Nathaniel Clyne’s England prospects are in the balance. Improving on his steady reputation this season for Liverpool is a must.
England began Tuesday’s friendly international against France without a single Liverpool player in the team.
What a difference from England’s World Cup match against Uruguay a mere three summers ago. Then, Liverpool had four men in the team with new arrivals Ricky Lambert and Adam Lallana also coming on as subs and even former Reds boss Roy Hodgson as coach.
Lallana was probably benched against France after expending a lot of energy during Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland at a sun-drenched Hampden Park.
Injury accounted for the other three absentees from the England squad. Jordan Henderson has been missing for months, while Daniel Sturridge was deemed too fragile to play and faces another summer trying to regain something resembling top-flight fitness.
The fourth Liverpool player eligible for duty but missing was Nathaniel Clyne. He dropped out of Gareth Southgate’s squad with a back problem, but has long since lost his place to Tottenham’s Kyle Walker.
Walker’s understudy at Spurs, Kieran Trippier, was selected for the match in Paris — casting another shadow over Clyne’s international career.
Trippier did OK against France, and international managers aren’t very forgiving when players drop out of their squad. Clyne’s fitness might only be questioned by the very cynical, although he was the player who played most minutes for Liverpool last season.
If Walker moved to Manchester City, as rumoured, then Trippier steps up under the excellent defensive guidance of Mauricio Pochettino. Clyne may find himself third choice right-back by the time England play in next year’s World Cup in Russia.
None of which will perturb many Liverpool fans. They’re only interested in how a player performs in red and would probably be thrilled if informed Clyne had decided to rest up and make sure he was fully fit for Liverpool’s upcoming season — one that promises to be far busier than 2016-17.
Clyne’s reputation has taken something of a hit since his move to Liverpool. He bucked the trend at first by leaving Southampton for Anfield for a reasonable price, since other departures have swelled the Saints’ bank balance considerably.
He’s not exactly been a roaring success at Anfield although in fairness the right-back position rarely helps anyone wishing to become a superstar.
It’s like being the bass player in a rock band, plodding away at the back. Every so often a Paul McCartney emerges, a Dani Alves or even Milan’s Cafu, but mostly they’re the dependable type.
ESPN FC match ratings are sometimes tricky to get right, but it’s getting harder to find new descriptions for Clyne’s performances. A thesaurus comes in handy; reliable, stable, steady — those are the words that inevitably spring to mind.
A little hope followed last season’s opener, when Liverpool won 4-3 at Arsenal. The third goal was scored by Philippe Coutinho after excellent wing play by Clyne, but it proved the exception rather than the rule.
Walker, by contrast, features in a better defensive set-up at Spurs while using his pace to great effect going forward. He’ll continue to get the nod at international level for that reason alone.
Reliability isn’t the worst thing in the world, however. For a successful side, it can be very important. When Liverpool dominated football, one of the biggest medal collections belonged to Phil Neal.
When that domination switched to Manchester United, Gary Neville ratcheted up a similarly impressive medal haul without ever being considered a star player.
Other Liverpool players have fitted this description in the modern era. Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa were also consistent and trustworthy at the back.
Indeed, when it was felt the brilliant 2009 team needed a little more attacking thrust from their right side, they spent a fairly big £16 million on Glen Johnson, only to discover a certain solidity was sacrificed. It hasn’t to this day ever really returned, although it would be idiotic to blame all the right-backs since and including Johnson for that.
Liverpool have let it be known through obliging media outlets they intend to spend big this summer, although they appear to be making quite a hash of it so far.
Fans would be amazed if any of that money was earmarked for a right-back, particularly with a promising deputy like Trent Alexander-Arnold waiting in the wings. He played well in the 1-1 league draw at Old Trafford last January, and some fans were annoyed he did not feature more throughout the season’s final months.
Clyne may be facing more than the loss of his international place if he cannot improve on last season’s performances.
It’s clear a better season next time around would also improve Clyne’s chances of going to the 2018 World Cup. He may not get another chance, and Liverpool can only benefit from his determination to make the cut next summer.