Ivan Toney received his first call-up to the England senior side on Thursday ahead of their September internationals.
For those in Brentford circles, this felt like a mere formality finally coming to fruition, a just reward for his 52 goals in 96 games for the Bees.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank has almost universally adopted a policy of insisting he wouldn’t tell international managers who to pick, but Toney’s form in 2022 has seen him at least slightly reconsider that stance.
“[Harry] Kane is number one, but there is not a better [English] striker after Kane [than Toney] on form,” Frank recently said after his star forward grabbed an aesthetically pleasing hat-trick against Leeds.
Toney enjoyed his start to life back in the Premier League (he made just two substitute appearances for Newcastle in 2015/16, so that doesn’t really count) with a flourish last year, terrorising the likes of Ben White and Virgil van Dijk. However, he didn’t pose the same threat in front of goal as he did in the Championship.
After a spell on the sidelines with injuries and Covid-19, Toney took his game to new heights in the new year, in part elevated by the creativity of new signing Christian Eriksen.
Brentford ended up surviving their debut season in the Premier League comfortably, and while most of that was attributed to Eriksen’s arrival, the likes of Toney raising their levels to dig in deep can’t be understated.
His final tally of 12 goals was a decent if hardly eye-catching return and his hot start to the new season (five goals and two assists in six games without Eriksen, it should be noted) brought him into the England spotlight, but it’s his usefulness in other areas that have put him in with a shout of heading to the World Cup.
Only Chris Wood, James Tarkowski and teammate Ethan Pinnock won more aerial duels than Toney in the Premier League last season, while as previously mentioned he found a knack of getting under the skins of opposing centre-backs.
The charisma and character he displays on and off the pitch – perfectly personifying Frank’s ‘confident but humble’ ideals – is as important a quality as his springing leap, bullet headers and ridiculous upper-body strength. If Erling Haaland’s pace and finishing is robotic, then Toney’s gifts are that of an all-conquering custom video game character.
While Roma’s Tammy Abraham is likely to get the nod from Southgate if Kane is injured, it’s Toney who’s more likely to come on and play alongside the Three Lions captain – he’s a 2.0 target man, a 3D evolution of his predecessor in Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Toney’s huge physical and mental advantages are suited to England‘s style, set-piece reliance (which is almost parallel to that of Brentford’s) and adjustments.
Kane’s willingness to drop deep to receive the ball would compliment Toney’s penalty-box menace to a tee, and as Frank has stressed several times, his ‘best-in-the-world’ spot kicks could be a rather meaningful differential in tournament football.
Southgate has done the right thing in at least calling Toney up to see him at close quarters, how he will fit in at an even higher level. It’s now on the striker to take this opportunity with both hands and prove these theories correct.