Forster-Caskey In Line To Become England’s Next Midfield Force

Following the qualification of England’s under-21s to next year’s European Championships, speculation has already begun to ensue on who Gareth Southgate should take to the Czech Republic with him next summer.

Though already established in the seniors, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain are among those who will be eligible for the squad and Southgate faces the difficult dilemma on whether he should draft in his more experienced options, or stick with those who have steered his team towards the competition with an excellent run of ten straight wins.

One player who is likely to be confident of holding a place down in the squad for next June’s championships, should he maintain his good form for Brighton, is Jake Forster-Caskey, who turned in two assured performances across the two legs of the play-off with Croatia.

Background

It is important to remember, as Forster-Caskey stood out so impressively in last Friday’s home leg before producing a solid performance alongside Tom Carroll in England’s midfield engine room to secure a second 2-1 win out in Croatia, that they were only his 2nd and 3rd starts for the under-21s. The 20 year old is still relatively new on the scene but his stock is rising fast.

Brighton can take pride from being involved in the midfielder’s development from the beginning, signing him up to the youth team as a 13 year old in 2007 before offering scholarship terms in 2010. When playing in Brighton’s under-16 side, word of his talent began to spread, with both Aston Villa and Arsenal both offering trials to Forster-Caskey who said “the fit wasn’t quite right and I decided to stay in Sussex”.

Remaining on the south coast saw him immediately rewarded with a place on the bench for the trip to MK Dons, coming just a day after he signed his schoolboy contract with the Seagulls. Just two days later, he was to score twice as Brighton’s reserves won the Sussex Senior cup with a 4-0 victory over Bognor. That display earned him a glowing reference from Brighton’s reserve coach Charlie Oatway who predicted a “really successful” career for the youngster.

That would earn him a place on the bench for Brighton’s final game of the season against Yeovil and he would come on in the 76th minute, becoming the youngest ever player to make a first team appearance for the club.

That summer he would sign a three-year deal with Brighton, automatically triggering a professional deal when he reached his 17th birthday, though he would find his first-team chances continually restricted as he was afforded just one substitute appearance, in a FA Cup defeat to Stoke. The following season would see him get more chances however, as he made 6 appearances from which he scored 2 goals including one on his full-debut in the 3-0 victory over Southampton.

The midfielder would then be sent on loan to Oxford of League Two where he would make 20 appearances, scoring 3 goals, before he returned to Brighton in January.

It was a move motivated by Forster-Caskey’s willingness to learn other methods and experience different clubs, and he said “when you’re at another club you get taught the other side of the game and at the end of last season, I decided that I wanted more experience. That way, if I did get a crack at the first team I’d feel ready to keep hold of my shirt.” The loan spell was a success and as he returned to Brighton, manager Gus Poyet had earmarked him for a place in the first-team.

He would have to wait until Poyet departed to make his Brighton breakthrough though, making 35 appearances last term as he developed into a reliable midfielder for the Seagulls. He would end the season with his first cap for the England Under-21s in the qualifier with Wales, before going to the summer’s Toulon tournament alongside his club team-mate Solomon March. He is now a regular in Sami Hyppia’s Brighton side, starting in 9 of their opening 11 league games of this season.

Style, strengths and weaknesses

Though deployed as a type of disciplined box-to-box central midfielder for Brighton, Forster-Caskey’s modest goal return of 10 from his 87 career appearances to date suggests he is adept at going forward, and prior to this summer’s Toulon tournament, he spoke of how he enjoys a more attacking midfield role. “I like playing in the role behind the striker”, he said, “I think it gives me a bit more freedom. “I have played in a deeper role as well but I enjoy it being closer to the strikers because it means I can shoot and try to get some goals as well.”

In his 9 league games so far this season, a total of 11 attempted shots, all taken from outside the box, indicates he is liable to strike at goal once he breaks forward, though he has been creative enough to craft out 16 chances. He is also Brighton’s chief free-kick and corner taker, going someway to illustrating the quality of delivery that he offers.

The intelligence of his play was on show for England’s under-21s recently though, as Southgate played the Brighton man in a deeper role for the home leg with Croatia, to which he emerged with great credit. “Jake played a defensive role. He didn’t have many attacking positions but he mopped up well and he made a number of tackles” was the verdict of former Brighton striker, and Forster-Caskey’s stepdad, Nicky Forster. His burgeoning partnership with Tom Carroll was to earn many plaudits, with BBC Radio pundit David Kelly saying “They worked very well together. They are a very similar frame and very similar size and they both played very well.”

Despite Forster-Caskey’s modest physique and sub-6ft frame, he isn’t afraid to hunt for the ball in midfield and make his presence known, attempting 16 tackles in his 9 games this season and making 14 interceptions. However his total of 15 fouls given away, for which he has already received 5 yellow cards which saw him suspended for the recent game with Watford, will mean he will have to calm down on that side of his game.

As well as his stepdad, who hit 40 goals for Brighton across 3 years with the south coast club, Forster-Caskey lists Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard as the midfielders he has based his game on and it is easy to see where the influences lie, with the 20 year old comfortable in occupying a deep-position with licence to break forward with regularity.

As he consistently displays in the Championship, the talent is undoubtedly there. “Playing for your country is the pinnacle of your career so I think we all look up to the international players. Hopefully, touch wood, I’ll be in amongst them one day”, said Forster-Caskey. If he keeps up his dynamic displays for Brighton, mixed with his more intelligent performances for the under-21s, with the big stage of the Czech Republic waiting next June, then the day of a senior cap shouldn’t be too far off.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

Arsenal vs Hull City: Team News, Preview, Prediction & Men To Watch Out

Manchester United: 4 Reasons Why Louis Van Gaal Still Has A Lot of Work To Do At Old Trafford