England coach Gareth Southgate is a smart man.
He’s preparing for the inevitable downturn in fortunes of his squad by getting his excuses in early.
There have been too many foreign players in the Premier League for several years now. It’s nothing new and it didn’t stop England using a strong following wind and much good fortune to reach the World Cup semi-finals earlier this year.
That’s the argument the clubs will use to ignore Southgate’s completely accurate claim that he is handcuffed by two-thirds of regular starting players in the Premier League being ineligible for England selection.
It’s a shocking stat and one that should cause concern within the FA. It won’t though because Southgate will now be strangled by his own success.
His latest squad for this new Nations Cup tournament that starts tomorrow (September 8) - aka glorified friendlies - contains such no-hopers as Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and Burnley centre-back James Tarkowski.
The cupboard is bare and Southgate must know deep down his chances of emulating Russia 2018 are remote.
I just wish he’d gambled on the likes of Phil Foden for the forthcoming matches. Saying he hasn’t had enough minutes in the first team is fair, but then Southgate did pick Fabian Delph, a player with as much chance of playing for Manchester City regularly this season as me.
You never know Foden might take to international football. He can’t possibly be as bad as Adam Lallana who has also been picked.
Just how little Southgate has to work with is magnified by the clamour for Watford bruiser Troy Deeney to get a call-up just because he managed to bully a disinterested Spurs side last weekend. My goodness that would be desperate, Deeney is an aging donkey who performs above his station a couple of times a season.
Southgate must also be concerned by the flat form of a lot of his summer heroes.
The biggest clubs haven’t hit their stride so far in this Premier Division season. They’ve still been winning obviously, but the best spectacles have come from unlikely sources like Wolves, Brighton and Fulham which at least augurs well for us armchair fans.
Even Burnley have amused, but probably accidentally.
Chelsea are the jokers in the pack this season. They seem invigorated by the arrival of their latest manager and if Eden Hazard stays interested and motivated they could well challenge Liverpool and City for top spot.
The Londoners have no Champions League football to distract them which is usually a huge advantage.
Elsewhere I’m admiring England legends Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard taking on tough managerial jobs at lower levels.
I fear for Gerrard though. His Rangers side were outclassed by Celtic last weekend in an embarrassingly one-sided encounter. The crossbar was Gerrard’s best player.