Updated: Thursday, 27th February 2020 @ 5:52pm

Comment: Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are not Brazil-liant – but who else have England got?

Comment: Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are not Brazil-liant – but who else have England got?

| By Scott Hunt

It was baffling, befuddling and bewildering to see the names of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling among England’s World Cup squad – yet depressingly predictable.

The Manchester United pair have had woeful seasons littered with injury and a plethora of embarrassingly poor performances.

Despite this, when every fan in pubs up and down the country played the ‘guess the World Cup squad’ game, it is safe to assume both Jones and Smalling made almost every list.

There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that they both play for Manchester United and the second is that there is nobody else out there who is any better.

 

Both arrived at Manchester United as young hopefuls who Sir Alex Ferguson splashed a combined fee in the region of £25million on the pair.

It has been a similar path to prominence for both Jones and Smalling, who started their United careers showing great promise.

But they have tailed away so significantly it will be startling if they have a career at United at all for too much longer.

Jones has been utilised in a number of positions since his arrival at Old Trafford in 2011 – at centre-back, right-back and in central midfield.

Despite the variety of positions in which he has played, Jones is yet to find a position he can play well in.

Hopeless on the ball, late to every tackle and often out of position, Jones is a defensive liability and looks a player who more relegation fodder than Premier League champion.

Smalling is a more frustrating case as there are often glimpses of a strong defender on show.

Unfortunately, these promising displays are surrounded by an array of disappointing outings, both at right-back and centre-back, displaying a lack of consistency that will cost him his Old Trafford future if it continues.

Smalling, despite his commanding stature at almost 6ft 4in, is often bullied by a forceful forward and does not dictate his game to attackers the way a man of his size should.

In Wednesday’s clash with Ecuador, Smalling’s weakness in the air resembled a giraffe trying (and failing) to reach a leaf as he watched the ball sail over his head for the South American side’s opener.

All of the above should make it perfectly clear that the pair should not be in a World Cup squad and yet, because they represent Manchester United, they are almost automatic picks.

It seems to be, by plying their trade at the Theatre of Dreams, that it must make them quality players when in reality neither are deserving of their spot.

If Jones and Smalling still represented Blackburn Rovers and Fulham, for instance, there is no way Roy Hodgson would have taken them on the plane to Brazil.

Aside from the first-choice pair of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka, Hodgson has a very small pool to choose from when it comes to centre-backs.

Everton’s inexperienced John Stones is the name chosen on the stand-by list after an impressive first full Premier League season on Merseyside.

He would have every right to think he should have edged out one of Jones and Smalling in the pecking order.

Hull’s Curtis Davies had a remarkable season for the newly-promoted club as they survived comfortably in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup Final and will also believe he could have rocked up in Rio this summer.

Davies, of course, does not represent a fashionable club.

Elsewhere, there isn’t much around.

Outgoing Manchester City star Joleon Lescott is not playing regularly and the likes of Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross and Cardiff’s Steven Caulker are not exactly knocking at the door.

With the cupboard being so bare, Hodgson probably sees he has no choice but to go back to Jones and Smalling – which is a depressing state of affairs for any Three Lions fan.

A large helping of cotton wool should accompany the England squad to Brazil to wrap Cahill and Jagielka up and keep the United duo perched firmly on the bench.

If England have to rely on Jones or Smalling against Italy and Mario Balotelli or against Uruguay and Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani then they are truly doomed.

Their inclusion in the squad is a sad indictment on the national game and also highlights the draw for England managers to pick players from the big clubs.

Purely on footballing reasons, Jones and Smalling should not be in Brazil this summer – except to soak up some samba sunshine.

Image courtesy of Manchester United Foundation via Youtube with thanks