Gareth Southgate's mind was made but Patrick Bamford's England snub can be Leeds United blessing
If Patrick Bamford was to sit down and count his blessings he might not finish before England are home from the Euros.
There will of course be disappointment for Leeds United’s top goalscorer, because as he happily admitted, a senior call up for his country would have been a dream come true.
He tasted international football at youth level before his career drifted from the path he wanted to take. He wandered around the loan scene, each step and each season taking him far from the remote possibility of finding himself in the England squad.
When the Championship became his home for three straight seasons his privately-held hopes of ever earning a cap might not have died but they were certainly dormant.
Even promotion to the Premier League did little for his Three Lions dream because there was no guarantee he could cut it at the top level and on the off-chance that he did, Gareth Southgate had a host of attackers with greater experience.
But then came the goals, one in each of the first three games of the Premier League season. Three at Villa Park. Double figures by December. The rocket at Leicester that accompanied a pair of assists.
By March he had dragged himself back onto the road he once walked as a Chelsea prospect and was being propelled along by his performances and the clamour for Southgate to give him a chance. It was enough to put his name on Southgate’s lips but not enough to write his name in the squad list for the March internationals.
“Patrick is very unfortunate and, who knows, we could be sitting here in a few days’ time and we have a problem,” said Southgate, who instead picked Ollie Watkins of Aston Villa.
“Patrick is a player that we’re very much looking at as well.”
Southgate delivered crushing disappointment with one hand and hope in the other, so it was to Bamford’s credit that his head had stopped spinning sufficiently to allow him to score and set one up at Fulham the next day.
A five-game goalless streak followed, although chances were scarce during a spell in which Leeds showcased their defensive abilities more than their attacking threat, and then Bamford hit the net three times in his final four games to end the season on a high, with Leeds in ninth and 17 goals and eight assists to his name.
He could have done little more to change Southgate’s mind, offensively or defensively - he finished the campaign among the very highest echelons of strikers in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues when it came to putting pressure on opposition defenders.
And yet still it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even enough for a place in a bloated 33-man provisional squad, because according to Southgate they didn’t see any reason to make changes to the attacking options who were present in March, despite taking in so many of Leeds games and seeing what Bamford could do. The manager's mind, it seems, was already made up.
Perhaps, exclusion at this early stage is the ripping off of a plaster, whereas a week in a training camp in Middlesbrough before being cut from the final squad would simply prolong the agony longer than is necessary.
Bamford has experience of that, having been included in Southgate’s preliminary squad for the 2015 Under-21 Euros before an ankle injury took him out of the equation.
This time around, as difficult as it might be to understand why Watkins has fallen the right side of what had to have been a hair’s breadth decision between him and Bamford, it was the calibre of player ahead of the Leeds striker that was always going to give him a mountain to climb. Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and 'outstanding finisher' Mason Greenwood are all highly favoured by the England boss. Some of his other attackers are more versatile and can feature wide in a front three. Few can say they've had a season quite like the Leeds striker, however.
Bamford can at least be satisfied that he did all he could. He can be pleased that his actual boss, Marcelo Bielsa, was delighted with what he did. He can be proud that he’s turned many of his Elland Road sceptics into his fiercest defenders - some of those who once yearned for a more clinical replacement are the ones carrying the lit torches and pitchforks to the gates of St George’s Park and calling for Southgate’s head.
The vast majority of the Leeds fanbase are madly in love with him and on Sunday the match-going element sang his name, as they always do.
He can feel confident in his ability to score goals against the best teams in the country, in the ‘best league in the world’ and on a remarkably regular basis. He can count upon the respect, admiration and gratitude of his Leeds team-mates - his status as a key player is secured.
He can sleep soundly knowing he’s done his bit for the city off the field too, with vocal support for social justice issues and a generous donation that made a world of difference to some Beeston school kids.
And he can rest. For a club like Leeds, sending a player like Bamford away for a major tournament is like loaning a masterpiece to a national gallery and praying, for every second of its absence, that it comes back in the same mint condition.
As much as Bielsa and everyone at Leeds would have celebrated a call up for their man, this too can be seen as a blessing, if he’s able to hit the ground running again in peak shape come August 14.
He can hold onto his dreams too. You never, ever know what might happen and when the World Cup rolls around he will still only be 29. Southgate has killed the Euro dream, but no one can kill hope.