England Fringe Strikers Must Grasp Rare Opportunity
Sunderland forward Darren Bent has a right to feel hard-done-by in terms of his international career. Since making his debut under Sven-Goran Eriksson against Uruguay in March 2006, Bent has won just six more caps. Considering he has scored 65 goals in 147 Premier League appearances since then, you might think he would walk into any international side. However, with the recent international retirement of Emile Heskey, injuries to Jermain Defoe and Bobby Zamora, and Wayne Rooney suffering a lack of minutes whilst fending off allegations about his private life, now is a profitable time to be an England striker.
As Bent trains with England before tomorrow’s Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro, fans might wonder what might have been if the former Tottenham Hotspur man was picked for the World Cup. Even Rooney, once talismanic for his country, only scored one more league goal than Bent last season. The likes of Ian Wright, Andrew Cole and Les Ferdinand were in the same boat as Bent during their international careers. Legendary at their clubs for their goals and always nudging the goalscoring charts, they were all underplayed and misfiring for England.
But that is the pitfall of being a striker at international level. They are of course judged on goals, and with squads announced sometimes three months apart, it is occasionally a case of whoever times their form, and more specifically, their goals. The injured Defoe has seized recent opportunities with both hands, and rejuvenated his side with a brace against the Netherlands, and weighed in with a goal against Slovenia in the World Cup, plus a hat-trick against Bulgaria in Euro 2012 qualifying. With England’s latest saviour missing, this should be even more motivation for Bent to take his chance.
Bent knows how difficult it is to get into the Spurs side as a striker. Peter Crouch has been used as a substitute 18 times in his 44 league appearances for Harry Redknapp’s side. Bent has contrasting fortunes at Sunderland and is a key man for his club. Unlike Crouch, Bent has never been used as a substitute in his 45 appearances for the Black Cats. With five league goals this season, he is the highest English goalscorer in his league, and Crouch has failed to net in four league appearances for Spurs this season.
Heskey may be the reason why Bent has become so undervalued at international level. Whilst Rooney and Bent have been the highest scoring English strikers by far over the last 12 months, Fabio Capello has preferred to use Aston Villa’s Heskey as a physical, rugged, support striker. Strikers have to feel comfortable playing with a certain kind of striker, particularly at international level where games are not as frequent.
This is where Bolton Wanderer’s Kevin Davies comes in. The 33-year-old has committed more fouls than any other player in Premier League history, and his bustling, agricultural style of play may not endear every pundit, but he is an effective go-between striker and integral to Bolton’s game. England’s latest recruit has scored twice this season and clinched one assist, as well as forming a menacing front-line with Johan Elmander.
A lot has been made of Davies’s age and how fortunate a call up is at this stage of his career. Because of this and many other factors, this is a huge chance for him to impress. He is not going to score hatfuls of goals for England, and is not the most glittering, gifted footballer on the planet. However, if he can aid presumably Rooney and hassle the Montenegro defence, who knows how far Davies can go for his country? In the event that Capello continues to favour a big man and a runner upfront, there are few better than Davies.
Newcastle United’s Andy Carroll was another name being spread across headlines in connection with England recognition, after his four goals in seven games at the start of this season. The 21-year-old has time on his side and his shrewd movement coupled with powerful heading have earned him comparisons with Alan Shearer. Another name a little further off the radar is Manchester United’s Michael Owen. His hat-trick against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup was a subtle reminder of his talents. The 30-year-old has not played for England for well over two years, and has been poignantly ignored by Capello. Sometimes, being a striker in the international frame is just about being there at the right time. Portsmouth striker and one-time England cap Dave Nugent will most definitely agree with this.