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Roker Ramble: Connecting With England Is Difficult

As hard as it is to support players that you don't have any sort of connection with, we still need to get behind the team, writes Michael Bowers.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

I'm not your traditional football supporter - I’ve only been massively fanatic about the sport for around five years, and one of my friends made an interesting point to help perhaps explain my lack of enthusiasm for the England national side - I've not really missed out on England doing anything meaningful in tournament football in recent times, before or after my interest in the sport picked up.

When I go to Sunderland games, I do sense the players 'get it' and even if the majority of them aren’t from the area, I still feel connected to them as it’s my club. They still represent the city of Sunderland, generally.

With England, whose players are mostly selected from the biggest clubs in England, I don’t feel that same emotional connection. Gav’s argument in this week's Make Your Case regarding Jack Wilshere I think summed up my feelings perfectly.

Wilshere, for me, doesn’t deserve to be in France right now. There’s no doubt that when he plays he has bags of ability and undeniable talent. His performance against Slovenia last summer backs that argument up. But, what cannot be ignored is his injury record. Yes, we’ve heard it many times before, but he’s consistently on the treatment table. A few moments of brilliance here and there cannot hide this fact.

To me, it sends a message that if you play for a ‘top’ team, even if you have done next to nothing at club level in order to make the squad, then you have a better chance of being selected than if you’re in form.

Generally, I have no problem with the players selected, as a majority of them I’d have taken myself, but there’s a couple of Roy Hodgson's inclusions that I’ve questioned. To me, there are three players who deserve to go to Euro 2016 more than Jack Wishere - Danny Drinkwater, Mark Noble and Andros Townsend.

I don’t rate Leicester as a team generally, but Danny Drinkwater has had a much better season than Wilshere - and won the Premier League. Mark Noble, who is consistent for West Ham, has captained them to arguably their best season in many years. Andros Townsend who, despite being Newcastle's best player from January onwards didn’t play for the first-half of the season and ended up getting relegated, did more than Wilshere in order to earn his space on the plane to France.

Roy Hodgson struggled with his system against Portugal last week, particularly in playing Jamie Vardy out wide - wouldn’t Townsend have been a better fit?

Wilshere isn’t the only one who I have an issue with going. Some people would argue Daniel Sturridge shouldn’t go for the same reason as Wilshere but Sturridge regularly contributes something when fit. Granted that isn’t often as perhaps liked, but it’s definitely more than Wilshere. Another player who I wouldn’t have taken is Marcus Rashford - from a selfish perspective I’m happy he wasn’t on the plane, but I think Jermain Defoe deserves to go more than Rashford does.

However bad Manchester United were in the attacking third last season, you’re still likely to get good chances as a forward, more so than at Sunderland anyway. Defoe scored fifteen Premier League goals for a team who finished fourth bottom, with a fairly poor supply line. It’s harsh to say Defoe is the only reason Sunderland stayed up, but there’s a huge chance we’d have gone down without him.

It’s much easier to score loads of goals when you play for a top team, but if you score loads of goals for a struggling side then you’ve got something about you. Euro 2016 is too early for Marcus Rashford, in my opinion. He’s burst onto the scene in the last two-and-a-half-months of the season and although he’s done well I wouldn’t have chosen him.

If we’re selecting players because they’ve played well the last couple of months then why not take Andy Carroll? If you’re chasing a game going into the final few minutes, then you’re going to play long ball in desperation. There’s not many forwards better in the air than Carroll. That doesn’t mean that Rashford or Wilshere can’t have good tournaments – I hope they do – but I just wouldn’t have taken either of them, personally.

I think England as a national side only truly represents the big clubs and, because I don’t have any real connection to those clubs, I don’t feel much of a connection to the players on the pitch.

Despite all of that, we as a nation still have to get behind the team. We simply must do better than we did at the World Cup two years ago. We won’t breeze through the group but we should top it - we’re the clear favourites going into the group stages.

I think reaching the quarter-finals would be a relative success. People are entitled to their own opinion but I’ve seen people say semi-finals at least is a must. Personally, I think that’s expecting too much. Obviously it would be lovely to win the Euros, but I doubt we will.

I am looking forward to the Euros - honest. It’s much less stressful for me to watch and I’ll still be supporting England. In a summer where we’ll get football everyday for weeks at a time, who am I to complain?

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