Troy Deeney should be in the next England squad. Let me explain…
Realistically, with the process of narrative that is implicit in all England squads these days, Troy’s one opportunity to get a call up depends on the loss of form or injury of Jamie Vardy, the current incumbent of the ‘Cinderella’ spot. He can’t offer the neither-here-nor-thereness of a Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, he’s not injured enough for the permanently-crocked striker who may come good role that Daniel Sturridge has made his own, and he isn’t Harry Kane.
That leave’s one spot in Roy Hodgson’s unalterable attacking set-up, and it’s the one that Troy fits best into.
Watford’s great form in the last months has come largely on the back of Odion Ighalo’s goals, but while the Match of the Day panel is often quick to praise the link-up play between Troy and his strike partner (and to date I’m not sure they’ve mentioned anything else about us), there is not enough recognition for the extent that Troy pulls the strings.
This is highlighted by the heralding of a renaissance for 4-4-2 on the back of the success of our good selves and Leicester. While I can’t speak too much for Leicester, this is a real oversimplification of what we do. Ignoring the midfield four, whose depth and whatnot is all over the place, we really play a 4-4-1, with Troy dividing his time between all three banks, and playing a pivotal role in all of them.
At once you’ll find him closing down the right back who has dwelled on the ball too long. The next moment he’s coming short for the midfield pass from the rushed clearance. There he is clipping the ball deftly over the top from the centre circle, but that’s also him on the shoulder of the last man, giving them a thunderous shoulder barge. And after clearing a corner at the near post, and freeing Allan Nyom to go on a long fruitless maze-up, there he sits at right back covering the space.
The lack of injuries to our first choice side this year has been miraculous, and has been crucial in maintaining our form, but there is no doubt that Troy is the jenga piece on which everything rests. We haven’t seen any of our other strikers play (an issue that must be resolved ahead of the unavoidable injury somewhere down the line), but I would wager good money that should Troy spend any time out of the side, Ighalo’s goals would dry up.
At the beginning of the season, Ighalo was playing deeper, but was unable to hold the ball up as well as he had in the Championship. Here’s defenders are stronger and quicker, and he didn’t have time to get his foot on the ball and control possession. By switching him and Troy around, Quique released him from the shackles of having to do anything but run around and score. The only time you really see the ball at Ighalo’s feet for any extended time is when defenders let him – at their peril – have it out wide (at their peril), otherwise he has been freed from the shackles of needing time on the ball, given free rein to get in the box and rely on his quick reactions and unlikely strength to seduce any loose ball.
And the reason he has that luxury is that Troy is doing absolutely everything else. He wins the first ball, he wins the second, he opens up space in the defence with his runs and more often than not, with final balls lacking from the games of Jurado and Capoue, plays the incisive pass.
Take the Spurs game as an example (as it was yesterday and is the only one I can remember in any great detail). With eleven men, Troy was tasked with disrupting the back three that Spurs had deployed in response to the Deeney Ighalo Connection. He dragged Toby Alderweireld towards the touchline with his movement to try and free up space for Ighalo to manoeuvre. For the goal he lurked on the left, occupying Kieran Trippier and pulling Alderweireld towards him, contorting his body he manged to loop a lofted ball falling behind him into the perfect spot in the area. Of course, Ighalo then had to beat four defenders with strength, a close touch, luck and a quick finish, but the athleticism of the assist shouldn’t be lost in the Nigerian’s attacking finesse.
After Nathan Ake’s red card, and with the side shuffled to rebalance the defence, Troy moved over to the right, where he singled-handedly broke the spirit of the hapless Danny Rose. Within a few minutes of moving over to the wing, where he had foundered in his early Watford career, Troy had dumped the one-time loanee on his arse several times and completely beaten him for pace for good measure. Long diagonals were being headed into the middle after non-contest aerial battles.The left back was rattled. Twice he willingly put the ball out for corners under no pressure, sure that he was about to get an elbow in the small of his back and an outstretched leg wrapped round his shin.
In summary, Troy is all-action, he makes the side tick and frees up goalscoring centre forwards like Ighalo, Kane and Vardy. He is often found lurking around the centre circle, ready to spring attacks, but is not limited by physical stature, and can rough it in the trenches of the penalty area too.
Troy Deeney is what Wayne Rooney should be.
Of course, whilst that is not what Wayne Rooney is, nor what he has been for at least two years, Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney, and though the media may love to disparage Wayne Rooney, they also love to write about Wayne Rooney, and though Wayne Rooney is now a hindrance to the England team, he is a Wayne-Rooney-sized albatross that Roy Hodgson will willingly strap to his next. For he is Wayne Rooney.
So, as England labour to a 1-1 draw in Germany and a 1-0 victory over the Dutch in March, thinking that the same old team getting semi-positive results against sides going through motions prepares them for the might of Russia, Wales and Slovakia, only to succumb to the inevitable quarter final defeat to whoever; as Wayne Rooney ponderously trundles about the midfield, occasionally putting the ball out for a throw with his first touch, and Harry Kane scores two goals in four games, with no service and no help; as Cinderella Vardy realises he can’t actually get into the ball because there’s only one spot at the head of the carriage; as the plane arrives at Gatwick in early July and the papers ask ‘WHO ARE ROO KIDDING?’ and ‘WHY WOY WHY?’, Troy will be sitting at home, resting up for another season of knocking people over and laying up plates for whoever his new strike partner is.