In recent years Bolton Wanderers haven't been doing all that badly on the domestic, youth international scene. A few years back we had Luke Woodland in the under 18's, followed by Tom Walker and most recently Jake Turner. 3 players in the last 4 years considering our current stature is nothing to be sniffed at.
In older age groups we saw Rob Holding get a call from the under 21's for a tournament in France shortly before his Arsenal move.
One thing that remains a mystery however is how perhaps the most hyped and talented youngster to come through the ranks in recent years has evaded England call ups at every level. Zach Clough was prolific in the youth set up and was always played in teams above his age level and hasn't really slowed up development since bursting on to the first team picture.
Clough is now 21 years old meaning this is the last year he will be eligible for an England youth call up and it is no doubt deserved.
To deal with the negative first, it is obvious that some of the hype has worn off and questions of Clough's ability have appeared more and more this season. Specifically concerns have been raised over his one on one finishing ability; I can see why but I disagree. First of all lets look back at his age, 21. Players at 21 are far from the finished product and there have been enough displays of him finishing difficult one on one chances to suggest he can improve there.
Furthermore the stats don’t lie. 5 goals in 8 games in his first season. 7 goals in 28 games in his second season (in which he came back from a long term injury and dealt with perhaps the worst performing Wanderers side in history) and finally 7 goal in 16 games so far this season. That's a hell of a tally for someone so young.
If you ignore the season when Bolton were barely a football team (Not particularly scientific but that season can hardly be considered usual circumstances) Clough averages out with a goal every other game.
While finishing is a big part of his role lets not forget all the other amazing qualities this young player has. Ball control, an amazing first touch, great dribbling ability a directness in his style of play and since his switch the left flank a decent defensive repertoire as well.
So here's the crux of the argument; how does he compare to those currently in the England Under 21 squad? Here are the statistics of the players listed as forwards in England's last squad:
Duncan Whatmore: Sunderland - 94 League appearances (Conference North & Premier League) 19 goals (15 in Conference North)
Demarai Gray: Leicester City - 98 League appearances (Championship & Premiership) 9 goals.
Tammy Abraham: Chelsea (on loan at Bristol City) - 27 League appearances (Championship & Premiership) 14 goals.
Compared with Clough's:
Zach Clough: Bolton Wanderers - 52 League appearances (Championship and League 1) 19 goals.
Aside from the stats which clearly show Zach is as good as/better than his international peers the fact England U21's only had 3 attackers, 2 of whom are more adept to being wingers is a sign that they need more competition there.
Here's the clincher though; when you go through all attackers who have been called up for the England U21's and remain eligible, Zach has the second best goals to game ratio of the entire list of 12 players! He on average has a goal every 2.7 games, second to only Tammy Abraham who has played significantly less games.
Finally from a business viewpoint Zach is perhaps our most sellable asset. He has a long contract, rich admirers and is English. An England call up would see his stock and price shoot through the roof. Whilst I hope he would stay here forever I am a realist and recognise a big club may come calling sooner rather than later. When that happens it'd be nice to have as many cards to play as possible as far as negotiating goes.
When we look across at what Charlton Athletic have just got for Lookman, we have to be better competing at selling and not just buying. A call up would be a welcome bump to the fee.