England. Gareth Southgate. Those sofa riding bandits. The lot of ’em. Their treatment of Danny Drinkwater last week was a disgrace. The threats of his England career being over. His World Cup hopes dashed. They were as much ridiculous as pathetic.
Drinkwater didn’t deserve any of that. And Saturday at the Hawthorns (and Old Trafford) was all the proof we needed. Drinkwater’s decision to turn down Southgate’s England call was justified. Another 25 minutes helping his manager earn three points at West Brom. That’s two wins from two appearances for the midfielder. And an hour later? Phil Jones. The injury-plagued Phil Jones. The defender who before Saturday had played in the past 11 Premier League games for Manchester United. Well, that run was ended. He was out of the squad for Newcastle. All thanks to Southgate, England and SIX injections from their medical team. Against Germany, he barely made the midway point of the first-half before hobbling off. All that encouragement. The hope of years of injury woes now in the past. Well, that’s over. And for what? A friendly? Against a German fringe XI? Who’s fooling who here?
When Southgate volunteered that Drinkwater had turned down selection, it was pitchfork time. Chris Sutton, the former Chelsea striker, said it’d prove the “biggest mistake of his career”.
“Drinkwater’s chances of playing at the World Cup are surely over and future England managers – never mind Southgate – will not want to touch him,” declared Sutton.
Ex-England captain Alan Shearer went further, making it personal.
“Going forward he is not the sort of person I would want in my squad. Given that attitude he shouldn’t be picked again,” said the Geordie. “It is England v Germany at Wembley for crying out loud.”
So let’s get this straight. We have a player who chose to leaveManchester United to play regularly. Who, after years in the Championship, worked his way back to the elite. Landed a dream move to Chelsea. Arrived injured. Made his Premier League debut two months into the season. Did not appear in the post-match warm down over injury concerns. Gets an England call within hours. For two FA money-spinning friendlies. Declines over concerns about his calf. And yet, his “attitude” is being questioned? What parallel universe is Southgate and these pundits living in?
Of course Drinkwater was right to turn down selection. His manager has only seen up close on the Cobham training pitches. Indeed, Antonio Conte and Drinkwater has mixed more in the club’s medical room than out on the grass. And in a midfield that also boasts N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas, Drinkwater needs to offer Conte every sign of his commitment to the cause.
Drinkwater is at a new club trying to make his way. To build relationships. Find his place in the system. The idea that after finally making his debut, he nicks off to St George’s Park – against the recommendation of the club’s fitness staff – would have set him further back than any injury in Conte’s mind.
Forget about Drinkwater letting down Southgate. It was the England coach who threw the player overboard. With the stands emptying, every member of the media at Stamford Bridge after the United win knew Drinkwater hadn’t appeared for the warm down. He wasn’t 100 per cent. He was still working his way back – as he was at the Hawthorns on Saturday. So the focus really should’ve been on Southgate – and not Drinkwater. Why call up a player in such circumstances? If he can’t get through a full 90, why mess him around like that?
This column would argue Roy Hodgson contributed to his downfall at last summer’s Euros by not including Drinkwater in his squad. More successful national team coaches like Vicente del Bosque have long argued the international game is about club combinations. It was a massive blunder by Hodgson not to see the proven potential of the Drinkwater and Jamie VardyLeicester City link-up in France.
That partnership is still available to England. And to Southgate. If Drinkwater can establish himself at Chelsea this season, he should be on the plane to Russia. The choice to overlook him would only come from spite.
Drinkwater made the right decision declining England’s call. Southgate should be offering him assurances – a carrot – as he works his way back to full fitness. Something the England coach currently cannot do with a certain defender from Manchester United.