As always when a new manager takes the England helm, they are first really scrutinised and tested by the media and general public before their first match in charge. The first pieces of analysis and often criticism begins in ernest when the new gaffer announces his first squad.
It was no surprise that England football fans waited with baited breath last night for Sam Allardyce’s first squad as the boss of the Three Lions. For the most part, the squad was the same as the one that bombed out of the Euros to Iceland.
There were some changes, though. Ross Barkley was surprisingly dropped, as was (less surprisingly) Jack Wilshere. Danny Drinkwater was brought in, as were Theo Walcott and Phil Jagielka. But most unexpectedly was the addition of uncapped West Ham winger Michail Antonio, who will hope to make his debut against either Slovakia next Sunday in a World Cup qualifier.
Antonio won plenty of admirers in his first Premier League campaign last term, and some even believed he should have been more widely considered by Roy Hodgson for a place in the Euro 2016 squad. However, his inclusion has still come as somewhat of a shock, despite his good form for the Irons. But what will Antonio bring to the England set up?
Firstly, the former Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest man will bring hunger. After starting his career at Tooting & Mitcham United in non-league, the 26-year-old has worked his way up through the divisions. He signed for Reading in 2008, and was loaned out five times, in return for just 28 Royals appearances, before settling down at Hillsborough.
His rise may not be quite as romantic as Jamie Vardy’s, but Antonio is the sort of player who has had to struggle to get where he is today, and an England call up will be seen as something to be savoured and enjoyed rather than a chore and an inconvenience.
Then there is his growing prowess on the pitch. Antonio is an old fashioned winger who loves to run at people, using his strength and pace to burst past defenders and put crosses into the box. The likes of Harry Kane, a strong presence in the air, could really benefit from having someone like Antonio in the team.
Antonio is also pretty handy in the air himself, and since August 2015, has scored the most headers (8) out of any Premier League player. England were often criticised of over playing in the box at the Euros, so the prospect of standing the ball up at the back post for Antonio to power onto could be a fine way for England to score cheap goals.
There have been questions asked about Antonio’s tactical suitability to international football, but this is something that he has improved massively in his one season in the Premier League. Although he has endured some fairly difficult games there, Slaven Bilic has trialled Antonio as a right-back, and although it clearly doesn’t suit him as well as a position on the wing, it has helped him understand and enhance the defensive side of his game. Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker wouldn’t be short of cover with Antonio on the wing in front of them.
Antonio’s inclusion in the squad may suggest that Allardyce is looking to build a more direct England. Whilst many will criticise this decision, the Three Lions simply do not have the ability right now to compete with the likes of France, Germany and Spain on their own terms. It may be considered slightly crude, but Antonio’s power is something England have not trialled on the international stage for some time. Although not the most talented player in the squad he could well be one of the most important.
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