With the announcement of the England squad, there were a few surprise inclusions in the form of youngsters Andros Townsend and Ross Barkley, with most of the remaining players included as expected. However, one potential area of weakness is in the centre of defence. With the lack of a real leader in the heart of the Three Lions’ rearguard, should Tottenham skipper Michael Dawson feel aggrieved not to be named in the contingent?
In days past England could rely on commanding figures such as John Terry or Rio Ferdinand to organise the team’s back four, be vocal in their communication and inspire by their actions.
However, the four central defenders in Roy Hodgson’s latest squad do not have the same stature as the afore-mentioned veterans. The British side will field two of Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine.
Although these Premier League players should be good enough to deny the limited attacking abilities of Moldova and negotiate an away day in Ukraine, with a World Cup less than a year away Hodgson needs to assess his options.
Michael Dawson has played a significant role in Tottenham’s progress over the last 12 months, but flown under the radar slightly with others capturing the limelight. With defensive partner Jan Vertonghen certainly more comfortable on the ball and impressing in his debut campaign in England, Dawson’s role in Spurs’ record Premier League point total last season has been understated, but should not be overlooked.
Although Vertonghen adds a touch of class and his technique catches the eye, Dawson is Tottenham’s talisman and adds brawn and a no-nonsense approach to the team’s defence. He is a leader on the pitch, puts his body on the line in every game he plays and wins the lion’s share of his battles against Premier League forwards.
Dawson’s future in north London was under threat shortly after André Villas-Boas took charge at White Hart Lane, but the Portuguese manager will be mightily glad he kept the former Nottingham Forest man now. The 29-year-old’s positional play and marking at set-pieces, weaknesses in his game in his early days at Spurs, have improved dramatically. He regularly displays the passion and commitment to be a real leader for Tottenham, which could be an asset for his country.
Although Jagielka, Cahill and Jones’ inclusion is justified, Chris Smalling’s presence is slightly confusing. The Manchester United man, when fit and able, is an accomplished player with a bright future for club and country. However, his chances to play at Old Trafford of late have been very limited.
While Dawson has been leading Tottenham to back-to-back clean-sheet wins this season, Smalling has been sitting on the United bench. The former Fulham man has not played one single minute of Premier League action this season, yet he is included in the national squad – something doesn’t add up.
Smalling was plagued with injuries last season and only managed 15 appearances, 10 of those in the starting XI, for United in the league. The versatile defender looked really promising in the early days of his career at Old Trafford, but has not displayed the same form, largely due to injuries, since 2011-12.
There is an argument that the United man’s versatility could cover right back, but with Phil Jones, Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker in the squad there is no need for Smalling to play there.
It appears that Hodgson has selected Smalling in the squad on past performances from over a year ago, and on reputation, not current form. Dawson is in his pomp and deserves a chance on the international stage, while Smalling has been sitting on the United bench.
With a lack of real leaders and authority at the back for England, Tottenham’s inspirational captain Dawson is much more likely to provide it than an out-of-favour Smalling.