The curious case of Andros Townsend
Some players just seem to slip seamlessly into international football like a tired foot into a snugly fitting slipper. Other players, while excelling domestically, struggle to even get near the demands of what is required when running around in the white shirt of England – they can’t even slip the darned footwear on, never mind tie the laces. So where does Andros Townsend fit within this painfully extended metaphor?
Close your eyes. Conjure up Andros Townsend playing football. What do you see? A journeyman loanee? Harsh. A sweetly struck spectacular goal? Maybe. But the mind can be deceiving. Try it again but this time for longer than a second or two. Now you see clearly: there he is, bedecked in white, scurrying around, frequently cutting inside and upon reaching the edge of the opposition penalty area, fizzing a low shot wide of the post.
The thing is this: for England, he has notched three goals from seven appearances. Curiously, all have come betwixt and between the 70th and 80th minute. This means he bags a goal every 112 minutes in the white of England. That’s better than Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney. In fact, of big name England strikers, only Jimmy Greaves comes close to matching that strike rate. Of course, with his international career still very much in its infancy, the stats are skewed somewhat and it is highly unlikely that he will maintain such a record.
At domestic level, the stats are less spectacular. Townsend has 14 goals from 108 appearances. He has made 51 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur (including League and Cup games) and in doing so, cut in from wide and scored 12 goals, including a Harry Kanesque five goals in the Europa League. But Townsend, being a young English player at a reasonably big club, has spent time away from White Hart Lane…a lot of time away actually. In nine loan spells, he has 11 goals from a sizeable 87 loan appearances for clubs as diverse as Leyton Orient and Leeds United. This is by no means a bad thing –after all, it didn’t do Kane any harm whatsoever in his quest to become a living embodiment of Roy or the Melchester Rovers.
In his favour, Townsend’s goals seem to be quite spectacular, creating a weird kind of distorting illusion. His goal against the Azzurri in the friendly international at the Juventus Stadium (previously the Stadio delle Alp) raised a few eyebrows, and his effort against Montenegro was no tap in either. Lurking in the vaults too is a stunning dribble and finish from his days at Leyton Orient down at Yeovil Town (another of his loan clubs). But for each eye-catching effort, there are a number of cut inside dribbles resulting in a tame shot wide of goal.
So where does he fit within the England set-up? Currently, there is a wealth of pacey wingers-cum-forwards who love to cut inside and generally shoot wide. Townsend needs to join the queue alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling. Of course, each player listed here has his own quirks and foibles and moreover, some are better defined as a striker than a winger (and some as an old fashioned inside forward). But just when you think that Townsend should be sent to the back of this particular queue to stand on his own, kicking a pebble around the school playground and gazing dolefully at his battered scuffed shoes, one of his mazy cutting inside runs results in him firing a shot not daisy cuttingly wide but actually into the net, and one is left thinking that although it takes him a while to do so, he can competently get his foot into a pair of sensible Clark’s shoes without falling over.
The solution is clear: stick him on for England in the 70th minute and tell him he’s got ten minutes to get the ball out wide, run, cut inside and score. That should do the trick.