The first place to look on this topic is behind us, to the last 2 England tournament squads in particular. Starting with Fabio Capello’s 2010 England squad that took on the world in South Africa (the world won, incidentally) we can see that 11 of the 23 players played for a club that finished in the top 4 that season (Joe Hart played was on loan at Birmingham that year). Broadening to the top 7 we see that 19 of the 23 played for either Man U, Man C, Arsenal, Liverpool, Villa, Spurs or Champions Chelsea.
At first glance this may seem fair enough, the strength of the club is a decent reflection on the squad. For example, 4 of the 6 best defences in the league have defenders in the England squad; also all of the strikers come from the top 6 in the Premiership.
But it does seem that club finish bears little impact on the goalkeeper selection, David James’ Portsmouth finished bottom, Rob Green’s West Ham 17th and although Joe Hart had a strong season in a very good 9th-placed Birmingham side, he didn’t get near the starting XI at the tournament.
Let’s see if this rings true for 2012, where goalkeepers were once again Joe Hart and Rob Green with young Jack Butland joining them after John Ruddy (who we’ll focus on as the real third choice) was injured. Green was down in the Championship, Ruddy had been part of the joint 17th-worst defence in the Premiership while Hart was in the PFA team of the year as a Champion. This inevitably made Hart first choice, based on his individual and club success. But still we see the club still has effect on picking a keeper as with Paul Robinson and Ben Foster both unavailable there seemed to be a real dearth of talent back then, forcing Hodgson to delve deeper into the 92. As has been written on this site, hopefully this is a position that has been solved by this tournament.
This may mean that this tournament the club’s fortunes may have a clearer impact on selecting a keeper, in which case expect Hart to be joined by John Ruddy and Fraser Forster (as things stand).
Looking elsewhere in 2012 no outfield player came from outside the top 8 of the Premiership. This may seem surprising, but with Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry injured it seemed this cuts deeper than the skin. Omissions from this squad included Norwich’s 15-goal Grant Holt behind Liverpool flop Andy Carroll and Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand (United finished 2nd). While questions were asked of selecting Stewart Downing, as well as the inexperienced but top-8 players Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones. It continues to appear from this squad that your club really does matter, something many fans have argued during the Hodgson era.
Putting such a formula into this year’s tournament and it looks to be bad news for many England hopefuls in the lower reaches of the table. Namely Adam Johnson, Saido Berahino, Fraizer Campbell, Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Ben Foster, Andy Carroll, Tom Huddlestone and Gary Hooper etc.
Of course, player form, experience and position all have an effect- along with contextual factors that may seem unobvious now- but an England squad that picks the likes of Cleverley, Welbeck, Lennon, Glen Johnson, Frank Lampard and the like may end up being down to their appearances in a top club’s shirt.
And why should that be the case? Scoring for a team that doesn’t have the supply lines of Manchester United or Liverpool is surely harder than scoring for, say, Sunderland against such strong teams. Also, for goalkeepers surely a good save is a good save, a mantra which relates to Championship options such as Green.
Personally I can only put this down to pressure- the performing under which is an important trait for any England player. There is a reason fans consider ‘performing at the highest level’ to be the ultimate test of a player, but the Premiership is the pinnacle domestic league, and while who knows what will happen between now and that squad announcement from Roy, it seems that those lower down in the table have to do more than ever to book a seat on the plane to Rio.