Skip to main content
Untitled design 57

OLLIE Watkins had earned his opportunity to prove what he could do in an England shirt. For Aston Villa this season, the 28-year-old has been unstoppable, scoring 16 goals in 29 league appearances. Only Erling Haaland has scored more. Against Brazil on Saturday, though, Watkins was largely missing in action.

Reports claim Ivan Toney will be next in line to audition as England’s second-choice centre forward with the Brentford striker expected to start against Belgium on Tuesday. Toney has made just one previous appearance for the Three Lions and has yet to break his scoring duck at international level. He must make the most of his chance.

Harry Kane’s ankle injury made this international window an opportunity for Southgate to settle on a deputy for the Bayern Munich striker. Instead, all it has done is highlight just how dependant England are on their captain. Kane must be fit and in form for the Three Lions to stand a chance of winning Euro 2024.

There isn’t another centre forward like Kane in European football right now. There are, of course, other great goalscorers like Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, not to mention a few others, but no other striker has the all-round game that Kane has. He is much more than just a finisher. He is a one-man attack.

So much of England’s play through the midfield and into the final third flows through Kane. Southgate has other technicians – see Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice etc. – he can use to conduct attacks from deep, but Kane’s willingness to drop deep and create space for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka gives England a different dimension.

This is where Watkins falls short as Kane’s deputy. The Aston Villa striker might be effective in and around the penalty box, but England lose something when he is their frontman. Toney might fare better such is his all-round role for Brentford, but it’s perhaps unrealistic to expect him to immediately perform as Kane does for his country.

It could be argued with some justification that Southgate should have prioritised coming up with an contingency plan to cover a Kane injury or suspension long before now. If neither Watkins nor Toney are suitable deputies, Southgate should have experimented with other options in the centre forward position. Foden as a ‘false nine.’ Rashford through the middle. Even Bellingham as a striker might have worked.

Euro 2024 could be an era-defining tournament for England. Under Southgate, the Three Lions have become a force in international football again, making the final of Euro 2020 and the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup. The 2022 World Cup, however, saw England take a step back. They can’t afford to do that again in Germany this summer.

Only France can match England for individual talent at this moment in time and so the expectation is that Southgate will lead his team to glory in what could be his final tournament as national team manager. Southgate’s legacy as England boss could be determined by what unfolds at Euro 2024 and whether or not his team lifts silverware.

For England to win Euro 2024, it’s clear they require Kane to be on the pitch. Now 30 years old, the Bayern Munich centre forward is at the peak of his powers. This summer might be his best opportunity to win a trophy at international level with a decline surely coming at some point in the not-so-distant future. Now is the time. Watkins are Toney are both good strikers, but neither are Kane.


Copy of racing footer Aintree 5

Related Articles