One of the biggest criticisms aimed at former England manager Roy Hodgson was his blind loyalty to certain players who would find themselves in the English squad when previous form did nothing to justify their call up.
Jack Wilshere being picked for the Euro 2016 squad was the glaring example. He had barely played a full game for Arsenal during the 2015/2016 season, mainly due to a consistent string of injuries, resulting in a total lack of full fitness.
Yet despite this, Hodgson, supposedly figuring that a barely match-fit Wilshere would be of more value to England’s efforts than say Premier League title-winning and fully-fit Danny Drinkwater, took the Arsenal midfielder to France, where England put in possibly their worst ever tournament performance.
This isn’t to say that the failures of the team were down to Wilshere. But Hodgson clearly made the wrong choices, and it was his lack of pragmatism in team selection which led to his unceremonious resignation.
Cut to nearly a year and one manager later, and England are beginning to prepare for their next World Cup qualifier, away to Scotland. Former England Under-21 boss Gareth Southgate is now at the helm having been appointed back in November 2016.
The soft-spoken, mild-mannered former England player has been slightly unfortunate to come into the position just at a time when Wayne Rooney, the country’s top goalscorer and arguably the best English player of this generation, is now having questions of his legitimacy in the side constantly asked of him.
What many thought would make it more difficult for Southgate is the piece of elastic material Rooney wears over his upper arm now when he represents his country.
But despite this, Southgate has made the decisions that arguably Hodgson was not courageous enough to make.
A few weeks before England travel to Glasgow to take on fourth place Scotland, it was announced not only that Wayne Rooney would not start, but that he would not be travelling with the squad.
It is not the first time that Southgate has excluded Rooney from the side. Back in October both Southgate and Rooney held a press conference before a qualifier against Slovenia, in which the manager revealed that he had decided to drop his captain.
At the time it was hailed by the press as a highly brave decision. But ultimately, when considered, it is a very easy decision to make for any international manager; if you don’t play well, or play at all for your club, then you don’t deserve to play for your country.
The question of Wayne Rooney could have threatened to become a real issue. He perhaps did not even deserve a place in the Euro 2016 squad – and his performances at the tournament went a long way to solidifying this notion – but England seem to have find just the right man to deal with this issue, which in truth isn’t really as big an issue as is normally propagated by the media.
Southgate has also proved himself not just a punisher of bad form or lack of playing time, but also a rewarder of positive form.
Manchester United youngster Marcus Rashford maintained his place in the squad ahead of the Scotland game after his twelve goals this season. Also, Tottenham full-back Kieran Trippier got his first call up after some very impressive performances this season for the runner-up Premier League team.
David Newman, Pundit Arena