GK: Scott Carson…only kidding, of course the choice for goalkeeper is Joe Hart.
When you think back to the 90s, England had Seaman, Martyn, Flowers, James, Walker, Pressman…yes a few of those reputations may have faded but in that list were two genuinely top class keepers (people forget just how good Nigel Martyn was), two very good top flight goalkeepers and two solid if unspectacular top class keepers. Now who do we have at our disposal?
The aforementioned Carson is currently playing in Turkey for Bursaspor who stand 12th in the 11th best league in Europe. He started his career so promisingly with Leeds, Liverpool and on loan at Charlton and Villa, but lo things haven’t quite panned out. And besides he looks permanently shellacked at international level, another blunder just waiting to happen.
And it gets worse. Rob Green has gone in on himself since that howler in South Africa, Ben Foster and Paul Robinson are both in international exile, David Stockdale and Frankie Fielding are un-tested and playing in the Championship and John Ruddy looks good but has a long way to go after an impressive start this season to show he’s international class. How long before the names David James or Chris Kirkland are bandied about?! And are we still checking to see if Manuel Almunia is eligible?
Luckily we have Hart, a truly top class goalkeeper. Let’s hope City have lost the title by March so they can rest him for the rest of the season (the alternative, them having won the league by then, doesn’t bear thinking about). If he gets injured then we are well and truly screwed.
RB: Chris Smalling
For years England only had one right back – Gary Neville (I think I’ve mentioned him before?). When he was injured we had to resort to the likes of Wes Brown, Luke Young, Danny Mills or Phil Neville as back up, or play the likes of Jamie Carragher and Owen Hargreaves out of position to fill in. Not ideal, and thus it was consistently one of England’s weaker positions.
But not anymore. Now it is perhaps our strongest place and that’s why it’s so hard to pick. Five men are in the frame – Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker, Micah Richards, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
Straight away I’m ruling Jones out. He can do a very good job at right back but Capello will use him elsewhere and frankly he’s better elsewhere. I still think that, if he has a strong second half of the season, he’ll start alongside Terry as the ball-playing centre half. Likewise it will take Micah Richards an awful lot of fortune to take the spot. It seems Capello doesn’t fancy him, which is strange given that he can play centre half or right back and is playing regularly for the current Premier League leaders.
So that leaves us with Walker, Smalling and Johnson. And club allegiance aside I’m going for Smalling. Walker was great against an average Sweden side but he’s inexperienced at the highest level which will count against him. Johnson, to borrow from a well known light-hearted football site who pump out quality stuff (almost) 365 days of the year, is great going forward but awful going back, plus he’s facing increased competition for his club place from Martin Kelly (again, the Euros will come to soon but another great right back for the future). So for me it’s Smalling. Champions League experience, Premier League winner and when everyone’s fit I think he’ll be United’s first choice right back. Capello plumped for him over the rest against Bulgaria and Wales and when everyone is fit I think that will continue.
LB: Ashley Cole
Again, really, who else? Leighton Baines is a great left-back but he lacks the experience and class of Cole. You might not like him but he’s the best we’ve got and unless he suffers some serious injury problems in the next few years he’ll probably overtake Peter Shilton as our best capped player. That will be horrible.
Alternatives? Aside from Baines you’ve got Joleon Lescott (a centre back), Stephen Warnock (average), Kieran Gibbs (injury prone), Martin Kelly (really a right back)…and that’s about it, unless someone wants to call Phil Neville?
CB: Phil Jones
Capello is clearly a big fan and he’s getting a lot of game time both in the league and Champions League. I see Jones being groomed as the future and getting the ball playing centre half role, especially after the comparisons to Hierro and Baresi this week. He’s also got the perfect mentor at club level in Rio Ferdinand.
Rio himself will still want to be first choice, and if he stays fit for the rest of the season maybe he will be, but the only way I can see him making the squad is an injury/racist shaming for John Terry (he’s not going to take two old carthorses). Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka resumed their excellent partnership from the Everton days at the weekend and will be a good shout to go given that both are versatile (to the extent that Jagielka is probably 4th choice keeper at the moment) but I think Gary Cahill might be the unfortunate one to miss out given his lack of versatility and experience. A shame because he’s performed well whenever called upon at international level.
CB: John Terry
It’s an if, and a very big if. If John Terry is cleared of all racism charges (and we’ve all seen the youtube video) then he will lead England into the Euros. Otherwise I fully expect a centre half pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones. If he is cleared however then I expect Rio to be left at home altogether (give the younger, more versatile lads some experience) and “JT” (shudder) to captain us. Not sure how I’d feel about him raising the trophy but there you go.
CM: Scott Parker
It’s a straight shoot out between Scott Parker and Gareth Barry in midfield and the only advantage Barry has is that he’s left footed.
That’s not to say that Barry is poor, to be fair to him he’s come on leaps and bounds since South Africa for both club and country, but Parker is just what the England midfield needs. He looks like he’d run himself into the ground for his country (and regularly does so), and for a defensive midfield spoiler he’s got as good a shot and range of passing as I’ve seen.
The only alternatives that are arguably good enough are the perennially unfit Owen Hargreaves and the perennially offensive Joey Barton. Unless either has a spectacular run up to the season it already looks like a lost cause. Likewise Michael Carrick looks like his international career is over, I’m sure many will shed a tear…
CM: Jack Wilshere
The slightly more attacking central midfielder, the Pirlo to Parker’s Gattuso if you will, will be Jack Wilshere…if he’s fit. Frank Lampard gets a lot of stick but very few midfielders have his record at club and international level and he will go to the Euros. But the young, dynamic Wilshere should start, especially if he’s managed to string a good run together for Arsenal.
Behind those two there’s Tom Cleverley, who will be cursing the London riots for cancelling his debut opportunity and his injuries for falling behind Jack Rodwell in the pecking order. Rodwell looked like a breath of fresh air but if everyone is fit and firing I think he’ll miss out. Jordan Henderson will pay the price for a slow start at Liverpool but he’ll get his chance to shine at the Olympics.
AM: Steven Gerrard
Another big question mark. If he’s fit, he’ll be England’s driving force in the absence of Rooney. If he’s not we best hope that there’s someone to fill the gap until Rooney returns, should we make it through.
The only other player who could fill this role is Ashley Young. He has the skill, vision, drive and attitude, plus Stewart Downing is just waiting to come in one the left. But Gerrard’s track record and drive mean he’ll play an essential role in any England success.
RW: James Milner
A favourite of mine, despite the foul shirt he currently wears at club level. Milner has pace, skill and goalscoring ability in buckets plus he offers versatility going back (indeed he could probably fit easily into seven of the eleven positions if required). Theo Walcott might have the electric pace but he lacks the final product, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably a better shout for 2014. I think that Walcott might find himself on the unfortunate end of a dropping for the second international tournament running unless he can find some electric club form because Capello will want a squad for all scenarios and the likes of Milner give a lot more.
Meanwhile spare a thought for Matt Jarvis, incredibly an England cap winner in the last year to little fan fare (if only his much-lauded move to Liverpool had come off), and Aaron Lennon, who Capello now seems permanently out of love with. I’m sure he’ll be ok come next autumn should ‘Arry take over.
LW: Ashley Young
England’s player of 2011, and the man who makes our attacking offering look a lot more dangerous. Stewart Downing has had a good 18 months but it’s his former team mate who provides a spark and looks a lot more like he’s going to do something special.
A lot will depend on Young’s fitness (it seems to blight a lot of this team) but when he’s fit and on form he’s top quality. He’s shown great tenacity for United so far this season and this could be his tournament. He and Downing will almost certainly go but it’s worth an outside bet on Joe Cole. He looks rejuvenated playing for Lille and he could offer England that little bit of genius they’ll miss without Rooney.
God I sound like a tabloid hack calling for Michael Owen to go.
ST: Danny Welbeck
Darren Bent will probably start, and I’d say Zamora is probably ahead in the pecking order, but I think it could be Danny Welbeck.
Same again…he’s a bit injury prone and a lot will depend upon that and how often he features for United, but Welbeck is the man to step up and do an Owen 98 or Rooney 04. He’s quick, skilful, good in the air and scores goals as well as creating them, and if he starts the tournament well he can link up easily with Rooney upon his return.
Zamora is the man to play a Heskey “doesn’t score but offers a lot of endeavour and link play” role, Darren Bent scores but won’t have anything in his arsenal to test the Spains, Hollands or Germanys. Then you’re looking at Jermain Defoe who seems to be past his peak, Andy Carroll who seems to have gone for lifestyle over success for both England and Liverpool and Daniel Sturridge who really didn’t look like he gave a f*ck against Sweden. Gaby Agbonlahor would be a nice outside bet but is very much a form player and Peter Crouch will probably spend a few years in the international wilderness a la Heskey before returning as a professional nuisance in a few years time.
So there you have it. On current form my squad would be…
GK: Joe Hart, Rob Green, John Ruddy
DF: Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, John Terry, Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka
MF: Scott Parker, Jack Wilshere, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, James Milner
ST: Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Darren Bent, Bobby Zamora