hold the ball up and wait for support.
Brown advanced up the left and sent in a dangerous ball between defence and goalkeeper, but it trickled away for a goal kick.
Dinzeyi began his battle with the big Southampton forward, Dan N’Lundulu, when he was penalised for a foul — a decision which might have gone the other way had the referee spotted the holding. Tyreke Johnson’s free-kick was headed away by Joy Mukena.
Mukena’s slack pass into midfield put us under pressure, but he got back into position in the nick of time to make up for his error.
A lovely pass from Roles to Griffiths over the top tested his pace but, having got on the end of it, he tried to beat his man, rather than taking the safe option of laying it off to the supporting runners.
Sam Shashoua tricked his way past his man to launch a counter and was cynically fouled by Callum Slattery, who got a talking to from the referee.
Southampton were pressing high and putting our centre-backs under pressure, and it showed. Mukena gave the ball away again, this time chipping it to a Southampton player, as nerves started to show.
A nice one-touch passing move from Spurs led to Bennetts getting into a decent crossing position, but his effort was blocked.
Spurs took the lead when George Marsh played a high pass over the defence; Reo Griffiths latched onto it and was brought down, giving Shashoua the chance to score from the spot, which he didn’t pass up.
Roles showed good strength and determination to hold off three challenges in midfield to hang onto the ball, but soon after sent Mukena chasing after a poor pass which ran out for a throw.
Dinzeyi then gave the ball away and was rescued by his centre-back partner, Mukena, before Dinzeyi did aim a well-flighted long ball forward which Brown couldn’t quite get to.
It should have been 1-1, but N’Lundulu put a chance wide on the turn when in space.
Oakley-Boothe began to drop deep to collect the ball, as Southampton’s pressing began to take its toll. John McDermott wanted the players to move the ball more sharply, repeatedly shouting ‘quicker, quicker’ from the touchline.
Spurs made it 2-0 when Jack Roles’ low shot from the edge of the box was spilled by the Southampton goalkeeper, Adam Parkes. It was an unfortunate error, but reward for Roles’ willingness to test him.
Joy Mukena ventured forward to join the attack and played a wonderful slide-rule pass inside the full-back allowing Shashoua to strike a shot wide across the keeper from a tight angle on the right.
Eyoma made a great interception, latching onto a ball played to the Southampton left, but then gave the ball away sloppily.
Then Keanan Bennetts and George Marsh showed that they were switched on defensively to shepherd an attack into a safe area, with Bennetts seeing it out for a goal kick.
Austin was quick off his line to take the ball off the feet of South African winger, Siph Mdlalose, as he looked to latch on to a through ball.
A great one-two between Roles and Griffiths saw the latter nearly get onto the ball in the six-yard box, but it just evaded him, and then Bennetts crossed too close to the goalkeeper.
George Marsh showed his battling qualities by almost single-handededly forcing an attack out of the box follwing a corner, and then Dinzeyi made a terrific saving challenge after Mukena had been robbed in the box after dallying.
Griffiths held the ball up and won a throw on the right, which was an encouraging sign — he will need to do more of that.
Brown stopped Mdlalose in his tracks with an excellent challenge, and the corner from Johnson forced Austin to punch out for a throw-in.
Bennetts broke forward again for Spurs and found Oakley-Boothe, but he checked and tried an expansive pass to Brown, which he put too much on.
It amused me to hear a Southampton player shouting ‘let’s engage the ball’, which sounded like something he’d overheard from his coaches in training; amongst plenty of effing and blinding, it stood out!
Spurs took a 2-0 lead into half-time and deserved the lead.
Oakley-Boothe found Griffiths and he cut back for Shashoua, who couldn’t connect with a shot. It nearly ran for Eyoma, approaching at the far post, but a defender nipped in.
A clever pass from Griffiths put Oakley-Boothe clear, and he hit the by-line and returned the favour with a fantastic cross, but Griffiths got his feet in a mess and couldn’t put it away at the back post.
Shashoua won a free kick on the edge of the box with great footwork, and he took the kick himself. He shot low but his weak effort was saved.
Griffiths made it 3-0 when finishing a really classy team goal, which all started with some terrific play from George Marsh, and ended with Bennetts playing Griffiths in and the ball being slid beyond the keeper. Top stuff!
Three minutes later Southampton pulled a goal back when their impressive substitute William Smallbone found the bottom corner with a left-footed effort.
Griffiths had a chance to make it 4-1, but snatched at a shot with his left foot when a bit of composure might have seen him score.
15-year old substitute Phoenix Patterson nearly scored in the six-yard box, but needed to lift the ball and instead saw his effort saved low down.
Some great battling from Shashoua on the right saw him lose the ball when being fouled (which the referee didn’t spot), before showing strength and tenacity to win it back with a strong challenge. As he strode away with the ball he was fouled again, and this time the referee pulled back play and admonished the Southampton left-back, Jake Vokins, who told him to eff off!
Shashoua and Patterson linked well to set Griffiths free but it came to little.
Goalkeeper Brandon Austin was required to make a superb save, diving full stretch to his left to prevent a curling effort from Archie Thomas sneaking in at the back post.
Second-year forward, Aramide Oteh, came on for Roles, with Shashoua moving into the middle and Griffiths switching to the right.
Oakley-Boothe went to ground making a challenge to prevent a Southampton shooting opportunity, giving away a free-kick and earning himself a ticking off.
Just as midfield control seemed to have been won by Southampton, holding player Moroyin Omolabi replaced Shashoua to give the midfield some protection for the final few minutes.
Spurs had a wonderful attack on the right when Eyoma and Griffiths liked up effectively to see Grifiths drive into the box and beat his man, but his two crosses were cleared.
Spurs did make it 4-1, though, when Oakley-Boothe played a give-and-go with Griffiths before smashing into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
4-1 was a slightly flattering scoreline, and there were various points where Southampton could have got back into the match. It was an encouraging display, though, with some good individual performances. Some of the ratings below could easily have gone up or down a notch and this was just my perspective. For example, Eyoma was somewhere between a 7 and an 8 for me, Roles and Shashoua were somewhere between a 6 and a 7, with Marsh just a bit better than both overall. Griffiths got a goal and three assists, so you could definitely make a case for an 8, but his overall game was slightly inconsistent (though I do really like the look of him).
Brandon Austin 7 – was nice and alert when he needed to be and made one excellent diving safe. Will have his work cut out this time to get regular game time with Alfie Whiteman his competition.
TJ Eyoma 8 – a very encouraging performance, in which he defended well and also showed ability on the ball. There was one brilliant bit of play in particular which saw him protect the ball in midfield in an almost Dembele-like way.
Jon Dinzeyi 6 – had some nervous moments in possession but did make some very timely interventions.
Joy Mukena 5 – like his centre-back partner he looked edgy at times, and he ended up losing the ball in dangerous areas. Will need to improve on the ball as the season progresses.
Jaden Brown 6 – got up and down the line well, but needed a bit more quality in the final third.
George Marsh 7 – a typically busy, industrious performance. He really reminds me of Scott Parker.
Sam Shashoua 6 – a tidy showing but he did drift out at times. Shashoua is highly-rated, and has trained with the first team, so is one to keep an eye on.
Jack Roles 6 – there were times last season where he looked a little lightweight, but a really solid tackle in midfield showed his bravery and strength. I like the way he keeps it simple and also his ability to time a run into the box.
Tashan Oakley-Boothe 6 – not his best all-round game today, but the late goal showed what a big talent he is. I am very excited to see how he progresses this season.
Keanen Bennetts 5 – Some good early moments, but he drifted out of the match. I’m expecting more from him this season, as he has all of the physical attributes that he needs to be highly effective at this level.
Reo Griffiths 7 – an encouraging match in which he showed a real willingness to run and work for the team. The obvious area for improvement is his work with his back to goal, and this will come over time — he’s a converted winger, so it’s natural that that is not refined at this point. A goal and three assists!
Phoenix Patterson – fascinating to see him included on the bench, and I hope that this is the first of many appearances. See the video below for an insight into his ability.
Aramide Oteh – a bit of a battering ram of a forward, who could be useful in certain circumstances.
Moroyin Omalabi – my first look at him in the flesh, and he looked nice and composed.
Watch back the highlights from our recent Academy Showcase game at Portman Road, where Town's U15s took on Spurs.https://t.co/sfJ1RTx2Yi
— Ipswich Town FC (@Official_ITFC) April 6, 2016
August 7, 2016
I was asked to provide an update on our home grown players and 25-man squad, so without further ado…
Once the transfer window closes in September, we will be required to notify the Premier League of our 25-man squad.
To summarise the rule, as I do each year, we are able to name a 25-man squad if eight of the players are ‘home grown’. We could name fewer than eight home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad — for example, if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. A home grown player is defined as follows:
… one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).
We do not need to name players who are under 21 on our squad list; for the 2016/17 campaign, players considered ‘under 21’ will have been born on or after 1st January 1995.
Since the beginning of last season we have lost three potential ‘home grown’ players (Andros Townsend, Alex Pritchard and Grant Ward) from our squad list. We have added non-home grown players in Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama.
Also, since last season, Eric Dier and Nabil Bentaleb have passed the age threshold and will need to be named in the squad (assuming we keep Bentaleb), whereas last year they were simply included in our list of under-21 players.
Our ‘named’ 25-man squad should consist of the following (* = home grown player):
NB: Federico Fazio is on loan at AS Roma for the season.
We are then able to select any players who were born on or after 1st January 1995 without needing to register them. This means that any of the following (plus the other first and second year academy scholars) would be available for selection. NB: I have presented them in age order.
Filip Lesniak (on loan at Slovan Liberec)
Cameron Carter Vickers
As it stands, we have only 23 players that would need to be included in our squad list, eight of whom are home grown players.
Our squad is in a very healthy situation leading up to the end of the transfer window – we could make a further two signings without worrying about having to ‘make space’ for them, or either of them being home grown.
Of course, some further changes are expected. Clinton Njie, Nabil Bentaleb and Nacer Chadli are likely to leave (either on loan or permanently), with other exits possible. Mauricio Pochettino has said that he will be looking to bring more players in too. With this in mind, I will provide a further update towards the end of the transfer window.
August 6, 2016
I’m not very good at predictions. I lucked out with one about Harry Kane, but last year I said that Nabil Bentaleb would be our main man and that Mousa Dembele should be sold to Sunderland (or the highest bidder). Essentially: I know nothing.
But what I am good at, even if I say so myself, is summing up a moment; of assessing a ‘state’, of distilling my thoughts, and of encapsulating a point in time.
And so I am writing this with exactly that in mind. This is not a set of predictions for me to come back and gloat over, or — more likely, if my record tells me anything — to never mention again. This is an assessment of where we are right now. Because I think a benchmark at the start of the season is useful in order to fairly judge our achievements (or lack of) at the end.
Last season we over-achieved compared to what was expected at the start of the year, and anyone who says otherwise had unrealistic expectations. But, of course, expectations shift as seasons progress, and that’s fine. Once we got into the title race (it still feels strange to be writing that), and got into a position where we looked on course to finish above Arsenal, a large proportion of fans expected that. Rightly, because we’d become that good. But when benchmarked against pre-season expectations, we had little right to make those assumptions, regardless of the mid-season shift. Periods of bad form are just as normal as periods of good form.
So where are we? We’re good. We’re really good! We’re an excellent team now, and there’s no reason to think that we won’t be better in the coming season, having added Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen to the squad, and having a bunch of youngsters that have grown and developed along the way.
But here’s the rub. Most of the top half of the Premier League under-performed last time out. New managers, new players, millions spent — surely they’ll deliver, or some of them at least. Manchester United should be good, though there’s something that makes me doubt them; Jose Mourino lost his swagger at Chelsea, became desperate and made mistakes. Liverpool will take another stride under Jurgen Klopp, but their squad still has weaknesses. I can’t help but feel that Manchester City and Chelsea will be back to their old selves, given the riches and talent available to them. I like Antonio Conte, and Pep Guardiola is supernatural. It feels unfair to leave out Leicester City, but I just don’t think they’ll be anything like last season’s Leicester City. And Arsenal? So much depends on their transfer window activity.
But we’re established. It wasn’t just Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer having their break-out Premier League seasons last year; you could argue that Mousa Dembele and Erik Lamela did too. Josh Onomah and Harry Winks have now had a full year of training with the first team. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Marcus Edwards and Kyle Walker-Peters are poised and just about ready to break through. Another year older, another year more experienced, another year more accustomed to Mauricio Pochettino’s style.
A case for any position from 3rd to 6th can be made, and the justifications can all be made to seem plausible. Anything above or below those positions would be a surprise, but then achieving 3rd last season was a surprise too — we were ahead of the programme. Ultimately what I am saying is that I will not be calling for Pochettino’s head should we finish 6th, and nor will I be getting over-excited if we finish 3rd again.
Fans expect year-on-year improvement, but with the money sloshing around, plus the number of under-achievers last year, that may not be viable. In a way, we’ll need to benchmark our achievements against ourselves, rather than against others. And, indeed, one of my two main hopes for the season is that performances don’t regress from last season (the other being that we do not embarrass ourselves in the Champions League…). It sounds as though I’m making excuses for us: I’m not. Well, maybe a little. We’re as good as or better than most of the top 6, despite having a far lower wage bill, but many of those teams have scores to settle, and will be extra-motivated to settle them. We will be in fierce competition for the top four, whilst trying to compete in the Champions League for the first time in five years — it will be tougher, and we will need to be patient.
We need to show that last season was not a freak, and that we are as good as we were for much of the campaign. With a little individual and team progression we can finish in the top four again. And there are progressions to be made in other areas too: particularly with our youngsters.
We have, arguably, our best ever crop of youngsters coming through. Josh Onomah and Harry Winks are now seen as established squad members, but we have barely seen the tip of the iceberg where those two are concerned. Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters and Edwards will push for minutes (and, judging on pre-season, so might Shayon Harrison, Will Miller, Luke Amos and Anton Walkes!). Not only is the team moving in the right direction, the squad is too. We have an excellent starting XI, have improved our back-ups, and now have genuinely viable youngsters amongst them. With another month of potential transfer activity, and Pochettino hinting at more signings, this situation should only get better.
Being under the radar and having the pressure off us a little can only be helpful; not only is it the way that I prefer us to operate, but I think Pochettino enjoys it too. The only times he seemed flustered last season were when the pressure was on. With expectation levels low, we can go about our business in a workmanlike fashion, until it becomes impossible to ignore us.
It’s far easier to enjoy a football season without the added pressure, and I think that’s one of the things that made last season so great. We weren’t in the title race until late on, and so there was no need to feel anxious or stressed — instead, we were able to enjoy each match for what it was, with some wonderful football to watch along the way.
So, without further caveats, here are my predictions/benchmarks to look back on in May — leave yours in the comments!
Premier League: 4th
Champions League: Progression from the group stage as runners-up, but eliminated in the first knock-out stage.
FA Cup: Quarter-finals
League Cup: Winners
Player of the Year: Toby Alderweireld (with a 15-goal and 15-assist Erik Lamela a close second)
Young Player of the Year: Dele Alli (I can’t believe he’s this good at 20)
June 30, 2016
At the beginning of the summer I was expecting numerous Development Squad players to be released in order to clear the decks for more promising younger players. This was a little hasty, and I’ll explain why.
In a recent player update, the club confirmed that young professional Emmanuel Sonupe was released at the end of his contract, and that Under-18s Armani Daly, Charlie Hayford and Chris Paul were released at the end of their scholarships. Paul has signed a one-year professional contract at QPR (congratulations to him), whilst the others — as of today — have not yet found new clubs.
The 32 senior clubs that qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, as well as the 32 domestic youth champions are all entered into the ‘UEFA Youth League‘, which is a sort of Youth Champions League. This is a competition for Under-19 players, and for next season players are eligible to play in the competition if they were born on or after 1 January 1998. To give you an idea of what this means for Spurs, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kyle Walker-Peters and Shayon Harrison miss the cut, but Zenon Stylianides, Shilow Tracey, Kazaiah Sterling and Marcus Edwards are all eligible.
The rules also allow up to three players born on or after 1 January 1997 (i.e. three players a year older) to be included on the list of 40 players, so long as they fulfil various other conditions.
The regulations also state ‘Any player who is fielded in three or more UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League matches (as of the group stages of those competitions) in the course of the 2016/17 season ceases to be eligible to play in the UEFA Youth League’. So we will need to be a little clever with the three overage players that we register; if there is any chance of Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters and/or Harrison playing first-team football, there is no point in registering them.
Chelsea won this competition last year, and in doing so they played 10 matches, so it’s fair to say that it’s a tournament with a substantial number of games.
In addition to this, it is likely that we will enter the English Football League Trophy, formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (but currently without a sponsor for the forthcoming season).
For a one-year trial, the tournament has been adapted so that as well as all League One and League Two clubs, it will include 16 category one academy sides.
The format will see 16 regional groups of four teams where the top two progress. I believe that this means it would be an 11-match run to the final consisting of: six group matches, Round of 32, Round of 16, Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, Final.
As a slight aside, this change has not gone down well with fans of League One and Two clubs, with the Football Supporters’ Federation recently releasing a statement saying that academy sides entering “undermines the integrity of the competition”. Personally, I wouldn’t be happy if a cash-rich Academy side potentially stood between my club and a Wembley appearance/prize money.
It is — as yet — unclear as to whether Spurs will enter this competition, and there are reasons not to, as this article by a Liverpool fan site underlines:
These reasons include not being able to play anyone registered in the first team squad of 25 players, and that all games are to be played during the international breaks.
Therefore, Liverpool – and other Premier League clubs – will lose all their youth internationals as well as anyone in and around the first-team squad.
That would leave the Reds with a handful of players, plus U17 or schoolboys – being played up against full first-teams of players aged 10 years older than them.
Had the competition been more thought out and planned correctly, it would have been a good opportunity for Liverpool’s young players to get competitive football.
If, as expected, Spurs participate in this tournament as well as the three others, the load will be significant for our Academy, and so it quickly becomes obvious why we have not shed what I consider to be the ‘deadwood’.
By my calculations, we have just under 40 players to cover these tournaments; that does not include the new academy intake (which should be somewhere between nine and twelve players), nor does it take into account loans and first-team promotions.
As I mentioned in a previous article, Spurs have very clearly changed their loan policy over the past few years, with numbers dropping off significantly from around 30 loan deals eight years ago, to roughly a third of that now – see The Spurs Report’s piece on this for more detailed information. If we assume that there will be between five and eight loans at any one time, that narrows the pool. If, as the Liverpool site said, the EFL Trophy matches are played during international breaks, that pool is narrowed further — we have a fairly high proportion of youth internationals.
Given the late return of players from the European Championships, we can expect the youngsters on the fringes of the first team squad (Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters, Harry Winks), plus the returning loanees (Grant Ward, Dominic Ball, Connor Ogilvie) to be to be involved in the early first-team pre-season friendlies, and we have seen in the past how players can use that opportunity to put themselves in the first-team squad picture.
It is going to be very tough to navigate through four competitions with a relatively small squad of players to select from, and I think there will be a number of repercussions from this:
- A negative: I don’t think we will perform particularly well in the English Football League Trophy or Under-21 Premier League, with an added caviat that we might do better if next year’s second year Academy players are heavily involved (and that is tricky, as a number of them will be playing Under-18 and UEFA Youth League games). A proportion of the players that played a lot of the Under-21 games last season are not good enough to break through to the first team, and are not showing enough signs of progress.
- A positive: I expect one or two players to make an unexpected breakthrough. There are players who will get exposure to more game-time at a higher level than they otherwise might have had, and who just needed that chance to have a run in the team (be that Under-18, Under-19 or Under-21).
- A final thought: perhaps we will sign some Under-21 players to help bolster the squads at different age groups. Or perhaps we’ll see us borrow players, like when we saw Ipswich’s Kundai Benyu play in the NextGen Series with us in May.
In the coming days we should have confirmation of the new academy intake and news on whether we are participating in the EFL Trophy; it will be interesting to see if Spurs release any type of statement on this, which might inform us to how this will be managed.
Interesting times of change ahead in the world of youth football.
June 18, 2016
During the England vs Wales match on Thursday, my Twitter-friend Dan Rattigan tweeted ‘England don’t deserve Kane’. I chortled to myself in the pub, hit the retweet button, and carried on my day. But then I came back to it later that night and realised how much it had resonated with me.
England don't deserve Kane
— Dan Rattigan (@djrattigan) June 16, 2016
Of course I’m a Harry Kane apologist; I’m a Spurs fan. So here are my excuses on his behalf.
Before this tournament I was feeling grumpy, because I didn’t want to share Harry with other football fans — particularly those casuals who only show up when a big tournament comes around. So I should be happy, right, that I’m not having to? You’d think. Quiet in the first match, and hauled off at half-time against Wales, the backlash has begun, and I’m feeling like a protective boyfriend whose partner has just had her backside groped in a grotty nightclub.
Kane looks sluggish, and it doesn’t take too much digging to understand why. The Daily Mail (*spits*) did some really useful analysis (I know, me either) of the number of matches Kane has played over the last two years.
It’s understandable that Kane looks tired.
But has Kane really been that bad? He’s been quiet, certainly. He’s not had much of the ball, he’s had no presentable chances, and he has not looked much of a goal threat.
On Thursday, Kane had just 13 touches in his 45 minutes; that’s not like him. Normally he is so involved, creating a platform for his team to play from. And yet Jamie Vardy only had seven touches in his time on the pitch. Vardy came on, scored a poachers goal from a position that would often have been offside and is spoken of as a hero, with fans in pubs across the country considering the alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs that may or may not be on offer at his upcoming soirée.
Whilst the other ‘super sub’, Daniel Sturridge, played 1700 minutes last season compared to Kane’s 4027. He’s fresher, looks sharp, and should be used. I’m sure he will be now, having come on and scored an impressive last-minute winner.
But I have no doubt that Kane would have buried the chance that Vardy scored to bring England level. And I have no doubt that had Kane remained on the pitch with either Sturridge or Vardy, he’d have had a positive impact in that second half.
The bigger issue, for me, has been the lack of service for the forward(s). Much of that can be put down to Raheem Sterling — bereft of confidence and looking a shadow of his former self — but even England’s better attacking performers (Wayne Rooney, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana) have failed to provide Kane and co with many clearcut chances.
Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think that England have generally played well, looking structurally sound, and conceding few chances in open play. They have played some neat and tidy football, which has been eye-catching at times, and a bit too side-to-side at others. We must remember, though, that the teams we have played so far have defended deep and in numbers, and it is never easy to penetrate sides that do that, as Spurs often found out last season.
For the Slovakia game I’d be looking at starting Sturridge and Vardy, but only to give Kane a bit of a break. Bring him on in the final twenty against tired legs, and hopefully he’ll get a goal to pep him up ahead of the next round. I would absolutely start him thereafter, because he’s our best forward. But I do think that he will need Sturridge and/or Vardy on the pitch with him, or for Alli to play high on the left as he did for Spurs for much of the season. Essentially, he needs someone to play off.
England don’t deserve Kane because ‘they’ don’t know how to love him like ‘we’ do.
Final thought. If you only read one thing today (other than this!), read this masterpiece about Eric Dier by Barney Ronay.