Have you ever noticed how football managers tend to have favourite players that fans sometimes just don't rate for whatever reason?
I don't mean this in a Harry Redknapp 'my nephew is going right to the very top' way, either. Think more about Didier Deschamps' obsession with Olivier Giroud over the years.
The France manager might actually be the best case study here. He guided Les Bleus to the 2018 World Cup with a squad that, for the most part, had matured together over several years. They had several role players and a system they stuck to (particularly after edging past Australia with a more experimental formation).
Gareth Southgate has tried to instil similar qualities in England's tournament squads, an emphasis on systems and tactics rather than just the individual quality of players. It would explain why, for example, he continues to call up Tyrone Mings and not Aston Villa teammate Ezri Konsa, or why he persisted with Harry Winks for so long when even Spurs managers weren't.
He stuck to his guns at the 2018 World Cup with England's weird 3-5-2 formation, and even more so at Euro 2020 with their rather conservative style. It got them to the final, but simultaneously cost them first prize. That said, Southgate always seems to be willing to learn and tinker between tournaments, and has earned the right to do so.
England are viewed as one of the best teams in international football again though, and need to keep adapting and changing in order to stay there and eventually win a major title. One beneficiary of such changes should be centre-back Fikayo Tomori.
The 23-year-old has been on a stupidly vertical upward trajectory for the last few years, despite the lack of fanfare around it. He won Derby's player of the season award ahead of Mason Mount, forced his way into a Chelsea backline with many defenders his senior in front of him, and when he eventually fell out of favour at Stamford Bridge, went off to become crucial to AC Milan's backline instead.
In a youthful Rossoneri side, Tomori has looked more and more like a leader. He plays not only with the discipline and nous you'd expect of someone learning their trade in Italy, but with the physical dominance that English football demanded of him. In Serie A, only Juventus' Matthijs de Ligt and Inter's Milan Skriniar can boast sharing that same combination of attributes.
But as 90min's Max Cooper wrote about on Wednesday, playing abroad has hamstrung English players' chance of breaking into the national team for a long time - as had playing for a side outside of the so-called 'big six'. Southgate has broken the mould of the managers before him in various ways, and should begin integrating Tomori into his selection of 'favourites' because his performances have been too good to warrant otherwise.
Tomori has enough top-flight and Champions League experience to handle the basics of being an England regular. Add to that the bravery of heading abroad mid-pandemic and you have yourself a talented young player who is ambitious and career-driven. These are the kinds of mental hallmarks that make you a 'favourite'.
Harry Maguire, England's most senior centre-back in the current setup, will miss the October internationals through injury. His usual partner John Stones has dropped out of Manchester City's starting XI this season. Mings and Wolves' Conor Coady are simply not good enough to start for a team with aspirations of winning the World Cup.
England face Andorra on Saturday before hosting Hungary next week. Tomori should be getting to grips with the senior setup and be starting in both games.
Source : 90min