Premier League

England call-up overdue for Deeney; he's Kane's ideal understudy

 • by Ryan Baldi
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Sometimes brash, often right-on, Troy Deeney never minces his words. The Watford captain is proudly outspoken, dependably honest and possesses a clarity of opinion.

It is these attributes that have made him a great leader since he assumed the armband at Vicarage Road half a decade ago, and will make him a coveted television pundit once his playing career winds down.

Beneath it all, though, first and foremost, Deeney is a fine footballer, a better player than his powerful personality and forbidding physique often sees him credited as being.

After leading Watford to the FA Cup finals and up to eighth in the Premier League, it’s time that changed.

There aren’t many stories like Deeney’s left in top-level football. A troubled and troublesome youth, Deeney left school at 16 with no GCSE’s and began to train as a bricklayer.

A footballer with little hope of a professional career in the game, the Birmingham native was picked up by Walsall as an 18-year-old, having been spotted playing part-time football and offered a trial.

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Now 30, Deeney has played in each of English football’s top four divisions, starting in League Two with Walsall before the Saddlers earned promotion. The club’s Player of the Year in his final season at the Bescot Stadium, Deeney’s 14 goals in 2009/10 earned him a move to Watford in the Championship.

Initially deployed out of position on the wing by then-Watford boss Malky Mackay,  Deeney found his scoring touch for the Hornets in his second campaign with the club, and struck an impressive 64 Championship goals in the three seasons leading up to Watford’s promotion to the Premier League in 2015/16.

An established top-flight striker for four years now, Deeney, currently on nine goals, is on course for his this third double-figure term in the Premier League.

For a while, controversy continued to follow Deeney along his rise. He served a custodial sentence in 2012 for his involvement in a fight, but his release coincided with a renewed focus and the best scoring form of his career.

Perhaps due to the combination of a chequered past and being perceived as somewhat of an unfashionable striker by elite Premier League standards – powerful in the air and strong in protection of the ball, but lacking electric pace and flair – Deeney has continually been overlooked at international level.

Having steadily risen from the depths of the Football League, it is understandable that the Watford skipper was never selected for junior England caps. But, averaging a goal or assist in the Premier League every 189.8 minutes, leading a side from the point of promotion to the verge of European competition, it is difficult to understand why Deeney should be overlooked at senior level.

England manager Gareth Southgate has intimated that his refusal consider the 30-year-old is a matter of a clash of styles, that Deeney’s brand of forward play does not fit in with the direction in which the Three Lions are moving.

Deeney, of course, disagrees and has not been shy in saying so. But the Watford man is right to feel hard done by.

While it is true that he lacks pace, and that his aggression, physicality and dominance in the air are not necessarily traits that make him an obvious fit for England, Deeney’s sublime and grossly underrated link play make him, in many ways, the ideal understudy to Harry Kane.

We’ve seen an evolution in the England front line in recent games, with Southgate’s switch for 4-3-3 placing greater emphasis on his cast of gifted, rapid wingers, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

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As a consequence, captain Kane has more and more been seen operating withdrawn from the tip of attack, dropping into the space between the opposition’s defence and midfield to act as a conduit for his fleet-footed flankers.

Flicked headers, cushioned control and balls around the corner have become the order of the day – all key features in Deeney’s game which have seen him thrive as the link man behind an out-and-out No.9, be it Matěj Vydra, Odion Ighalo or Andre Gray.

Deeney’s superb link play was in full effect in Watford’s 3-2 extra-time victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday, a game in which, in addition to keeping his cool to score from the penalty spot, he created four chances for colleagues.

There are younger, less controversial and more stylish options available to Southgate than Deeney. But there aren’t many as good.

At 30, the England call-up he has longed for may not arrive for Deeney. But, at the very least, he deserves greater recognition for the footballer he has become.

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