By Bill Mann
Sam Allardyce has named his first England squad although it's a moot point if anyone really cares.
After a summer in which Team GB shone at the Olympics, Chris Froome won the Tour de France, Andy Murray triumphed at Wimbledon, Wales reached the semi-finals of the Euros and the England rugby team whitewashed Australia, only the toothless Three Lions failed to deliver, and as a result they are 500-1 to win team of the year at the BBC end of year awards shindig in December.
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England's footballers have been underachieving for over half a century but even by their very low standards, they plumbed new depths of incompetence in June when they were humbled 2-1 by Iceland in the European Championships. It was the most abject performance imaginable, symptomatic of the modern breed of English player who lacks toughness, technique and tenacity. Still, on the plus side, the bumbling Roy Hodgson has mercifully departed.
His successor is another Englishman, Allardyce, and it is his unenviable task to restore some measure of pride to England's national sport. His first challenge is Sunday's World Cup qualifier against Slovakia, a side who held the Three Lions to a goalless draw when they met in the Euros.
In naming his 23-man squad Allardyce may simply be re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titantic. The brutal truth is that England no longer produce world-class footballers and though they might be good enough to get the Three Lions through qualifying competitions (as they did without losing a match for this summer's Euros), England are invariably humbled when it comes to the major championships. The facts speak for themselves: England have never reached the final of a World Cup or European Championship held on foreign soil. It's a sorry statistic for the nation that invented the game.
In his first squad Allardyce has recalled Luke Shaw, Phil Jagielka, Danny Drinkwater and Theo Walcott for the trip to Slovakia, a quartet unlikely to strike fear into their opponents, while there is a surprise call-up for West Ham winger Michail Antonio.
Asked why the 26-year-old had been selected, while the in-form Ross Barkley has been omitted, Allardyce replied: "The journey... I think that that journey is something that deserves to be in this squad and me to have a look at as a potential player going forward."
Another notable absentee is 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, who scored his first Premier League goal of the season against Hull on Saturday, but is relegated to the Under-21 squad despite featuring in the Euros.
"I think that having international experience in the Under-21s will be invaluable for us later down the line," said Allardyce said. "He made a massive impact last season, yes, but he's only a young man, let's not heap too much pressure on him just yet. Let him go and have a feel playing for the Under-21s; hopefully he's a star for them, scores goals for them and gives me that decision next time around on the next squad I pick."
That sort of conservatism might not bode well for England, and his decision to continue with the uninspiring Wayne Rooney as captain will not galvanise the nation, but then few expected Allardyce to bring little in the way of imagination and innovation to the Three Lions. That's not his style, and nor has it been England's for years.
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