CRAIG HOPE: If Kane gets hurt, who is Southgate’s go-to striker? Wilson is staking a claim to rival Abraham for a World Cup spot with Calvert-Lewin and Watkins struggling… and could Welbeck have a chance?
- Gareth Southgate does not have a wealth of options to choose from up front
- Newcastle’s Callum Wilson has pressed his case for inclusion in the squad
- Southgate met Newcastle boss Eddie Howe to discuss the 30-year-old forward
- Howe has described Wilson as ‘one of the best strikers’ in the country
When Gareth Southgate spoke to Eddie Howe recently about Callum Wilson, the enquiry was less perfunctory than it may appear.
The England boss has a duty to check on the form and fitness of all available players, but in the case of Wilson, the notion of a recall ahead of November’s World Cup is a real possibility.
The same can be said for any English centre forward who scores goals and keeps himself free of injury in the coming months, given the scarcity of such a commodity.
Gareth Southgate has discussed Callum Wilson with Newcastle boss Eddie Howe
Howe described Wilson as ‘one of the best strikers in England’ as he targets a World Cup spot
Southgate certainly does not boast the mid-90s wealth of Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Chris Sutton and Stan Collymore.
When Sportsmail put it to Howe on Friday that you do not have to scratch far beneath Harry Kane before you get to Wilson, the Newcastle boss backed his man to win a seat on the plane to Qatar.
‘For me, he’s one of the best strikers in England,’ said Howe. ‘The only question mark is how many games he plays. If he plays enough, I passionately believe he will score enough goals to play himself into the squad.’
Howe added: ‘I have spoken to Gareth a number of times and yes, Callum has come up. The only thing that has stopped him being regularly in that squad is injuries. He will be looking to stay fit and contribute goals for us, and if he does that, he will elevate himself back into Gareth’s thinking.’
Wilson scored on his debut against the United States under Southgate in 2018 but has not appeared since his fourth cap the following year. The 30-year-old believes 10 goals by November will put him in the frame.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has slipped down England’s pecking order
‘I back myself, I want to go the World Cup, so it’s about hitting the ground running,’ said Wilson, who scored in Newcastle’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest last weekend. ‘I am sure double figures would get you in the squad. At the moment I’m probably not in the running, but it’s in my mind.’
Wilson’s ambition feels all the more achievable when exploring the competition. Assuming Southgate picks three who can play as a central striker — as he did in his 26-man squad for the European Championship last summer — the two places as back-up to Kane are up for grabs. The bookmakers tell you Tammy Abraham and Marcus Rashford are the favourites to fill them.
When it comes to Rashford, your eyes tell you otherwise. In fact, on the evidence of Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat by Brighton last weekend it is Seagulls striker Danny Welbeck who looks international class. Rashford is more bottom of the class.
Abraham has shone in Italy — he scored 27 times in all competitions for Roma last season — but the 24-year-old has never convinced with England. His three goals have come in routs against minnows.
Welbeck, 31, has looked the part in an England jersey, but has not played since 2018. Like Wilson, though, should his opening-day form carry over into the autumn, he becomes a viable option.
One year ago, you would not have bet against Dominic Calvert-Lewin going to Qatar. He was Kane’s deputy at the Euros but was last seen during the quarter-final win over Ukraine. There have been just five goals for Everton since and, given his knee injury, Southgate would be right to consider others.
Roma’s Tammy Abraham has shone in Italy but has failed to convince in the national shirt
But question marks surround all the alternatives. Patrick Bamford failed to impress during his sole cap last September and has played just seven times for Leeds since. Ollie Watkins is not starting at Aston Villa amid reports he will be sold, and clubmate Danny Ings has not replicated the form at Southampton which saw him called up by Southgate in 2020.
Beyond that there is Brentford’s Ivan Toney, who Southgate has not fancied to date. Eddie Nketiah, of Arsenal, is in the system having scored 16 goals for the Under 21s, but he is undecided on whether to choose Ghana over England.
It says much that former Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson has urged Southgate to consider Jamie Vardy, who retired from international football four years ago.
But when it comes to the immediate future of England, Southgate may well find his answers in the past. It is why the likes of Wilson are right to dream.