Danny Drinkwater has been a vital cog in the well-oiled machine that has just torn apart the Premier League. Leicester City finished 10 points clear at the summit of ‘the greatest league in the world’, and they wouldn’t have done it without the former Manchester United youngster, simple as. Yet, there seems to be a shared opinion that he will miss out on the Euros this summer, which, for me, is baffling.
Roy Hodgson named a massive 11 midfielders in his preliminary squad and the presence of Jack Wilshire and Jordan Henderson amongst those has led to chatter that the Foxes lynchpin is set to miss out on a place in the final 23 this summer. That would be a huge mistake.
The talk should not be about whether Drinkwater goes to the Euros this summer, it should be a discussion about whether he makes the starting XI.
The 26-year-old is one of those players that is hugely underappreciated in this country. For some perplexing reason English football fails to see the value in a player who constantly ticks a team over, plays forward passes and works tirelessly for those around him.
The ex-Barnsley schemer regularly plays between the lines, be that as the initiator of the attack when taking the ball from the back four, or when more advanced and threading the ball into the likes of Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. The fact his average distance of pass, according to Sqauwka is just 19m, may go some way to explaining why man supporters struggle to see what he adds to a midfield.
For comparison purposes, Mesut Ozil averages 15m, David Silva the same and Christian Eriksen 17m. Those players are higher up the pitch on a more regular basis, so their contribution is more easily visible.
On his debut for the Three Lions the Mancunian dictated the play at Wembley using those short passes to control the tempo. He showed his ability on the ball and his link up with Vardy could be a potent weapon in France. Drinkwater also laid on seven assists this term, second only to Riyad Mahrez in the Leicester team, something that appears to have gone massively unnoticed.
People will point to the fact that with N’Golo Kante next to him Drinkwater has an easy ride, and it is true that the Frenchman’s work rate is exceptional but this is in a two-man midfield. Kante’s English partner does more than his fair share of the donkey work. According to whoscored.com, Drinkwater ranks in the top 15 for tackles made this term and is ranked as the 19th best player in the division.
Claudio Ranieri’s go-to man wasn’t even a regular last season and he didn’t even start this campaign as a member of the starting XI but it can’t go unnoticed that none of the other midfielders in the squad found themselves celebrating in front of 240,000 people with the Premier League trophy in their hands earlier this week. That must count for something.
That’s not to say that being a member of the country’s best team should make you an instant part of the England set up, but Drinkwater could become the victim of one of Roy Hodgson most admired and most maligned traits; his loyalty.
The Three Lions boss has introduced great change to the England set up in his tenure, no matter what anyone says. He has reduced the average age of the team massively, especially when you consider the current crop contains not one player over the age of 30 and the outfield players average a mere 24.8 years.
Nevertheless, the former West Brom boss has been known to stick with what he knows, and that is a worry. It is the reason Fabian Delph is in the squad, it’s the reason Jack Wilshere has been selected despite a lack of game time, and the same could be said for Jordan Henderson, who simply cannot be fit enough. If Drinkwater was to fall victim of that loyalty it would not only be wildly unfair but a huge risk. Taking Wilshere or Henderson is fine but to take both would leave a team already vulnerable at the back susceptible in midfield.
That lack of depth defensively is another factor that should strengthen Drinkwater’s case for inclusion further. Hodgson has opted to take just three centre backs, which is indicative of the dearth of defensive talent and a totally justifiable choice, however, a starting pair of Smalling and Cahill will need protection should England progress, placing huge pressure on Eric Dier.
The Spurs man is going to need some form of help at some stage of the tournament. Jack Wilshere is good as a deep lying ball player but he offers very little protection. And what if England lose a centre-half? There is every chance that Dier drops in to defence and England are left with the prospect of deploying James Milner as a midfield shield.
Drinkwater not only deserves to be part of this England squad, he has to be. Over a full campaign he has proved himself to be the best Englishman in his position and England will rue allowing him to go on holiday should he not be taken to the Euros in the coming weeks.