United Kingdom

MARTIN SAMUEL: Drop England captain Harry Kane against Scotland? Gareth Southgate isn't mad

Harry Kane is the Premier League's top goalscorer and goal creator. So that, of course, is who Gareth Southgate should drop going into Friday's game with Scotland.

It's what Sir Alf Ramsey would have done, apparently. To hear some of the reasoning, you might think leaving out Jimmy Greaves was the only judgement call Ramsey ever made.

Not changing the shape of his team mid-tournament. Not giving a first cap to six of the 11 players that started the World Cup final. Not promoting Jack Charlton at the age of 30. 

Every tournament brings a clamour to drop a big name, and now the talk is of Harry Kane

England captain Kane is a fundamental part of the team, even if he did not shine vs Croatia

Not 4-1-3-2. Not standing by Nobby Stiles, despite Football Association pressure. Ramsey did not recall Greaves from injury. And that, therefore, is the blueprint for success at tournaments.

It only takes one stumble, one bad game, and off we stagger down this potholed memory lane. Yes, but is Southgate brave enough to drop Kane? You know, like Ramsey did with Greaves. That's the burning question. 

Just as well Sir Alf didn't trip up the stairs on his way to Wembley that day in 1966. There are people who wouldn't be happy unless Southgate recreated the ancient magic by face-planting as he got off the bus.

Kane didn't have his best game against Croatia. But who do you think Scotland would rather face on Friday night? Him, or Dominic Calvert-Lewin? Even when Kane is below par his very presence is a positive for England. 

If he comes deep he takes one, sometimes two, players with him. His movement is what creates the space for team-mates such as Raheem Sterling to run behind. 

Kane didn't find his stride at Wembley in England's opener but neither did a host of names

Not every England player hit peak form on Sunday. Kyle Walker has certainly been better, so too Phil Foden. Yet only Kane has been forced to field questions about his place in the team.

It is familiar territory. Every tournament there is a clamour to drop a player whose presence is essential to England's success. It was Alan Shearer in 1996, yet in the list of leading goalscorers at the European Championships he sits third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Michel Platini; and six of his seven goals came in that tournament. 

Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, come competition time it is always the biggest name that is under fire, as if Ramsey's call on Greaves was some empty motivational tool, a point being proved, rather than a pragmatic masterstroke.

Southgate removed Kane with eight minutes, plus injury time, remaining against Croatia and even that must have felt a wrench.

Gareth Southgate knows taking Kane out of his side could be a gamble which may backfire

Knowing what Kane can do and leading by a single goal, there are few managers that would take the gamble. 

Barring injury, only three times in the last league campaign did Kane not complete the 90 minutes for Tottenham, and in one of those games they were leading Southampton 5-1 when he was withdrawn.

So Southgate is already bolder than most. But going the full Ramsey? He may not ever be Sir Alf – but he's not mad, either.

Savage truth is this stuff belongs down the pub

An estimated 500,000 people of Turkish origin live in the United Kingdom. Heaven knows what they must have made of the BBC's coverage of Wales versus Turkey on Wednesday. 

Robbie Savage on co-commentary, a clean-sweep of Welsh internationals in the studio, even the father of presenter Gaby Logan played 59 times for Wales. There was not even pretence of impartiality, welcome to the Welsh Broadcasting Corporation.

'I know I can get a bit excitable in the commentary box at times,' said Savage. 'But this is my country doing something I never experienced as a player — bossing it at a major tournament. And I couldn't be prouder.'

Robbie Savage displayed a huge amount of bias while on co-commentary for Wales vs Turkey

Great, Rob. Buy a ticket. Cheer to your heart's content. We'll probably cheer with you. But the commentary box, the television studio, is for analysis. The sort of turn Emma Hayes is doing over on ITV — telling people stuff they might not already know, based on professional expertise. Explaining what is happening and why. 

Asking how long there is to go every two minutes for the last 10 minutes isn't the same. 

Wales were excellent against Turkey. After so long outside the major events, enthusiasm is understandable. 

Yet fans with microphones are not indulged when England play. This is a public broadcasting service. Raw emotion belongs in the pub.

Let's look on the bite side

There is a reason Antonio Rudiger has not been banned for biting Paul Pogba when Germany played France, it's because he did not bite him. 

He certainly acted weirdly but there was no evidence of a bite beyond the usual still images and confected outrage on social media. 

Fortunately, sanity prevailed.

Forget small matter of Benitez insult

The reason some Evertonians are opposed to the best man getting the job at Goodison Park dates back to a match on February 3, 2007. 

Liverpool 0 Everton 0 is remembered for only one thing — then-Liverpool manager Benitez calling Everton 'a small club'. 

He says he did not intend to. He insists he meant to call them a small team, as in small-minded, unambitious. A little indulgence is surely fair, then, given he's not working in his first language.

Also, it is worth revisiting the quote in its entirety. 'I was really disappointed because one team wanted to win the game and one team didn't want to lose it,' said Benitez. 

'Everton put eight or nine men behind the ball and defended deep but that's what small clubs do.' Asked to clarify, he doubled down. 'When a team comes to Anfield and only want a point what else can you call them but a small club?'

Rafa Benitez moving to Everton would be one of the biggest football shocks in recent years

Rude, yes, but managers in the immediate aftermath of a game have never been known for impartiality or keen rationalisation. 

Benitez was frustrated and mired in third place, steadily losing sight of Manchester United and Chelsea. He would have hoped to beat Everton at home, failed, and took it out on their negative tactics rather than the shortcomings of his team. He wouldn't be the first.

Plus, he had a point. Everton had last won at Anfield in 1999 and were seven games into a run that would see them visit 24 times in all competitions without victory.  The 2-0 win at Liverpool on February 20 this year was Everton's first of the century. There are considerably smaller clubs with better records.

The type of manager who might be able to change this is one who has delivered titles and European trophies, often against the odds. 

Indeed, it would be interesting to see how Benitez would approach Anfield as Everton manager. He could hardly put nine men behind the ball after that little outburst. As for those who are already against him, what does it say that they cannot set aside words said 14 years ago? Does it not appear a little, well, small?

Plucky Villa highlight Arsenal's fall 

David Dein once spoke of Roman Abramovich parking his tanks on Arsenal's lawn. It is rather more worrying now Aston Villa are doing it.

Having beaten them to the signing of Norwich midfielder Emiliano Buendia, Villa then made a £25million bid for Emile Smith-Rowe.

It was rejected, of course and Smith-Rowe still has two years of his contract left, but it speaks volumes that Villa even thought they had a chance. You've got to love them for it. 

Having built on the bold desire to retain Jack Grealish, even in the Championship, Villa's owners invest relatively in a way that is beyond the Kroenkes at Arsenal.

Recruiting Buendia despite Arsenal's interest was a statement of intent and maybe Mikel Arteta is now discovering what a season without European football means.

Villa tried their luck by bidding for Emile Smith Rowe, showing task Mikel Arteta has at hand

It proved no easier to attract goalkeeper David Raya from Brentford — both clubs are only offering Premier League football — while another target, Tiago Tomas, now has Champions League football if he stays at Sporting Lisbon.

That Arsenal appointed a head-hunting team from Nolan Partners to recruit new scouts, rather than relying on the football knowledge and contacts within, is an indictment of a club that has lost its way. 

Smarter operators like Villa have spotted an opportunity and pounced. Given the contempt Arsenal displayed for the rest of the league when announcing their doomed breakaway, more power to these upstarts. 

Shunning sponsors won't work for all

Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba have been much praised for relocating sponsor-brand drinks during their press conferences. 

Ronaldo moved two Coca-Cola bottles and told those listening to drink water, Pogba, who is Muslim, understandably ditched a bottle of Heineken, even though it was zero alcohol. 

This is part of a wider backlash against unhealthy sponsor products. 

'There are enough people around from whom you can get sponsorship,' said Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.

Cristiano Ronaldo caused a stir when he removed two Coca-Cola bottles from the camera line

But will that be true, in the post-covid global recession? Will it be true given football clubs are already facing a £110m shortfall if the government bans gambling firms from the front of shirts? 

No sooner had the ECB announced its £4m deal with KP Snacks for The Hundred – which will bring unprecedented income into the women's game, for instance – it was decried for promoting junk food. 

As if your child getting fat is the fault of Northern Superchargers or Birmingham Phoenix, cricket teams yet to play a game in a completely untried format.

Owners like Dale Vince of Forest Green Rovers can take a principled stand against gambling adverts in football, because he has positioned his club in its eco-friendly niche, so will always attract sponsors in that market. 

For others, it is harder out there. The glib notion that there are never-ending revenue streams, and clubs can reject any company that is not fat-free, sugar-free, salt-free and does not in any way tempt humanity into deadly sin, plus gambling, might be tested in the coming years.

France's Paul Pogba followed up with the removal of a non-alcoholic Heineken bottle 

For it won't stop here. Once this campaign is won, another will start, perhaps involving ethical purity. Standard Chartered's stance in Hong Kong; Chevrolet's polluting Corvette. 

Norwich have already been forced to ditch their new sponsor, online casino BK8, because of the highly-sexualised nature of its promotions. Maybe clubs could be provided with a list of perfect companies, selling perfect products, that they can all hustle for cash in this newly perfect world. 

It will be a small pool and, without competition, a much-reduced one financially. Big enough to support every club and every athlete in every sport in this country through a recession? 

We'll soon find out. But obviously the government won't need its billions from football's tax revenue. Just think how slim and fit and spotlessly pure we'll all be.

Controversial UEFA broadcast call 

At Wembley last weekend, when Harry Kane collided with a goalpost the cameras cut away to an aerial shot of the ground. This followed what many felt were intrusive images following the collapse of Christian Eriksen, not least those of his acutely distressed partner. 

Yet Kane's was a straight football injury. His life wasn't endangered, in fact, after a short delay he played on. 

Now we hear UEFA have ordered broadcasters not to show the aftermath of potentially serious injuries. How ridiculous. Kane is England's captain. 

The nation wants to know he's fit and well, not receive an image that gives the impression he's half-dead. What must his family and friends, watching at home, have thought? This is another senseless over-reaction in a world increasingly filled with them. 

Dark horses? Not likely 

In a savage blow for football's hipsters, Turkey are not one of the European Championships dark horses after all. In fact, they are one of the weaker teams in it. 

The evidence to here suggest the winners are likely to come from a pool including France, Belgium, Italy, maybe Portugal, as predicted by conventionalists and dinosaurs. 

Sometimes it's hip to be square.

Turkey were tipped as dark horses for Euro 2020 but have looked very underwhelming 

Rosy for Mo 

Liz McColgan intimated that Mo Farah was getting special treatment with the specially arranged race to help him make the Olympic 10,000 metre qualifying time. 

Of course he is. He's Mo Farah. 

It's as daft as questioning Andy Murray's Wimbledon wildcard.

Another Welsh surge? 

Wales to go further than England again, as happened in 2016? Have a look at the way the knock-out draw is shaping up. You wouldn't bet against it. 

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