I would still take him, you know,’ said one of the radio callers. ‘Just for his experience’.
There was a common theme being played out over the airwaves as I drove into work yesterday morning.
Discussing the imminent announcement of England’s World Cup squad, there were still plenty of people willing to phone in and voice their opinion that boss Gareth Southgate was making a big mistake by not taking Joe Hart.
Of course news of the 75-cap 31-year-old shot-stopper’s omission from the party heading to Russia had already been leaked a day earlier, but there was still some consternation – even among some former players-turned-pundits – that Southgate was about to put his faith in three young goalkeepers.
Sure enough as Southgate announced the squad at 2pm yesterday – the names of Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope were listed in the shot-stopping department.
The trio may only have nine caps between them – with Burnley’s Pope yet to make his international debut – but Southgate made the correct decision to turn his back on Hart.
Deciding whether players should represent their country should – by and large – be judged on performances for their clubs and quite frankly Hart’s form for West Ham United this season has not been good enough.
He has made a number of howlers for the Hammers – so much so that David Moyes has favoured Spain’s Adrian on numerous occasions.
By contrast, Everton’s Pickford, Stoke’s Butland and Pope have all played full seasons for their clubs.
Hart may have 66 more caps than those three combined, but his experience of past major tournaments have hardly been happy affairs.
Indeed, one radio caller – against Hart’s inclusion – argued he had experience all right, but in failure
Although a tad harsh, you can understand the sentiment. At Euro 2016, the Manchester City keeper was at fault for at least two of the four goals England conceded – remember Gareth Bale’s long-range free-kick for Wales?
The big question is who will start between the sticks when England line-up against Tunisia in just under a month’s time at the Volgograd Arena.
It looks like it will be a straight fight between Pickford and Butland. Out of the three, they are the established names but on form Pope has probably outshone both of them this season.
You only have to look at the Clarets’ unbelievable season in the Premier League – and subsequent Europa League qualification – to see that he has been a major part of their success.
However, the smart money is on Pickford, especially in this day and age when a keeper’s skills with their feet are coveted as much as their ability with their hands.
A quick glance at the rest of the squad illustrates Southgate’s obvious intention to use three centre-halves and wing-backs.
The selection however appears to be top-heavy with defenders and a little light on midfielders, especially ones with a creative spark.
While Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Fabian Delph are solid operators, do they have the necessary flair to give their country that little bit extra when it’s needed the most.
I would have preferred to have seen someone like Jack Wishere in the 23-man squad rather than Delph.
Although the Arsenal man has struggled with injuries and fitness issues for much of his career, he provides that little bit of creativity and flair which can unlock defences at the highest level.
Southgate will be relying on Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling to provide the key to unlock defences for arguably our one world-class player, striker Harry Kane.
I am pleased to see Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 23.
A player who can run and commit defenders is something that England have lacked at past major tournaments.