Barnes’ omission might be harsh, but does make sense


Despite scoring four goals this season, Ashley Barnes has been left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

We’ve heard it all before – a player from a “not so fashionable” club starts scoring goals in the Premier League, ruffling feathers of defenders, and generally making a name for themselves.

Immediately after, fans of “not so fashionable” clubs start clamouring for said player to be involved in an upcoming England squad to try and eliminate the “big club bias”.

Then, the England manager announces his squad, which doesn’t include the said, in-form flavour of the month and all hell breaks loose.

This time, it’s Ashley Barnes that has caused Gareth Southgate to feel the wrath of fans who feel he should have been handed an opportunity for the upcoming games against Bulgaria and Kosovo – two games which the Three Lions are near certainties to win providing they play at 50% of their best.

“It’s always the same names,” cry the champions of the underdogs, even though the squad includes four uncapped players.

“He picks players based who they play for,” they moan, despite the fact that around a third of the 25-man squad do not play for an established top-six club – not including Kieran Trippier or Jadon Sancho. Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are top six-y enough.

It’s hard to deny that Barnes is a good Premier League level striker. He is an archetypal “horrible centre forward to play against” – if he wants the ball (which he does often), he will chase and hunt for it, even if it means giving away a free kick and leaving a few bruises on opponents.

He follows the same mould of strikers who have come and gone in the past such as Troy Deeney, Glenn Murray and Grant Holt – good, honest, and valuable players to their clubs, but whom have never made the step up to international level.

The explanation is perhaps as simple as it is brutal – they’re just not quite good enough.

Barnes might score plenty for Burnley, but playing for the Clarets and playing for England are completely different.

For Burnley, a system is designed to get the best out of Barnes, and it works brilliantly. Would an England team ever be built around Ashley Barnes?

To not give him an opportunity whatsoever might be harsh, but Southgate watches players every week in the top flight – he will surely assess whether they have the capability to transfer their club game to international level.

Instead, Southgate has developed a close-knit squad with around 18-20 regulars, and form players fill up the other spaces.

This gives more continuity to England training sessions and allows the group to have more chemistry on-field – if the squad chops and changes constantly then Southgate has little time to implement any alternatives.

Those that have come in externally, such as James Maddison, have shown technical qualities that would see them easily fit into Southgate’s plans.

Barnes is just unfortunate – he excels for his club, but that simply isn’t enough to warrant international selection.