I think there is no issue as contentious among football fans in England than who should play for the national team. Everyone has their own favourite players and their own ideas about how they should play, we are a nation of arm chair managers fuelled by a bitchy and vindictive media intent on creating a pantomime out of every international fixture.
Scott Parker was widely considered by many to be the player of the season for last years Premier League, he was voted the football writers player of the year. So you would expect him to feature in the England team and eventually, he was selected. Had he been playing for a bigger club, would his wait to break into the England side have been so protracted? I think not. However this works both ways, I think it is also the case that often players performing well for the top clubs in the less glamours areas of the team are overlooked. After all, it’s hard to make your mark as a midfield terrier like Parker when your team tends to dominate games. If you are all about breaking up play and stopping opposition attacks it’s hard to stand out when the opposition don’t attack so it’s no surprise that a player like Michael Carrick doesn’t always catch the eye. It’s a lot easier when you’re playing for West Ham who spent most of last season putting in unmotivated performances. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is King, so although Parker did stand you and deliver some outstanding displays, it’s easy to get carried away and sometimes it’s hard to find a point of reference, in this regard I have a lot of respect for the job of an International manager and his back room team in picking players.
Another eternal dilemma for an international football manager is when to blood young players and build for the future. This strategy is one that really needs to be implemented with the help of the football association in terms of a long term plan. You only have to look at how Klinsmann rebuilt the German national side to see the benefits of a coherent strategy in place among both youth and senior teams, with the help of the top domestic clubs and the national association, but the idea of that happening in England is like some kind of distant fairytale.
I think the England team should take what is good about our club sides straight into the national team, we have the chance to name many of the players that have been playing for Manchester United and looking very strong. They are used to playing with each other, players like Smalling, Jones and Cleverley. The Spanish have shown what can be achieved if you develop a national side around the basis of a top domestic team. So I don’t see it as a gamble putting the inexperienced trio into the side for an England game, especially if we’re playing a similar system to Manchester United.
With this in mind my team would be:
Hart – Cole Terry Jones Smalling – Young Cleverley Lampard Walcott – Rooney Bent
The nucleus of the side has experience but is blended with youth. With Wilshere and Gerrard missing I’d give Cleverley a go, he’s used to playing with Rooney and Young and that can only be a positive factor. I don’t imagine Capello would ever risk picking a side like that, with two uncapped players in the back four, but perhaps that is our problem, we don’t take risks. We opt for the reliable one paced Gareth Barry, because our players can’t be trusted to keep the football so we need that protection which is solid as long as they don’t have anyone with pace (I hope he still has nightmares about Özil). Well until you start trusting the young players, things aren’t going to change.
Qualification games are all about results and it’s imperative that you win and qualify safely, but you can’t build a team in the group stage of a major championship. Some of the ground work has to be done now and far too often I feel like Capello has missed the opportunity to build for the future, perhaps because he knows he wont be in the job after 2012. If Capello were to make bold selections and the result didn’t go as planned he would be destroyed in the media, but I’d rather have a manager that is prepared to take risks than one who always seems to be looking over his shoulder and it’s a trait that has spread to our younger sides.
The most frustrating thing about watching the under 21’s at the European championship was the inherent negativity of the side. With a squad blessed with attacking talent at no point did Stuart Pearce allow his young lions to really have a go in games. Everything was measured, negative, conservative and frustrating, the whole ethos of the team seemed to be “don’t lose” rather than playing to win. I understand that to a certain extent football management is a high wire act and you’ve got to balance all aspects of the game, but if you don’t let the players play, then how can they learn anything? Discipline is important, so is tactical awareness, but not at the expense of technique and creativity. We need a shift in ideas, a change in attitudes, an introduction of new thinking… but none of this will happen. Instead I expect to see the same old England side, playing the same old formation in the same old style, hopefully at least we’ll manage to win. I hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be room for a few shocks and not a predictable negative team selection.
Come on Fabio, surprise me!