What if Gareth Southgate could only pick one England player from each club?

The World Cup is only a few short months away and already speculation is mounting over who Gareth Southgate will select in his England squad. This in itself is a tough enough job as Southgate has to try and balance youth and experience, flair and levelheadedness and technical and physical players. But, what if we made his job an awful lot harder? How would the squad shape up right now if you could only pick one player from each Premier League club. How would you set your team up when you can only pick one from Raheem Sterling, John Stones or Kyle Walker? Does Jesse Lingard or Marcus Rashford go to Russia? And would 2018 finally be the year we would see Steve Sidwell at a major international tournament? Here’s the squad that we selected, and if you want to have a go too, you can download our Selector right here. Once you’ve filled it in, take a screenshot and tweet it to us at @FTHalfwayLine.

Arsenal – Jack WilshereEngland v Portugal - International Friendly

Wilshere has been resurgent since returning to Arsenal’s starting line-up at West Ham in the middle of December. If he can stay fit until the summer (and it’s a big if) then Southgate is almost certain to give the central midfielder his first international call-up since England friendly against Spain in November 2016.

Bournemouth – Callum Wilson

Bournemouth have more English players to select from than any other team, and could offer cover in practically every position. For this squad, we’ve gone with Callum Wilson who has the potential to be an England international in the near future, even if injuries have plagued his top-flight career thus far.

Brighton – Lewis Dunk

Brighton fans have been calling on Dunk to receive an England call-up ever since their promotion to the Premier League and he’s the most suitable candidate out of his club teammates to be selected in this squad.

Burnley – James Tarkowski

James Tarkowski was patiently waiting in the wings last season at Burnley knowing that former teammate Michael Keane was likely to move on in the summer. His partnership with Ben Mee was the foundation on which Burnley’s fantastic early season form was built upon; six 1-0 wins so far this season shows just how important Tarkowski’s contribution was to their success.

Chelsea – Gary Cahill

One of only a few players who are guaranteed a place in Southgate’s starting XI when they face Tunisia on June 18th. Cahill’s comfortable playing in a back three or four and in a squad containing several promising but inexperienced centre-backs his role would be more important than ever.

Crystal Palace – Ruben Loftus-CheekRLoftusCheekEngland

Very few players would have made their international debuts against tougher opponents when Loftus-Cheek started against World Champions Germany, but in a Palace squad containing very few other viable England options, the exciting attacking midfielder gets the nod.

Everton – Jordan Pickford

Joe Hart’s capitulation at club level over the last one-and-a-half seasons has given Southgate a dilemma in between the sticks. Pickford will almost certainly be in his squad next summer and with Stoke’s Jack Butland also struggling to keep clean sheets (albeit playing behind a lacklustre defence) Pickford may just pick up the number 1 shirt this summer.

Huddersfield – Tom Ince

There’s very little to say about this selection when you look at the players available. Would likely be a squad player who would be given five minutes as England desperately search for an equaliser against Panama.

Leicester – Harry Maguire

Jamie Vardy and Demarai Gray were also viable choices from Leicester, but the combination of other players picked from rival clubs means its the centre-back that gets the nod. Maguire has been Leicester’s best defender this season, with his last-minute equaliser against Man United being the highlight of the year so far.

Liverpool – Adam Lallana

Liverpool’s squad has an English core running through the centre of the pitch and for this squad, Adam Lallana’s versatility means he narrowly gets the nod of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson.

Man City – Kyle Walker

England’s first choice right back is the player most crucial to the Three Lions team from Manchester City. John Stones and Raheem Sterling will almost certainly start games in Russia for Southgate, but the lack of available alternatives at full-back make Walker indispensable to this squad.

Man United – Marcus RashfordMarcusRashfordEngland

Rashford hasn’t been playing at the level we know he’s capable of but his ability to play anywhere across the front line and change a game from the bench is what gives him the edge over Jesse Lingard in this squad, who on current form is the better player.

Newcastle – Jamaal Lascelles

Another young centre back tipped to make the step up to the England squad soon, anything good that Newcastle have done this season has involved Lascelles and it’s no surprise that the Magpies picked up just one point when he wasn’t in the starting line-up between November and the start of December while he was injured.

Southampton – Ryan Bertrand

Danny Rose’s inability to displace Ben Davies in Tottenham’s team means Bertrand is the favourite to play on the left for England this summer at the time of writing. Coupled with Fraser Forster’s dip in form and no other standout candidates in the Saints’ squad, Ryan Bertrand offers the most value from the options available.

Stoke – Jack Butland

A simple enough choice given Butland is the only member of the Stoke squad currently involved in the England setup and is likely to be competing with Pickford to be Southgate’s first choice this summer, although I’m sure no one would be against seeing Peter Crouch in an England shirt one more time.

Swansea – Tammy Abraham

Alfie Mawson is the young English centre-back that misses out across this selection process, with Tammy Abraham emerging as the only alternative in a weak Swansea squad.

Tottenham – Harry KaneHarryKaneEngland

Without doubt England’s most important player this summer, but his selection means the likes of Alli, Dier, Rose, Trippier and Winks are all miss out. Suddenly bringing together a group of exciting young English talent looks like a terrible decision from Pochettino.

Watford – Nathaniel Chalobah

Nathaniel Chalobah slotted into Watford’s side as a holding midfielder immediately after being brought in from Chelsea in the summer and impressed before picking up an injury. His defensive attributes make him a better option than compatriots Will Hughes and Tom Cleverley in this squad.

West Brom – Kieran Gibbs

With Pickford and Butland already in the squad, a third choice ‘keeper is a waste of a pick from one of the Premier League teams, so Ben Foster misses out. Kieran Gibbs offers slightly more value as a full-back who can play on either side than Jake Livermore or Jay Rodriguez.

West Ham – Michail Antonio

The selections made so far have made one thing clear; if you’re capable of playing in multiple positions, you have a better chance of being selected and Antonio typifies this. Andy Carroll is the other potential candidate from the Hammers, but with Wilson, Abraham, Rashford and Kane already in the squad, a fifth forward would leave England very thin in other areas.

Wildcards – John Ruddy (Wolves), Luke Ayling (Leeds), Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)

Now, World Cup squads are made up of 23 players, which means Southgate would have to look towards the Championship for his final three selections. A third choice goalkeeper is needed, and Wolves’ John Ruddy already has 14 clean sheets to his name in 26 league games and so looks like the obvious candidate. The squad is short of a right-back behind Kyle Walker, so Leeds United’s Luke Ayling is brought in as cover, while Ryan Sessegnon offers you an option on the left hand side either as an attacking full-back or in a more attacking wide left position which he’s much more suited to.

So, do you think you can do any better? Click here to download our Selector (it’s only an Excel spreadsheet, nothing dodgy I promise!) and let us know via Twitter (@FTHalfwayLine) how you would set up this summer.

The rise of Panama and the evergreen team

Roman Torres celebration Panama

October 10th 2017. A day that will live long in the memories of the four million inhabitants of the Central American state that connects two of the world’s continents. A day so important in Panama’s history, that President Juan Carlos Varela ordered that the following day be declared a national holiday, so that his people could celebrate the actions of a group of men on a football pitch in the country’s capital.

After this declaration, it’s likely that October 11th 2017 may not be remembered as clearly as the day before.

An 88th minute right footed volley proved to be the winner in a closely fought contest with Costa Rica, a country with a similar population to Panama and on an upward trajectory in footballing terms. Los Canaleros would do well to replicate their northwestern neighbours if they want to avoid this summer’s excursion to Russia being a fleeting visit to football’s top table.

That late goal was slotted past Costa Rica ‘keeper Patrick Pemberton (Keylor Navas picked up a muscle injury and didn’t feature) by striker Roman Torres. Torres’ club career mimics that of many of his international colleagues: several seasons playing in Panama’s top flight – the Liga Panameńa de Fútbol – before moving abroad, normally to other minor South American top flight, in this case Colombia, before finally reaching a higher quality league in North America or Europe.

Interestingly, back in 2007 Torres’ international teammate and namesake Gabriel was considered one of Panama’s most promising talents and was invited to train with Manchester United. The striker tore a muscle in his thigh during his first and only training session before flying home and never returned. The striker then spent some time in Colombia – and briefly Venezuela – before moving to the United States with Colorado Rapids and then Lausanne in Switzerland.

This goes some way to explaining why Panama have reached their first major finals now and not in 2010 or 2014 when the majority of their starting XI were within the traditional peak years of their careers. Although physically these players may have been in better condition to help their side qualify four or eight years ago, a large portion of the squad weren’t playing at a high enough club level to compete on the international stage.

PanamaLineup
La Marea Roja line up before their game against Bolivia.

Jaime PENEDO (GK) – Age: 36 Years*: 5 (06-07, 13-15, 16-)
Fidel ESCOBAR – Age: 23 Years*: 2 (16-)
Román TORRES (C) – Age: 31 Years*: 3 (15-)
Gabriel GÓMEZ – Age: 33 Years*: 5 (07-12)
Blas PÉREZ – Age: 36 Years*: 9 (07-16)
Édgar BÁRCENAS – Age: 24 Years*: 2 (16-)
Gabriel TORRES – Age: 29 Years*: 4 (13-15, 16-)
Adolfo MACHADO – Age: 32 Years*: 1 (17-)
Luis OVALLE – Age: 29 Years*: 1 (08)
Alberto QUINTERO – Age: 30 Years*: 3 (13-14, 16-) Quintero did play in Spain for several years but only in the third tier, which would not be considered a step up from the leagues being excluded.
Aníbal GODOY – Age: 27 Years*: 5 (13-)

Armando COOPER – Age: 30 Years*: 7 (11-15, 16-)
Luis TEJEDA – Age: 35 Years*: 4 (05, 07, 12-13)
Abdiel ARROYO – Age: 24 Years*: 1 (16)

*This is the number of years not spent in Central or South American leagues that are not considered the same quality as a mid-high level European league. This includes Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia (mid-table clubs or below), Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay (mid-table clubs or below).

Average age: 30

Average number of leagues spent in higher quality competitions: 3.7 years

Not one of the fourteen players who featured in the crucial tie against Costa Rica play their football in Panama, and only three of the starting eleven still play in the region.

Clearly talent is being produced in the region, otherwise Manchester United would never have awarded Torres with a trial. But the infrastructure in place to develop that talent within Panama and region is lacking, and it’s only when these players move abroad that they’re able to reach a higher level. It’s why the progression of Panama’s golden generation has shifted back a tournament cycle given the age of the players involved, because these players aren’t reaching their highest level until much later compared to a European or South American side with a similar pool of talent.

FidelEscobar
Fidel Escobar impressed against the United States in qualifying has already spent several seasons plying his trade outside of Central America.

The two youngest members of the team that started their final qualifier, Fidel Escobar and Édgar Bárcenas, both left the region in 2016 at a comparatively young age compared to their more experienced teammates. Escobar is still contracted to a Panamanian club – Sporting San Miguelito – but has spent the last two seasons in Portugal and the USA with Sporting CP and New York Red Bulls. His domestic club clearly see him as a valuable asset and don’t want to part with him permanently until the right offer comes in, but recognise that in order to develop his talent, he needs to be playing abroad.

Bárcenas also spent a season out on loan in Europe, treading what is becoming a more and more frequented path to Croatia with RNK Split in a league fast gaining a reputation for producing and nurturing young talent. Bárcenas, like Escobar, is also still contracted to a Panamanian club (Árabe Unido) but his latest loan move is slightly closer to home in Mexico’s second tier with Cafetaleros de Tapachula.

Is there a conclusion to gain from all this? Time will tell this summer whether or not the World Cup has come one year too late for many of this Panama side to truly thrive, but with a better strategy in place for making sure that their brightest talent is playing at an appropriate level at crucial points in their development, the signs are looking bright for La Marea Roja – The Red Tide.