Captain's Blog: Making The Case For 'Jack Sodding Colback'

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During the international break, I noticed a tweet from Football365 promoting an article discussing the current dearth of central midfield options currently at England's disposal. The point the piece made is one I generally agree with - there are no genuinely outstanding emerging central midfield players who are available to England right now and look capable of contributing on a similar level to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

What I did find a little poor however was the insinuation in the tweet that it would be so ludicrous to even include Jack Colback in a discussion about promising English midfield talent that his name was worthy of being singled out for derision. A discussion, I should point out, that included Bradley Johnson.

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First of all, Football365 is a site that I like and visit regularly. I have also had the pleasure of meeting many of them in person and they are a fine bunch. All I offer here is rebuttal, not condemnation.

I understand that as a Sunderland fan writing for a Sunderland blog I am not exactly well-positioned to try and play the 'unbiased' card. I fully accept that it is inherent to the partisan nature of all football fans to defend their own players and often elevate them above their public perception.

However, one card that I am very much qualified to play is the 'informed' one, and I have absolutely no doubt that if Football365 were similarly informed, they would not have dismissed his talents so readily.

Obviously, I am not going to challenge an assertion that Colback does not merit inclusion for England over Gerrard and Lampard. Clearly he doesn't. Whether he even merits inclusion in the squad is debatable. But that debate is there to be had. Why dismiss it arbitrarily?

The fact of the matter is that if Jake Livermore and Tom Cleverley - who are the same age as Jack Colback and yet have failed to muster as many Premier League minutes between them as Colback has on his own - are in contention for England selection, then why not the Sunderland man?

If England are so devoid of midfield options as Football365's article suggested, then does it not just make Colback's achievement in breaking through into a Premier League first team all that more remarkable? After all, he has done what the vast majority have not proven capable of doing. It is, of course, easy to say 'it's just Sunderland' and point out that it is a lot tougher to break into a top club's team, but what about the rest of the midtable pack? If Colback is not even worthy of acknowledgement then where are all the other young English midfielders who have matched his achievement at a comparable club that prove him to be average?

Colback's game is not eye-catching. To the Match of the Day viewer he would more likely to get noticed for his hair colour than for his highlight reel participation. I absolutely agree that he needs to work on adding a more tangible attacking contribution to his game.

Even so, last season - his first full season as an established player at this level - Colback produced the same amount of league goals as England midfield regulars Gareth Barry and Scott Parker did playing for top four sides.

Every tournament with England seems to end in us all pulling our hair out over the fact we lack midfield players capable of keeping the ball under pressure. We lambast our inclination to try and force play with Hollywood passes rather than choosing to play the simple ball and having the patience to probe for an opening.

When a player like that comes along, though, we dismiss him and downright turn our noses up at him for not being flashy enough. I've seen many a comment that it is a shame that Joe Allen isn't English or that there isn't an English equivalent. Yet when the two 22-year-olds met at the Stadium of Light last weekend, Colback bettered his Liverpool counterpart in open play passing accuracy and tackle success, whilst also ensuring a greater percentage of his successful passes went forward, and that was without the specific possession-intensive system that Allen enjoys the benefit of. So why is one a £15m player who is universally hailed for his simple passing game and the other being ridiculed?

I'm not expecting Jack Colback to receive any kind of international recognition for England any time soon. He seems well and truly off the radar if all the likes of Jake Livermore have to do is sneeze in the shirt of a top club to leap ahead of him in the pecking order. I don't know the reasons behind that, but it isn't because the player is lacking in ability.

But lets not kid ourselves that he isn't worthy of the question. The name of Jack Colback, a talented and consistent Premier League player seemingly written-off and dismissed in his early 20s as a potential international, should serve only as an indictment of the selection and youth development policy that holds England back at international level. Just how it ended up being used instead as a punchline to try and highlight a lack of quality young English players coming through directly into the Premier League is anyone's guess.

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