A Guest Blog from Rian Watson
England manager Roy Hodgson looks set to attend Celtic’s Champions League tie against Barcelona to run the rule over Gary Hooper. This leads to the question that many fans have been asking for a while now – “Is Gary Hooper really good enough for England?”
In 2006 Hooper was playing semi-professional football for Grays Athletic in the Conference National, before he was eventually released, and six years on he is playing in the Champions League with Celtic.
Celtic’s number 88 has been no stranger to the score sheet since joining the Hoops in 2010 and this has perhaps forced Hodgson to consider him for the England squad.
In Hooper’s first season with Celtic he found the net 22 times in 36 appearances, with one European goal against S.C. Braga (Champions League qualifier). He finished the second highest scorer in the SPL and picked up three yellow cards.
During his first season with Celtic he had the best strike rate of any player in Britain, scoring 20 goals in 26 games.
His second season saw him score 29 times in 49 appearances, this time scoring two European goals against Stade Rennais and Udinese respectively (Europa League). He finished as top scorer in the SPL and picked up three yellow cards.
After not scoring in his first five games of the current season, Hooper has regained his scoring form and netted 10 times in 18 appearances. He has scored two European goals thus far, one against Helsingborgs (Champions League qualifier) and the opener in Celtic’s famous away victory at Spartak Moscow (Champions League group stages).
Hooper has scored 61 goals in 96 appearances for Celtic, averaging around 0.63 goals per game.
Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster has already had a call up to the England squad after some fine European performances, but it’s fair to say that as long as Joe Hart is fit and able Forster will find his time on the pitch for England very limited.
Hooper will also have to outshine the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and maybe even Jermain Defoe if he is ever going to make the grade for his national team.
In England’s last three games Sturridge, Welbeck, Carroll and Defoe have all featured on the team sheet, and if Hooper was to force his way into the England squad one of these players would probably have to make way.
Daniel Sturridge has made eight appearances so far this season for club and country. In his seven appearances for Chelsea he has found the net once and he failed to score for England against Ukraine.
Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck has made 15 appearances for United and England, scoring twice in England’s 5-0 victory over San Marino and once in United’s 4-2 win against Stoke.
Andy Carroll began the season with Liverpool, playing in a 3-0 defeat at West Brom and a 2-2 draw with Manchester City, before being sent on loan to West Ham. He has failed to score for Liverpool, West Ham or England in 8 appearances so far this season.
Jermain Defoe has played 12 times for Tottenham and three for England this season. He has scored once for England, in their 5-0 win against Moldova and five times for Tottenham in the Premier League.
Hooper’s scoring statistics come from a league which is a world away in terms of quality compared to that of the Premier League, but he has managed to score in European competition this season- something which Welbeck, Sturridge and Defoe have not.
The Hoops’ forward has fallen subject to some criticism this season for looking lacklustre at times, but his scoring statistics for Celtic make for impressive reading and he has seemingly turned his season around after a slow start.
There is more to Hooper’s game than just being a goal-scoring poacher; he can fall deep, hold up the ball well and is more than capable of picking out a pass.
However none of this ability was displayed against Barcelona when Celtic played them at the Nou Camp, with Hooper stuck in uncharted territory up the field in Barcelona’s half.
My initial feeling is that Hooper is not good enough to play for England. Although, if he was surrounded by a squad of a far higher standard than he already is, who knows what he is capable of?
Perhaps there is only one way to find out.
If Roy Hodgson does take a trip to Celtic Park next Wednesday night, it will at least not be in vain should Hooper fail to shine; Fraser Forster will have numerous chances to show the England manager what he’s made of.