With England’s World Cup squad set to be announced any time now (at the time of writing of course) the major news is that West Ham goalkeeper Joe Hart and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere have been left out of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad boarding the plane to Russia this summer. Speculation has been rife in recent months about the identity of the three goalkeepers Southgate would be taking to the World Cup with him, and it would appear that Hart is the one to miss out with Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope the three keepers of choice. This should of course bode well for the future, with Pope the oldest of the three at just 26.
Hart has really struggled to retain his stature in the game since Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Man City two years ago. Prior to the Spaniard being appointed, Hart seemed the easy first choice keeper for both club and country, but he struggled with life under Guardiola and soon moved to Serie A, joining Torino on loan for the season. After an underwhelming spell in Italy, he returned to England, representing West Ham in the current campaign on a similar loan deal. The problem is, he has struggled to really establish himself at either of these two clubs either, and now his place in the national team now finally seems to have gone by the wayside as well. This isn’t a personal attack on Joe Hart – he has always represented himself well and comes across as both articulate and intelligent – but with a World Cup approaching the man between the sticks needs to be assured.
Despite Pope being the oldest keeper of the three he is also the least experienced, having arguably enjoyed his breakthrough season in the campaign which has just finished. Injuries to regular Burnley stopper Tom Heaton – another player with England caps under his belt – has provided him the opportunity to spend some quality time in the first team, and he has grasped his opportunity with a safety he also enjoys when catching crosses. Pickford, too, has only really been in the limelight for two seasons – last season as an emerging, exciting young keeper at eventually relegated Sunderland, before a £30m move to Everton highlighted his international pedigree with some fine performances in warm ups and friendlies.
Butland, one would imagine, will likely go to Russia as first choice, but in Pickford and Pope there is plenty of competition to keep the Stoke stopper on his toes. Then again, of the three keepers Pope has had the best season, yielding 57 points.
Wilshere’s omission was perhaps somewhat more obvious, and indeed on this week’s episode of the Euro Fantasy League Podcast we discussed whether the Arsenal man has really warranted a place in the squad after a pretty lacklustre season. He does show flashes of quality on the ball, and at times can light up an otherwise dull match, but he hasn’t performed anywhere near the level he can or that which is required, and certainly not consistently enough.
Gareth Southgate’s decisions here could prove key for England – but Three Lions fans across the globe will be praying they turn out for the better.
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