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Time For A Call-Up? Four European Internationals From Outside The Top Flight


Time For A Call-Up? Four European Internationals From Outside The Top Flight

In the autumn of 2018, England manager Gareth Southgate displayed great bravery, with the Euro ’96 semi-finalist giving call-ups to a number of young players that have yet to make their international bow.

Derby County midfielder Mason Mount was, arguably, the most eyebrow-raising of the England players that went into the November 2018 international break as part of Southgate’s plans.

He did so as part of a Derby side that ranked high in the Championship outright odds list ahead of that break. Here, we look back at four others who "got the call" whilst plying their trade outside their respective top flight leagues.

Kevin Phillips (England, 1999)

In 1998/99, Phillips was lighting up the second tier with Sunderland, and Kevin Keegan duly rewarded him with a first international call-up.

Subsequently, Phillips made his England debut on 28 April 1999 against Hungary in a Budapest friendly, but it was a low-key affair, and Phillips would make just seven more appearances for the Three Lions.

Though called up for Euro 2000, Phillips did not play in that disastrous affair, but his focus was always on keeping Sunderland in the top flight after a blistering first season in the Premier League.

Very much the Jamie Vardy of his generation, Phillips made an effortless transition from the second tier to the Premier League, winning the competition’s Golden Boot in 1999/2000 with thirty goals.

He never hit the same heights thereafter, and transferred to Southampton after Sunderland’s relegation in 2003.

He enjoyed an excellent second half to 2003/04, but once more found himself a victim of circumstances as the lack of leadership at St Mary’s Stadium culminated in the Saints’ relegation in 2005.

It was here that Phillips would become the archetypical journeyman, twice being on the losing side in a playoff final for West Brom and Blackpool, (in 2007 and 2012, respectively).

There was a happy ending, however. During his spell with Leicester, his wisdom was a great asset to the dressing room in the Foxes’ promotion campaign of 2013/14.

Thus, it is certainly open to interpretation just how much of a role his presence played, in making the club’s initial promotion possible, just two years before the greatest sporting miracle of modern times.

Massimo Maccarone (Italy, 2002)

Back in March 2002, Serie A-bound Empoli striker Maccarone travelled to Elland Road to face England for his international debut.

He made no direct impact on the game in terms of goals scored, but he did make it a memorable international debut by winning the penalty that sealed victory for his side.

With the striker berths of for the Italian World Cup squad of 2002 long since spoken for, Maccarone would have little chance thereafter of making a good case for a place in the first XI.

In October 2002, he would make his second and final appearance for Italy, but not before Middlesbrough’s then-manager Steve McLaren saw fit to splash out on his signature.

He scored a modest tally of nine goals in his first season on Teesside. However, that was still enough for him to be crowned as his club’s top gun, in a 2002/03 campaign best described as ‘nondescript’ for the 11th-placed Boro.

He never hit the same ‘heights’ and became increasingly redundant in a Boro side that spent much of the mid-2000s fighting on two fronts. That said, he did score some important goals in Boro's remarkable run to the 2006 UEFA Cup final.

For Maccarone, there has never been any place like home. After successful loan spells in Italy, Maccarone moved permanently to Siena in 2007, hitting double figures in two of the next three seasons.

He is also living evidence that some players do enjoy an ‘Indian summer’ in their twilight years, having returned to Empoli in 2012, helping the club greatly in its successful promotion campaign of 2013/14.

Lukas Podolski (Germany, 2006)

Head coach Marcel Koller made the big call in November 2003 to give Podolski his professional debut.

Though Podolski’s impact was immediate for Koln, the ten goals he plundered were not enough to keep his club up – but they were enough to see him included in the Euro 2004 squad.

With Podolski’s call up came the inevitable slew of links to better clubs. However, he stayed at Cologne, and fired his club to immediate promotion back to the Bundesliga – only to see them drop back into the second tier despite his best efforts.

By this time, Podolski was one of Germany’s most important strikers, and he once more received a call up despite being a lower-tier player.

The World Cup arguably completed the ‘making’ of Podolski. He scored in Germany’s third group-stage game (vs Ecuador), and bagged a super-quick brace against Sweden as his country reached the semi-finals and finished third.

While his club career might have been more prolific, he is still a winner of club-level silverware in three different nations.

A final tally of 49 goals in 130 appearances for the four-time World Cup winners is also no mean feat and, on the balance of it all, Podolski can take many more positives than negatives from his career.

Federico Bernardeschi (Italy, 2014)

Now part of a Juventus squad that was odds-on to win Serie A before the season's start, the Fiorentina-reared Bernardeschi made a name for himself after spending the 2013/14 season on loan at Serie B club Crotone, getting 12 goals in 39 appearances.

While he looked like a promising addition, nobody could have foreseen just how quickly he would rise to the top of his nation’s pyramid.

Many people would argue that it all began with his shock call-up to the Italy squad in April 2014, with players vying to become the next shock inclusion in the squad for the upcoming World Cup.

While there was never any question of him playing in the side for that round of friendlies, it was as sure a sign of any that he was the future of his country.

Once back at Fiorentina, Bernardeschi continued to impress. He netted in only his second appearance for the club, on 18 September 2014 in a Europa League match against EA Guingamp, earning the number ten jersey the following season.

In Florence culture, owning that number has real significance, and it is deeply associated with the expectation of being a consistent deliverer of through-balls or crosses for the main striker.

Thereafter, it was only a question of when he would make his international debut, and he did in March 2016 against fellow Euro 2016 favourites Spain and Germany.

His impact was clearly enough to see him named in the 23-man squad for that tournament, but he would play only once, in an inconsequential defeat to Ireland.

As of autumn 2018, Bernardeschi is a valued part of a title-defending Juventus squad, which spent the November break of 2018/19 as third-favourites to win the Champions League.

He is also a symbol of hope for a nation utterly devastated by its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing

 

 

 

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