Roy Hodgson’s 24 man squad to face Germany and the Netherlands this week contains a welcome surprise and an unwelcome omission.
The inclusion of Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater is richly deserved following a tremendous season that has seen the former Manchester United graduate establish himself as one of the Premier League’s foremost box-to-box operators. His team-mates Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez may have dominated the back page plaudits but it is the 26 year old’s craft and graft alongside the endless endeavour of Kante in the centre that’s been the 5-star petrol in the tank as Leicester continue on their amazing adventure.
The omission on the other hand was to be frank entirely expected. Mark Noble simply doesn’t receive international recognition and in recent years that has become an irritating fact that is seemingly set in stone. Quite why this is so perplexes and to some former players – who have been there, worn the t-shirt and know empirically what they’re talking about – it outright annoys. Ex-Hammer Paul Ince showed his frustration this week in a newspaper interview and he is certainly not alone is wondering why the East Londoner remains uncapped at the highest level.
Noble has put in consistently outstanding displays in 2015/16 and been the driving force behind the Hammers challenge for a top four spot. Like Drinkwater he is happy for others to grab the acclaim, in his case the superb Payet and the Irons’ array of attacking threat that have terrorised defences all season. Make no mistake about it however that it is Noble’s repeated bossing of higher regarded midfield opponents that has been a significant factor in Slaven Bilic’s team risking vertigo. His energy levels are astonishing. His nous and game intelligence up there with the very best.
Let’s be kind on the England boss for a moment and suggest that two debutants in a brace of friendlies just months ahead of a major tournament might have been a push. Yet by the same token if Hodgson doesn’t know what the off-form James Milner and out-of-sorts Jordan Henderson can do by now we may as well pack up our three lions kitbag and go home. The Liverpool pair are shoo-ins for the final Euros squad and their versatility and international experience will prove to be very useful. With two months of the season still to play however injuries are a realistic concern – for Milner, Henderson, or any of the other midfielders expected to be selected. What then for the management? Throw Noble in with precisely no minutes of game-time in an England shirt playing alongside personnel he has zero knowledge of as regards to their movement and instincts? That is not ideal and quite frankly we prefer our gambles to be fun and free rather than potentially costly.
There is another factor too that should be acknowledged. Noble is a highly accomplished penalty taker and indeed in 2014 was in the top five across all of Europe. With one substitution remaining and deep into extra-time with spot kicks looming he would be exactly the man England would want to call upon should this summer’s tournament follow what has now become tradition.
So what more can Mark Noble do to earn an overdue England call-up? Answers on a postcard please. Address it to FA headquarters.