Downing decision shows Hodgson’s England door is open to others
Stewart Downing’s recall after almost a two-and-a-half-year absence from England duty sends out a clear message from national boss Roy Hodgson. Play well and you will be considered for selection.
Only Chelsea and Spain star Cesc Fabregas has created more Premier League scoring chances than West Ham United’s Downing, who has enjoyed a new lease of life playing at the head of a midfield diamond under Sam Allardyce this season.
Hodgson said of Downing: “He’s had a tremendous resurgence of form. I think it was the right time to ask him to come back.” England are 14/1 chances with Coral to win Euro 2016 outright.
Pace is an asset the player has never possessed, so the Hammers’ change of tack to more mobile strikers in Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia fits Downing, 30, like a glove. With a diamond formation en vogue for Hodgson in recent England matches, calling up names that are excelling in such a tactical set-up at club level makes perfect sense.
While the Three Lions boss may be giving that off the front position to national captain Wayne Rooney, behind a new-look and pacy front two of Danny Welbeck and maiden inclusion Saido Berahino, Downing offers an alternative. All he has to do is replicate his West Ham form for his country, by threading balls through in the channels, and there’s an England future for him.
Selected for Euro 2012 by Hodgson without getting on, Downing was last capped in a pre-tournament preparation friendly against Norway. Now he has the opportunity to potentially strut his stuff against Slovenia and bitter rivals Scotland.
It is also notable that 33-year-old holding midfielder Michael Carrick has returned to the fold, despite Hodgson leaving the Manchester United player out of his World Cup squad.
Fabian Delph’s injury and doubts surrounding Jack Wilshere may have had been contributory factors, but Carrick’s Three Lions inclusion comes off the back of a mere 48 minutes of Premier League football upon his return from injury.
Hodgson knows there is dearth in deeper-lying berths. “Michael has been fit and available for a while,” the England boss added. “He was fit for our last matches but it’s taken him now to break back into the team. he plays in a position where we don’t have a lot of options as a defensive midfielder to be fair and he is one of the best exponents of that art.”
The base of Hodgson’s diamond needs to be solid and, while at this moment in time that anchorman position lacks a clear and natural long-term option, Carrick can certainly use all his experience to instil confidence in younger squad members. Marauding full backs like Calum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw will be pressing on ahead of him, so his sitting presence is welcome cover.
With natural width out of fashion in this current England set-up, it will come as no surprise to see the consistent Premier League performers from Swansea City ignored yet again. Diminutive duo Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge remain outsiders looking in, while midfielder Jonjo Shelvey has dropped out.
Hull City pair Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore will perhaps be ruing missing out on group stage Europa League football. Had they been involved in continental competition proper, then one or other may have been a go-to option instead of Carrick.