Under another manager, in a different era, Glenn Murray would have been in England’s World Cup squad. On form alone last season, it would have been hard to argue with such a decision.
Murray scored 12 Premier League goals in 2017/18. That’s more than Alvaro Morata, Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli and just one fewer than Gabriel Jesus. Brighton’s impressive campaign leant on Murray.
Chris Hughton’s side was not just reliant on his end product, though. Murray’s contribution is much greater, acting as a focal point and general nuisance. His 12 goals were invaluable, of course, but his ability to occupy defenders and create space for his teammates was vital. Pascal Gross, a fantasy football favourite who scored seven and assisted eight last season, was the main beneficiary of this. Murray assisted four of Gross’ league goals.
The intrigue with Murray is that he does not excel at much. He’s not the biggest or strongest – and definitely not quickest – but he finds space better than the majority of other Premier League forwards. It’s all in the mind. Whether a timely nudge to win an aerial duel or a well-timed run, Murray is a challenge to stay close to. He is a great example that football is not all about physical attributes, or even technical ones.
There are strikers, plenty of them in fact, who have the tools to do what Murray does. But they don’t. It might be a natural instinct, it might be a taught understanding of the centre forward role, either way it is mightily effective.
For a club with Brighton’s financial resources, Murray is close to perfect. He suits his team and plays his role very well, but his age – and perhaps reputation – mean clubs with deeper pockets are unlikely to come calling.
Gareth Southgate, despite suggestions he should, decided against calling Murray up to the England squad. The end of last season was probably his best opportunity to do so but, after Jamie Vardy’s retirement, he could easily have given the veteran Brighton man a call this time round.
Southgate has prioritised youth from the start as England manager, however, and has stuck to his principles. Murray, for all his success last season, might struggle to fit in to England’s current side and Southgate understandably thinks he has better options.
Past England managers, though, would surely have given Murray a chance by now. Southgate not doing so is a positive sign for England’s national team, but it is a shame for Murray, and players in his situation, that they may no longer get that dream England debut at Wembley.
Then again, for much of his career, an England call-up was no more than fantasy. Up until last season, Murray looked destined to be a solid Football League striker and nothing more.
Hughton and Brighton – who Murray has scored 96 goals for across two spells – gave him another chance in the top flight. It took until his mid-thirties, but Murray is one of the most impressive forwards in the league. He is a reminder not to write players off, a reminder that fitting a system is crucial and a reminder that football is as much in between the ears as is it about sprints and leaps.
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