Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
There’s really no competition here. Hart is by far and away the best custodian available to Fabio Capello heading into 2012 and I don’t see that changing between now and next summer. Fabio and his coaching staff will be keeping their fingers crossed the City stopper steers clear of injury during what will be a demanding second half of the season. Such is the lack of quality backup the thought of going into the championships without him is a scary one indeed.
Right Back: Micah Richards
I like my defenders to defend first and foremost – and Richards offers a much better defensive option than current first-choice number two Glen Johnson. That’s not to say the City fullback isn’t capable of offering an attacking threat himself – Richards isn’t shy of a buccaneering run down the right wing – and he’s a genuine threat in the air from set pieces, while being a much stronger defender from dead-ball situations, too. I just hope his strong performances for City will help force him into Capello’s thinking before the summer. For our best right back to not even travel with the squad would be a travesty, not to mention a monumental oversight by Don Fabio.
Left Back: Ashley Cole
Perhaps not the same player that was arguably the best left back in the world in the early 2000s, Ashley Cole is still England’s standout performer in the number three spot. Leighton Baines offers a safe backup option, but doubts remain about his ability under the intense pressure of games at the highest level. Cole plays at that level most weeks – and rarely looks flustered. Has cleaned up his act off the pitch, too, which is to his credit.
Centre Half: Phil Jagielka
Undoubtedly England’s problem position, the middle of the Three Lions’ defence is in a period of transition. The previously undisputed pair of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry will almost certainly not play together in the summer. It remains to be seen whether Terry will survive the allegations levelled against him and, if he does, it’ll also be interesting to see whether Rio would want to play alongside him. Those off-the-field issues aside, I’d leave both out of the team. Terry is too divisive a character in my opinion, and has been shown up as too one-dimensional at the top level to justify his continued inclusion, while Ferdinand’s usual calm composure seems to be on the wane this season. In place of Terry I’m selecting Phil Jagielka. He can do everything Terry does, but without the baggage, arrogance or attitude.
Centre Half: Phil Jones
A calculated gamble, the inclusion of Phil Jones in my XI is testament to his performances for Manchester United this season. Strong, fast and with the ability to read a game rarely seen in young players at this level, Jones would prove an ideal foil for Jagielka’s more traditional centre half qualities.
Centre Midfield: Scott Parker
England’s clear choice to anchor the midfield has been outstanding for Spurs and is finally getting the recognition at international level that his performances have deserved. Leads by example, getting on with his job simply, effectively and without too much fuss. Exactly what we need in a key position for this team.
Centre Midfield: Jack Wilshere
Supremely talented, Wilshere’s first opportunity to make a serious impact on a major tournament comes this summer and, providing he isn’t burned out by a long season with Arsenal, Jack Wilshere could become one of the stars of the tournament. Question marks remain over his discipline, but as one of my chosen midfield three, he’ll have the stage to prove to the rest of Europe that he’s one of the continent’s best young midfielders.
Centre Midfield: Steven Gerrard (captain)
For my money Gerrard is still England’s most potent midfield weapon. He’s the best leader in the squad and would wear the captain’s armband in my side. With the ability to link the midfield with the attack Gerrard’s threat, running from deep, will still cause problems for opposition defences forced back by the pace of my XI’s front three.
Left Wing: Ashley Young
I’ve climbed down from my original stance on Ashley Young. While at Aston Villa, he was a diving cheat, far too keen to hit the deck and get players booked and sent off. But since his arrival at Old Trafford Young’s game has moved up a few notches. The diving has been replaced by a focus on creating and scoring goals – and Young has arguably been the best breakthrough England player of the last 12 months. A must on the left of an attacking three.
Right Wing: Theo Walcott
Unfairly criticised early in his career for a lack of end product, Walcott’s game has developed over the past 18 months and the result is a more mature, composed attacking player whose decision making in key areas has improved markedly. His raw pace and goal threat will offer balance on the opposite wing to the equally dangerous Ashley Young and he’ll bring big tournament experience with him, too.
Centre Forward: Darren Bent
With Wayne Rooney ruled out through suspension, the focus on the central striking role is sharper than ever. My selection is a straightforward one. The central striking role is tailor made for a natural finisher – someone who can thrive off the through-balls from midfield and the cutbacks from our two quick wingers. And if we’re looking for the best English finisher available, there’s only really one choice. Darren Bent has been a consistent scorer at Premier League level for the last few seasons and should now be given an extended run in the England side. Come the summer, he should be comfortable in the system, relaxed that the coach has put his faith in him and ready to deliver the goals.