This March’s international break will provide a final chance for players to prove they’re worth a place in their nation’s European Championship squads. At this late stage it should be a tweaking exercise, however there are some high profile names who’ve been absent from their teams for a long time and might provide their managers with a headache as the clock ticks down to UEFA’s summer jamboree.
Thomas Muller- Germany (Last cap, November 2018)
A key figure in Germany’s triumphant World Cup squad of 2014, Muller earned 100 caps and hit five goals in back to back World Cup campaigns. However, Muller was culled from the squad in the aftermath of Germany’s abysmal showing in Russia and subsequent Nations League failure.
A quiet 2018-19 season seemed to justify Joachim Low’s decision to move on from Muller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, however, the attacking midfielder has rebounded with an outstanding campaign for Bayern. Thus far Muller’s provided 12 assists, just one behind Jadon Sancho and has netted 5 times in the Bundesliga.
Of course assists statistics always look better if you’re playing with Robert Lewandowski (just the 22 league goals so far!), but Muller has shaken off the perception he’s a busted flush and aged just 30 appears to still offer plenty for his country.
Chance of a recall 8/10
Chris Smalling- England (Last Cap, June 2017)
The perception of Gareth Southgate as a soft touch was dispelled in the autumn of 2017 when he ditched Manchester United defender Smalling, pointing out the defender lacked the ball playing skills for England’s 3-5-2 system.
Southgate hasn’t approached Smalling since and an in and out season in Manchester appeared to signal the end of Smalling’s England career. However he’s turned his club career around with an outstanding season on loan at AS Roma.
Meanwhile, Southgate has revised England into a 4-3-3 system, reducing the need for ball playing centre-backs. England struggled in central defence through European qualifying leading to plenty of speculation of Smalling’s return.
However, Joe Gomez’s return to prominence with Liverpool appears to have handed Harry Maguire his central defensive partner for the summer, but with John Stones out of form and Fikayo Tomori out of favour could Southgate offer Smalling an olive branch?
Chance of a recall 5/10
Karim Benzema- France (Last Cap, October 2015)
Now in his eleventh season with Real Madrid, Benzema continues to score goals at the Bernabeu with 18 in 31 games this season, that’s six more than Antione Griezmann has managed with Barcelona and 17 more than Olivier Giroud for Chelsea.
However, Didier Deschamps has turned a blind eye to Benzema’s talents since he was arrested for his alleged part in the blackmailing of teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Although Benzema was never convicted and was allowed to resume contact with Valbuena back in 2017, there is little appetite to reopen that can of worms at FFF headquarters.
The fact they have a certain Kylian Mbappe in their ranks suggests France won’t be short of firepower come the summer regardless.
Chance of a recall 0/10
Xherdan Shaqiri- Switzerland (Last Cap, June 2019)
Switzerland have never officially dropped Shaqiri, however, he hasn’t featured since the Nations League Finals last summer. With 82 caps to his name it would appear Shaqiri is a shoe-in for the summer, or is he?
Shaqiri’s last goal for his country came in September 2018 and his injury struggles with Liverpool saw him wait until December to score his first and only goal of this season. Liverpool’s strength up front makes it tricky for Shaqiri to force his way back into Jurgen Klopp’s plans and Vladimir Petkovic is having to look elsewhere for goals.
Benfica’s Haris Serferovic has finally started looking like an international and Switzerland found a new national hero in 23-year-old Cedric Itten who hit the crucial goals that ensured Switzerland’s passage to the finals.
However, Shaqiri offers an x factor that no other player offers Switzerland, and thus the dilemma for Petkovic is does he want such a feisty character around the squad if he’s not in the first eleven?
Chance of a recall 8/10
Vincent Kompany- Belgium (Last Cap, June 2019)
The Manchester City legend earned the first of his 89 caps back in February 2004, however, he hasn’t featured for Belgium this season. Kompany left Manchester to become Anderlecht player-manager last summer, but the 33-year-old’s injury issues have continued in his homeland.
Kompany has made just 11 league appearances for Anderlecht with the emphasis in his role being on manager rather than player.
Kompany would’ve featured for Belgium in the autumn were he fit, however Belgium’s current back three of Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen have a combined aged of 96 and Roberto Martinez is now blooding younger talents in the likes of Timothy Castagne and Jason Denayer. The dilemma for Martinez even if Kompany is fit, is can he risk bringing him back purely for his leadership qualities when his defence is already creaking?
Chance of a recall 5/10
Zlatan Ibrahimovic- Sweden (Last Cap June, 2016)
Sweden aren’t a nation flush with footballing superstars so inevitably Zlatan’s name will get floated around for a return come tournament time. Zlatan retired from international football after Sweden’s insipid Euro 2016 campaign, he’s since enjoyed a prolific season at Manchester United, overcome a career threatening injury and sunned himself at the MLS retirement home in LA.
However, he’s now back at AC Milan and even at 38, is still proving sharp enough to compete in Serie A.
Sweden whilst short on big names remain one of Europe’s most competitive sides, and without Zlatan they put Italy and Holland out of World Cup qualifying and eventually made it to the quarter-finals. Since then they’ve won Nations League promotion and qualified for the Euros with Marcus Berg and Robin Quaison forming a productive strike duo.
Manager Janne Andersson took over the Sweden job after that dismal Euro 2016 showing and has never asked Zlatan if he’d like to return. Whilst Ibrahimovic provides goals he isn’t necessarily a fit for Andersson’s energetic team and it’s debatable how the squad would feel about bringing back a player whose been away for four years.
Chance of a recall 2/10