Chris Holt: Spare a thought for Sheffield United's Jack O'Connell - we should have been watching him play for England this weekend
This column is quite obviously not designed to make him feel worse than I’m sure he already has for the past year, but it’s difficult to write about Jack O’Connell without feeling like you’re rubbing salt into the wound.
However, as we look ahead to the start of the European Championships on Friday night and England's first match of the tournament against Croatia on Sunday, I can’t help but spare a thought for the Sheffield United defender.
For, I truly believe that had O’Connell not been struck by the need for a knee operation last year then he would have been in Gareth Southgate’s squad. Indeed, in my opinion he’d be a nailed-on starter.
The centre of defence is really the only position that the England boss has an issue with, his side just look a little bit vulnerable, particularly when Harry Maguire isn’t in there.
O’Connell could have been the glue that held it together, then frightened the life out of Europe’s top players by bombing down the left flank and firing a cross onto the head of Harry Kane.
Alas, it’s all ifs, buts and maybes, just like when thinking about the reasoning for why Sheffield United fell off a cliff and ended up relegated last season.
O’Connell’s absence and that drop in form is no coincidence.
When people talk about why the Blades ended up in the Championship, no end of arguments – no fans, recruitment, the Wilder/Prince stand-off, tactics etc, etc – will have me change my stance that it wouldn’t have happened had the brick-heading defender been around.
Enda Stevens’ form nose-dived because O’Connell wasn’t there; Aaron Ramsdale took a while to settle because there was a struggle to find the right formula just in front of him; the midfield was slow and lacked creativity because they didn’t have as many options without O’Connell pushing forward and as a result there weren’t as many chances created for the forwards.
By the time the World Cup comes around in the winter of 2022 - fingers crossed he’ll be fit and firing again – O’Connell will be 29. It’s late to be getting an international call-up but if he recaptured his form from two seasons ago then he’d still deserve it.
It’s just a shame we won’t see him in an England shirt this weekend.