England manager Roy Hodgson names his World Cup squad this month and one name unlikely to be on that list is Connor Wickham.
Hodgson insists he will not be swayed in his selection by late-season form, but if he was to be then there is no better choice than the Sunderland forward.
The 21-year-old has almost single-handedly engineered the Black Cats’ attempt to escape relegation from the Premier League.
He scored five times to take Sunderland out of the drop zone, including key strikes against title hopefuls Manchester City – netting twice in a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium – and in the win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. His double against Cardiff City last weekend helped him to be named the ‘Player of the Month’ for April, and it was interesting to see how his sudden rise to prominence was reported in the media afterwards.
How could this striker who had struggled to cope with life after a £8m move from Ipswich Town in 2011 as a raw 18-year-old, have suddenly come of age?
A striker who had failed to score a single goal while on loan at a struggling Leeds United side in the Championship?
What was not mentioned though, was Wickham actually rediscovered his zest for the game and proved to everyone – not least himself – that he had not forgotten to score at domestic level while on loan in Yorkshire. Not at Elland Road though, but down the M1 at Hillsborough. Eight goals in 11 games helped Sheffield Wednesday climb out of relegation trouble in the Championship, before he was recalled by Sunderland.
Owls regulars saw Wickham’s true potential and were gutted when he returned to the north-east, having regained his confidence in front of goal at Hillsborough.
That he was subsequently sent out again on loan to Leeds – where he failed to have the same impact, playing in a wider role behind Ross McCormack – was a surprise, given Sunderland’s troubles and their dire need of goals. But since he was given his belated chance by manager Gus Poyet, Wickham has become the main man at the Stadium of Light.
Whether Sunderland stay up or not, what is certain is that Wickham is unlikely to be farmed out on loan anywhere else in the near future.
And with England having a real lack of quality strikers, I would be prepared to take a gamble on Wickham – who has an impressive England Under-21 goal-scoring record – and take the youngster to Brazil this summer as a back-up to Wayne Rooney and company.
While Wickham’s monthly award was deserved, so was the managerial accolade to Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis.
The 56-year-old has been a key part to Palace’s revival, four wins from five league games seeing the Eagles soar out of relegation trouble and into mid-table.
Palace were in the bottom three when Pulis, the former Stoke City manager, took over from Ian Holloway in November.
Palace, like Stoke, are an unfashionable club but Pulis has proven his own managerial credentials this season and for me deserves the manager of the season award in the Premier League.