If you’d have used the words “Glenn Murray”, “plane” and “World Cup” in a cohesive sentence back in the summer, then you would probably have found yourself in the secure unit of a psychiatric hospital very quickly.
Yet here we are, three months away from Gareth Southgate and his 23-man squad stepping on to the tarmac in Moscow, ready and waiting to inflict another predictable summer of disappointment and soul-searching on us all and suddenly, Murray’s possible inclusion doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
His double on Saturday took him to ten goals this season, and only three Englishmen in the Premier League have more – Harry Kane on 24, Raheem Sterling on 15 and Jamie Vardy on 13. Murray is level with England’s all-time leading scoring Wayne Rooney and he has retired from international football anyway.
In the three England squads Southgate has named so far this season, he has picked eight different strikers. Sterling is treated as a winger, meaning that the players to receive call-ups and their Premier League goal totals so far are Kane (24), Vardy (13), Tammy Abraham (four), Marcus Rashford (four), Danny Welbeck (three), Jermain Defoe (three), Daniel Sturridge (two) and Dominic Solanke (none).
If the squad was Russia-bound tomorrow, that would make Murray the third highest goalscorer available and eligible for the Three Lions.
It isn’t just his goalscoring record that is a case for inclusion. Look through that list and every player on it bar Kane is similar in style. They are all strikers who rely largely on their pace to get in behind defences.
Should injury befall Kane before or during the World Cup, that would leave a very one-dimensional looking set of strikers heading to Russia. Variety is the spice of life, and Murray adds something none of the others do – the skillset of a traditional target man.
Who better to throw on than a player adept at holding the ball up when we’re desperately holding on to a 1-0 lead in the closing stages against Tunisia, or to try to nick a headed goal in the final minutes against Panama when we’ve resorted to launching balls into the box in the hope of salvaging a draw? Not to mention his excellent record from the penalty spot should the dreaded shoot-out rear its ugly head.
Southgate isn’t averse to calling up veteran strikers, as Defoe’s recall last season showed. And it isn’t unheard of for a forward in his 30s who has spent most of his career known for being prolific in the lower leagues to make a late dash for a World Cup spot.
Rickie Lambert received his first call-up in August, 2013, at the age of 31, scored with his first touch in international football two minutes after coming off the bench against Scotland – and nine months later, his passport was receiving an unexpected stamp from Brazilian passport control.
Could Murray follow suit? It would certainly be a thinking-outside-the-box pick, but that’s surely what a country who have won two games of knockout football since 1990 needs?
An even more thinking-outside-the-box pick would be taking Lewis Dunk as a centre-forward. His goal for the Swans was his fourth of the season, meaning he now has more than Welbeck, Defoe and Sturridge as well. Get Dunk scoring goals up the right end of the pitch and partner him with Murray up front in Russia – they surely can’t do a worse job than losing to Iceland.
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