Victory for England’s trophy virgins would be Spurs victory “I was running around like an England fan,” said Mauricio Pochettino after Harry Kane’s late winner against Tunisia. We have not yet had word on the Argentine’s reaction to England’s win over Sweden, but we presume he has gone full face paint. Should Gareth Southgate’s men reach the final, it is likely that three of his Tottenham players will start for England. And those three players – along with Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire – form three-fifths of a significant proportion of England’s first-choice XI who have so far won nothing with their clubs.
Four years ago, only one starting German World Cup winner had not yet lifted a club trophy, and that man – Christoph Kramer – only featured because Sami Khedira was injured in the warm-up. Eight years ago, not a single member of Spain’s starting XI had not already won trophies with their clubs; they were almost all serial winners. Should England follow those countries in lifting the World Cup, five of their likely starting XI will be getting their hands on silverware for the very first time.
If you’re still thinking that does not sound unusual, consider that Croatia’s starting XI from their quarter-final win over Russia did not contain a single potless player. Even if we were to haughtily discount Croatian domestic honours, that would only see one man emerge as a trophy virgin. Meanwhile, a three-time Champions League winner began that game on the bench. By whatever measure – be that previous winners or current opposition – England’s players are incredibly light on tangible success.
The retirements – forced or otherwise – of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Wayne Rooney and James Milner have inevitably left a callow set of players, while title winners like Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have been marginalised if not completely ostracised by Southgate. Add to that the long-established principle of English players refusing to leave England despite dwindling opportunities at English clubs, and you arrive at a place where some of this England team have bizarrely more chance of winning the World Cup than any domestic trophy.
Nine of the players on this list of the greatest ten Premier League players who have won f*** all are English and three are current Tottenham players, with Harry Kane sitting in a group of one at the top, cradling over 100 Premier League goals, two Golden Boots and four appearances in the PFA Team of the Year, but no actual trophy. It’s little wonder he looks so desperately hungry for success at this World Cup; it’s worth noting that simply beating Tunisia made England shorter odds to win this tournament than Tottenham to win next season’s Premier League title.
“If he has a hunger for trophies and for notoriety he would have to leave Spurs. If he has no hunger for that, but (wants) recognition and stability, he would stay at Spurs,” said former Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas, who had clearly not considered the third way: Kane winning a trophy with his country. It’s a scenario that must be incredibly appealing to his current club manager, burdened with hundreds of questions about the likelihood of keeping some of the Premier League’s finest players without tangible reward. Should a phalanx of Tottenham players win the World Cup, the idea of them abandoning the White Hart Lane ship in search of League Cup glory seems ludicrous.
As bittersweet as it might be for some Tottenham fans to see their club represented more than any other in the World Cup semi-finals, pleasure should be taken not only in seeing beloved players lift the greatest trophy in football, but in the knowledge that international success may lead to domestic stability. Monkeys will be prised off backs, feet may not get quite so itchy and this current crop of excellent young English players may well remain at Tottenham long enough to win something together for club as well as country.