Jay Rodriguez becomes the latest Southampton Saint to state his case on the road to 2014 World Cup
Son of Spanish ex-professional given chance to audition for World Cup
Already the door is beginning to swing shut for those players who hope that they may be able to force their way into an England squad that has qualified for next summer's World Cup finals without losing a match. After the two friendlies this month, there will be just one game – against Denmark in March – before Roy Hodgson has to choose the 23 players he will take to Brazil.
Jay Rodriguez, 24, became the latest to edge his way into contention when he was named by Hodgson in a 28-man squad for the friendlies against Chile and Germany this month. He only needs to ask his Southampton team-mate Rickie Lambert how difficult it is to stay there. It was a combination of Lambert's immediate impact against Scotland – he scored the winning goal – and the injuries to Andy Carroll that have granted him the time to establish himself.
While Rodriguez basks in the glow of an England call-up today he might also reflect on the fact that Hodgson said he was primarily in the squad as an alternative to Danny Welbeck, who has been included despite being injured. Nevertheless, it is a fine achievement for the former Burnley striker, born in the Lancashire town to a Spanish father, Kiko, who once played for Deportivo La Coruna, and represents a glimmer of hope for those who work their way up from the Championship.
It is also testament to Southampton, a club prepared to give young English talent a chance in the first team. Quite aside from producing the most expensive footballer of all-time in Gareth Bale, their academy's English roll-call is impressive. It is Southampton who produced Adam Lallana, also named in the senior squad, as well as Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, as Hodgson himself pointed out, Under-21s James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw.
The England manager name-checked Southampton's England Under-19s captain Calum Chambers and he could have mentioned Matt Targett, who also plays at left-back for that age group. In addition they have signed the likes of Rodriguez, Lambert, Jack Cork and Nathaniel Clyne, trusting all of them to play in the Premier League on a regular basis.
If only there were a few more clubs like Southampton with the confidence to give young English talent an opportunity. As for Hodgson, he remains confident that the next generation is good enough to put pressure on their more senior counterparts, although he questions whether the current crop of Under-21s will be able to do so quickly enough to gain a place in the World Cup finals squad.
Gareth Southgate's Under-21s squad for the games against Finland and San Marino this month looks strong once again, including the likes of Jack Butland, Eric Dier, Carl Jenkinson, Shaw, Nat Chalobah, Will Hughes, Ravel Morrison, Ward-Prowse, Tom Ince, Nick Powell, Wilfried Zaha, Saido Berahino and Raheem Sterling.
In the case of Berahino, tipped as a possible outside bet for this squad, Hodgson said that the striker he managed at West Bromwich Albion did not yet measure up to the competition. "I'm not certain that Saido at the moment can definitely be regarded as better than those four [strikers in the squad]. I would prefer him to play for the Under-21s, where we can keep an eye on him, and – who knows? – next summer, he might have forced his way into the team. But he has got a lot to do yet."
As for Rodriguez, Hodgson said it was a "monitoring situation. He's a player I followed when I was at West Bromwich, when he was at Burnley. So I know him from that time. Every time we see Southampton play, he's one of the players we watch specifically. We just think that it is the body of his work and the type of player he is that has encouraged me to select him this time, not least of all because at the moment Danny Welbeck is injured."
Ross Barkley has kept his place in the squad in spite of Hodgson's pointed observation that the 19-year-old has lost his place in the Everton team. Whether he spends the summer at a World Cup or on the beach elsewhere will come to a head quicker than some might imagine.
"The big question will be to what extent I am convinced an 19-year-old is going to keep out of the team one of the seniors who have got us to the World Cup," Hodgson said. "I'd have to be quite convinced."
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