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Southgate can't waste time - Greenwood must play through the middle for England


Southgate can't waste time - Greenwood must play through the middle for England

Man United's teen sensation should be used in his favoured position regardless of the threat to Harry Kane's position in the Three Lions' set-up.

ENGLAND'S attack was already, by most measures, one of the best in international football. Harry Kane won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup while Raheem Sterling continues to sharpen his goalscoring touch season after season. Last season was the Manchester City forward’s best to date, netting 30 times (in all competitions) for the first time in his career.

On top of these two players, Gareth Southgate has Marcus Rashford, who broke the 20-goal mark last season, and Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund winger who has been nothing short of a revelation over the past two seasons in the Bundesliga. But none of these figures boast the generational potential of Mason Greenwood. 

Last season was the 18-year-old’s first full season as a professional and he finished it with 18 goals for Manchester United. Greenwood’s form after lockdown, which saw him score six times in nine Premier League outings, was a major factor in the Red Devils’ late charge to a top four finish. Over the final few weeks of the campaign, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer justifiably saw Greenwood as undroppable.

Called up to the England squad for the first time for the UEFA Nations League fixtures against Iceland and Denmark, Southgate has a lot of thinking to do. He is spoiled for choice in the attacking positions. Many might expect Greenwood to be in direct competition with Sancho for a starting spot on the right side given where he tends to play for United.

Southgate should instead see the teenager as a challenger for Kane’s place, though. That is where Greenwood’s England future will most likely lie. That is where this generational talent has the potential to make himself a Three Lions legend. Kane might be England captain, proven as an elite level goalscorer over a series of seasons, but he shouldn’t be seen as untouchable.

While Kane has managed to keep his goalscoring numbers high, his performance levels have dipped since the 2018 World Cup. Even during the World Cup, he struggled with his fitness and has never given himself a chance to fully recover. The 27-year-old seems increasingly intent on dropping deep to pick up the ball and create rather than get on the end of chances in the box. That has been, many argue, to his detriment.

Solskjaer may have used Greenwood on the right side in the second half of last season, but that was largely through necessity. By trade, the 18-year-old is a centre forward. Even at such an early stage of his development, there are few finishers as naturally gifted in the Premier League at this moment in time as Greenwood. There are certainly few who can strike the ball as purely as him. 

“They've shown playing in big matches, big clubs that they're talented boys. Both hugely exciting players,” Southgate said of Greenwood upon his first England call-up, also referencing Manchester City youngster Phil Foden who has been included in the squad.

“I think they'll be part of England's future. This is up to them in the end. We give them the opportunity for them to go and take it forward. But there's no reason they can't be involved with England for a long time to come. You're always questioning with those young players what's the right time to move them up. We felt now is a good time.”

Now does indeed seem to be a good time. Southgate must wait no time in moulding his England team ahead of next summer’s European Championships and Greenwood, such is the level he is already operating at, must be integrated as soon as possible. This is, after all, a player with the natural talent of a young Wayne Rooney. Rooney was never held back as a teenager and neither should Greenwood be, even if that threatens Kane.

 

 

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Graham Ruthven
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