The international break has returned once again to put the exciting emergence of a new Premier League season on pause. After four wins from their first four UEFA Euro Qualifiers, England have recently fallen to a surprise defeat against the Czech Republic, followed by a convincing win over Bulgaria, albeit one marred by numerous racist incidents.
Despite that blip in Prague, Gareth Southgate helms an exciting young team who will want to build on their success at the 2018 World Cup.
Headlines have hitherto focused on the big names omitted from Southgate’s squad selections – namely Kyle Walker, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli – as the Three Lions’ boss has shown the ability to drop established stars despite their efforts in a heroic dash to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia.
It is also clear that Southgate is not averse to giving new players a go in the England setup. He has provided debuts to players of smaller clubs: James Tarkowski, Lewis Dunk and Callum Wilson, of Burnley, Brighton and Bournemouth respectively, have all represented their country for the first time under the current regime.
The present squad contains a previously uncapped trio of Dean Henderson, Tyrone Mings and Fikayo Tomori. Southgate evidently wants to experiment, and it is time that his experiment included the homegrown talent of Newcastle United.
The players of Newcastle United may not initially sound overly attractive or at all necessary to the national team, considering the youth, depth, and breadth of the country’s current talent pool. After all, the Magpies are not flying – under Steve Bruce’s uninspiring stewardship the north-east club sit eighteenth in the Premier League, with just two wins from the opening nine games of what looks to be another dismal season at St. James’ Park.
However, it is easy to forget the recent achievements of the Toon. Rafa Benitez ushered the club to tenth and thirteenth-placed finishes in the last two seasons, with distinctly average players such as Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon stepping up and firing the Geordies to safety.
Newcastle have developed a squad of solid, honest, Premier League-proven pros despite the criminal parsimony of owner Mike Ashley, and they have claimed the scalps of Arsenal and Manchester City in recent seasons, with victories over Spurs and Manchester United coming in this campaign.
It is also easy to forget that this is a squad built on English foundations. Newcastle’s English players have the ability to greatly improve all aspects of the national side’s performances. This argument will focus on four main points: defence, midfield, attack, and youth.
Firstly, Jamaal Lascelles in defence – the backbone and foundation of any great national team. England has always produced great centre halves in the modern era – Moore, Campbell, Terry, Ferdinand – but the current cohort of Harry Maguire, John Stones, and new arrivals Mings and Tomori is suspect.
Lascelles is a born leader, becoming the Magpies’ captain at the tender age of 22. He has endeared himself to the Toon Army with consistently rock-solid performances at the heart of a fearless five-man defence, a system similar to that preferred by Southgate in Russia last summer. The uncapped Lascelles would add some much-needed steel to a soft English backline prone to error, as seen in the recent semi-final of the UEFA Nations League against the Netherlands.
Next, Jonjo Shelvey in midfield. England’s midfield right now is lacklustre – Declan Rice, Harry Winks, and Ross Barkley provide little in terms of international pedigree or domestic consistency.
While Shelvey’s is a career admittedly plagued by fits, starts and moments of madness, his talent is undeniable. He is among the best passers in the Premier League, and he is certainly England’s most gifted player in this department.
The former Liverpool man could play a previously unfilled Pirlo-esque quarterback role for England, supplying the killer ball when required. At just 25 and 27 years-old respectively, Lascelles and Shelvey have a lot to offer Southgate’s Lions.
Then, there is Andy Carroll in attack. The Gateshead-born frontman is coming to the end of a career blighted by injury, and has returned to his boyhood club with a fresh, improved attitude to football. He has always been part of the England conversation, and the case for Carroll remains much the same: he offers something completely different to England’s other forwards. His physical presence is unmatched, and he would be a lethal option for Southgate when facing the deep blocks of smaller national teams.
Finally, there is the youth of Newcastle United. Sean and Matty Longstaff, hailing from North Shields, partnered each other in midfield and orchestrated a 1-0 victory over Manchester United last week, with 19-year-old Matty scoring on his Premier League debut. Perhaps it is premature, but the two seem to possess real talent, with older brother Sean already drawing comparisons to the imperiously calm Michael Carrick. Perhaps the two Geordies would deserve a chance in the England setup with a season of first-team football under their belts.
Southgate’s team might not have any obvious gaping holes to fill, but that does not mean that he should rest on his laurels. There are plenty of uncapped players for him to choose in his next England squad, and several of them happen to be located in the city of Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne. Newcastle United’s English contingent can add fresh dimensions to Southgate’s England, now and in the future.
Image: Hannah Robinson