2010 was a much simpler time for English football, but it came with its own set of problems.
While the Three Lions boasted some of the best central defenders and central midfielders in world football - namely Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ledley King, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick - the centre-forward position was a different matter entirely.
At the 2010 World Cup, England scored just three goals in four games and while Fabio Capello’s side unquestionably underperformed in South Africa, the attacking tools at the then-England manager’s disposal were far from the sharpest either.
A 32-year-old Emile Heskey made the squad despite only managing 15 starts and three goals for Aston Villa in the previous season, alongside Peter Crouch whose Premier League tally for 2009/10 was an incredibly modest eight. Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe had fared much better, but only the latter managed to find the net at the tournament itself.
Following the World Cup, the situation only got worse. Capello’s desperate search for a centre-forward forced him into making some of the most regrettable call-ups in England’s recent history in the months after the Three Lions’ elimination at the hands of Germany; a 29-year-old Bobby Zamora, a 33-year-old Kevin Davies, and Jay Bothroyd - at that time of Cardiff City in the Championship.
Throughout their careers, these three forwards produced a collective Premier League strike rate of one goal every 5.4 games, and none managed to make the net ripple during their incredibly brief stints as England players.
Even more tellingly of how grim the situation was, the top scoring Englishman come the end of the 2010/11 season was DJ Campbell, whose return of 13 goals was a somewhat freakish haul when compared to the rest of his career, and even more freakish considering Blackpool scored 55 goals on their way to relegation. The second-top scoring Englishman, and the only other to make the Premier League’s top ten scorers that season, was Newcastle midfielder Kevin Nolan.
Considering how many world-class strikers English football has produced throughout its history, from Vivian Woodward and Steve Bloomer to the likes of Jimmy Greaves, Geoff Hurst, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen - not to mention the many great Premier League goalscorers like Robbie Fowler, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand who hardly got a look-in with the Three Lions - 2010 may well have been the country’s lowest ever point for elite goalscorers.
But throughout the last decade, the situation has steadily improved, and during this season the Premier League has enjoyed a sudden influx of goalscoring Englishmen. During 2010/11 and 2011/12, just two English players finished within the division’s top ten goalscorers. That number moved up to three in the three seasons following, rose to four in two of the three seasons after that and during the last two campaigns registered at five.
The early stages of 2020/21 has seen another gearshift though - as things stand, the Premier League’s top ten (actually comprised of eleven players because two are drawn on five goals) consists of seven Englishmen, as well as Wilfried Zaha who was raised in England from the age of four and even twice represented the Three Lions before switching allegiance to the Ivory Coast in 2017.
The noticeable gains don’t stop there. So far this season, the Premier League has seen its highest percentage of English goalscorers and highest percentage of goals scored by English players for any of the last eleven seasons. While the numbers may well level out come the end of the campaign, it’s been an incredibly promising start for English goalscorers in the top flight this year.
And much of that uplift comes down to the level of club where these strikers are thriving. Last season, four of the five Englishmen to make the Premier League’s top ten played for clubs that finished in the top six, the only exception being Southampton’s Danny Ings. But this term, the top ten includes Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins, Newcastle’s Callum Wilson, Leeds’ Patrick Bamford and Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
While it would be foolish not to speculate how their form has been influenced by the notable rise in goals in the Premier League this season, just consider the significance of those names at those clubs as well. In summer 2019, Aston Villa and Newcastle set new club-record transfer fees on two strikers who’d never played in English football before in Wesley and Joelinton - this time around, they spent the money instead on Watkins and Wilson.
Everton, meanwhile, might well have been justified in signing a more proven and experienced striker than Dominic Calvert-Lewin, especially with the unique pull factor of Carlo Ancelotti, and even more so after bringing in a top-class creator in James Rodriguez. Likewise, few would have condemned Leeds for targeting an upgrade on Bamford - despite them winning the title last season, their first-choice striker only scored 16 goals in the Championship.
There’s clearly been a shift in mindset away from the traditional perceived wisdom that foreign imports are a more worthy investment than English players, and former Premier League striker Marlon Harewood believes that’s one of the side effects of how the global pandemic has restricted the spending power of English clubs.
Speaking exclusively to GIVEMESPORT, the former West Ham and Aston Villa front-man said; “The pandemic that we're in, clubs have had to look around and see what they have and what they haven't got, which is good for English players. They've not disappointed because they've always been there - they just haven't had the chance to go and shine.”
There’s an obvious logic in clubs sticking with what they have, in Everton and Leeds’ case, rather than risking small fortunes on marginal upgrades, while Newcastle turned to a Premier League-proven striker in Wilson following Joelinton’s debut season, and Villa recruited an alternative to Wesley who had already played under manager Dean Smith before. While there was some big money involved for the latter pair, overall they’re less risky additions during a time when clubs can’t take too many financial gambles.
But the trend of a growing English preference in the transfer market actually dates back to last summer, when the Premier League made its highest percentage of English signings (31%) for six years (33% in 2014). In the transfer window just gone it dropped slightly to 28% - but that was still the second highest proportion throughout that same time period.
So clearly, there is a combination of factors at play, but ultimately its consequences are most prevalent in the Premier League’s middle order, and ahead of the European Championship next summer, that can only be a good thing for Gareth Southgate.
The number of in-form goalscorers who didn’t make his most recent England squad for a variety of reasons is incredibly telling of the quality at his disposal; Marcus Rashford, Ings, Michail Antonio (injured), Jamie Vardy (retired), Bamford, Watkins, Wilson and Che Adams (not selected) have all scored at least three goals this season, and between them produced 38 goals in 51 Premier League outings.
Should their current levels be sustained, Southgate will not only have a wealth of strike options to choose from next summer, but perhaps more importantly those already in his plans will be firmly kept on their toes. Pressure and competition should keep Harry Kane and company performing at their maximum going into a tournament that England will feel they have a genuine chance of winning, or at the very least making the final.
Whether or not that proves the case remains to be seen, but with a star-studded cast already at Southgate’s disposal and Bamford, Watkins and Wilson applying pressure from behind, English strikers are enjoying their rudest health for some time - a stark transformation from the goal-shy darkness at the turn of the last decade.News Now - Sport News