Alex Oxlade Chamberlain says the decision to drop him from the England setup served as a “kick up the backside”.
The young midfielder was briefly set aside during Sam Allardyce’s tenure as manager of the England side, missing out on the win over Slovakia in the opening qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup.
And, as laughably brief and gilded with greed as Allardyce’s stint was, it is difficult to argue that his decision to leave out Chamberlain was the wrong one.
So it came as something as a surprise to me that interim boss, Gareth Southgate, decided that the 23-year-old had done enough in the last month or so to warrant a recall to the senior squad.
Even as a pretty positive, optimistic Arsenal fan – I think it would be a stretch to say that Alex has been in the sort of form that would justify coming straight back into the national setup – especially so soon after he was dropped.
How much of a kick up the backside one game on the sidelines can be, I don’t know, but Alex spoke briefly about not taking his inclusion in the national squad for granted.
He said: “It was a wake-up call. To be available, feeling good and fit and not be in was a jolt.
“I have been playing for England since I was 18 and while I wouldn’t say I took it all for granted it just seemed to be a part of my season – to play for Arsenal and to play for England,” added Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“I am not young now, I am 23, so you need to be performing and playing as much as you can to deserve a chance to go and play for England.
“Being back in the set-up now makes me realise how special it is and it is something I want to keep happening in the foreseeable future.
“There are a lot of young players now that are doing really well and it’s not an easy squad to get into. You shouldn’t just be able to walk into an England squad.”
A goal against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, followed by a telling contribution in the late victory at Burnley, suggests there has been improvement in Alex’s game.
But it wouldn’t be fair to say he has hit the sort of form that we suspect he is capable of. During pre-season, there were hints of the sort of swashbuckling, progressive Chamberlain that we have seen in the past.
The pace, the power, the direct running that changes the tempo of matches and gives the opponent something different – that’s what we want from the youngster – but I don’t think we have seen enough of it.
Allardyce’s decision to drop Alex felt like the correct one and, I had hoped, genuinely would serve as a kick up the backside, a real motivator for him to stay fit, re-focus and make the most of the skills at his disposal.
A rapid recall to the England squad, for me, doesn’t really do that. Instead of sending a tough message about only fielding players in good form, it sends a message that suggests simply that Alex’s status as an Arsenal player secures him a place in the England team.
That’s not a message that benefits either Arsenal or England. He needs that added fire in his belly, he needs to be sat at home watching the England team and feeling a sense of resentment that he isn’t involved.
I’ll be delighted if I am proved wrong. If Alex get’s some game time in England’s upcoming fixtures, excels, and uses it as a springboard for the rest of his season – so much the better. I’ll be the first to blog about his epiphany and coming of age.
But the whole situation has shades of Theo Walcott – a player who earned inclusion in England squads based on two-or-three game runs of decent form.
Theo never seemed to benefit from being at tournaments with England, or scoring goals in friendlies. It never changed his game.
What really seems to have driven Theo’s quite excellent renaissance this season was his exclusion from the England squad that travelled to France for the European Championships.
He seems to have used that to take time out, really work at his game, and learn from his shortcomings. Consequently, he has started this season in excellent form. He is at last beginning to look like the consistent sort of player Arsene Wenger bought into all those years ago.
Alex should look to Theo as his example to follow. Learn as Theo seems to have learned. Work doubly hard on the basics and the rewards are obvious.
I hope that jumping straight back into the England squad doesn’t send the wrong message to Alex. I hope he doesn’t treat it as reward for a job well done. He is getting better after a difficult start to the season, but he isn’t there yet.
For me, this England recall is unwelcome and has come too soon but, when he returns to London Colney next week, I hope it is with renewed determination and desire to improve and not self-satisfaction.