It’s not an easy task, plotting the future of the England team, I’ve written about it before. Now is the time to start thinking about the future, with Euro 2012 now 100 days away, it really is time to start thinking about who might be playing for England and how they might play. This at a time when the team has no manager and no captain, so everything going smoothly as per usual then.
Picking an England team is like trying to juggle elephants while standing on egg shells. You’ve got to be strong, so incredibly strong, to handle the elephants, many of whom are massive, in terms of physical size and ego. They are prone to fits of anger especially when threatened and never forget when they’ve been treated badly. This is hard enough, but you’ve also got the egg shells to worry about. These are the foundations of your job, brittle and breakable. Likely to give way at any moment. They represent the level of support you can expect from the F.A, the media and the fans. Sometimes it might feel as if you are stood on the end of an egg, impossible to break, sturdy and strong. But in the flash of a pan you’ve got yourself an omelette as one of the eggs turns sideways, you drop an elephant, get squashed and start to wish you’d never been born, let alone taken the poisoned chalice of the England manager’s job.
Having said this I’d love to be England manager. I’d love to be a football manager. I have the basic requirements, I love football, I have a keen interest in the tactical side and management side of the game and I’m a glutton for punishment. So, a simple question, if I were the England manager, what would my team look like?
01/09/2011 – Hart – Cole Terry Jones Smalling – Young Cleverley Lampard Walcott – Rooney Bent
Above is an England team I thought would be good for Bulgaria away last September. I was unconvinced about the need for Parker and based on Man Utd’s early season form was keen to see young Utd players like Jones, Smalling and Cleverley included. Chelsea old boys Terry and Lampard still had my backing at that stage and I was happy for England to go with the classic 4-4-2.
Times change and so do opinions. Form is important, the last place you want to be playing your football if you’re lacking in confidence is for England. We have the luxury for the most part of having strength in depth with the exception of Rooney and Hart who I think we can’t replace. So to some extent picking an England team now for the finals is pointless, but this is where I think we are right now…
Johnson/Walker/Richards/Jones ? Lescott Cole
Walcott Gerrard Young
The hardest position to select for me is at right-back where I think we have 4 evenly matched contenders. If I had to pick one, I’d still opt for Glenn Johnson, as I think he offers to best all round option. He attacks well and when he’s got his head on right and is properly managed I think he’s a solid defender. Kyle Walker and Phil Jones have good quality on the ball, but both are still learning a position where positioning is crucial. I like the look of Phil Jones as a footballer, his pass for Ashley Young’s goal against Netherlands was excellent but I don’t think he’s ready for a starting role in the side, however coming on to add energy and bite in midfield is a job he could well end up doing. Chris Smalling also has promise but he’s not a right-back and I don’t think he’s ready to play for England at centre-back. Micah Richards is Johnson’s closest challenger in my eyes, form and fitness would be a factor for me in picking who started at the Euro’s, but right now I’m sticking with Glenn Johnson, just barely. Ashley Cole and Joe Hart are in my team, Leighton Baines as backup to Cole, a wing and a prayer backup to Hart.
I would start with Joleon Lescott at centre-back. I think he’s currently the best English centre-back and showed against Spain that he can perform for England against even the highest class of opposition. Who plays next to Lescott is a question I struggle to answer. I wouldn’t let John Terry anywhere near my England team. Aside from his troubles off the pitch I think he’s past his best on it and his lack of pace is too often exposed. Rio Ferdinand still shows glimpses of the defender he used to be, but a lack of consistency both in performance and fitness mean he’s unlikely to play enough to have the sharpness required for England, however there is time for him to prove me wrong. If Gary Cahill features regularly for Chelsea until the end of the season he would mount a strong case, Michael Dawson continues to impress me at Spurs but has been second choice to Younes Kaboul recently. If I had to pick one player right now I’d go for Phil Jagielka, provided he can get fit and stay fit. He’s less of a fitness gamble than Ferdinand and has a good understanding with Lescott.
Obviously we can let Gareth Barry anywhere near the team. The clumsy menace to pass completion showed once again against Netherlands that he’s hopelessly out of his depth against a good side. Scott Parker has to anchor the midfield, his work-rate and determination are priceless for England and if the side are going to do well it’s going to be because they stop teams playing and don’t leak goals, his debut display as captain showed what he’s all about. Next to him I’d ideally want Jack Wilshere. You need someone in a deeper role who can be a reliable play-maker and can pass the ball, given his fitness trouble he’s already a doubt for the finals, so I think Michael Carrick and his range of passing would be a good back-up. Tom Cleverley offers more energy but I like the look of a Parker Carrick combo. Carrick often gets criticism but he can pass the ball and pass it well and although he’s not one for the crunching tackle, he’s good at making interceptions. Harry Redknapp has said he’d like to take Paul Scholes, I’d certainly be tempted because he has tremendous quality on the ball, but sadly I fear the fairytale would turn into a nightmare, as at the end of the season would there be enough left in his legs for a tournament? I’m doubtful. Worse still, although he can keep the ball for fun, when someone else gives it away he’s not the man I’d want trying to win it back. There is no doubt that Owen Hargreaves was once a good player, but I think the dreams of him making a triumphant return to the national side have finally died, much to my dismay.
The second area of the midfield features two wingers and a more advanced play-maker. I think the 4-2-3-1 system is the one that suits England best with the players we’ve got and they look happy playing it. Theo Walcott and Ashley Young are my wingers. Walcott’s pace is always an outlet and if used correctly he could be a big player for England. Young has more invention and craft and is also a danger on set pieces, I think they offer a good balance of styles. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to name but a few offer good options in this area and with this system, but sadly England don’t have their own Arjen Robben.
Now I’m faced with the Steven Gerrard dilemma, but if you ask me he has to play and he plays best behind the striker. He’s got licence to wander, get involved, play between the lines, drop deep, pull out wide and generally be a world class pest like he is at his best for Liverpool. England’s options in this area are limited, Wilshere could do it, but I think would do a better job deeper, Young the same but is better from the left. Frank Lampard has a knack of scoring goals for England and although I think a place in the starting 11 is perhaps beyond him, if England were chasing a game and needed a goal there are certainly worse players you could turn to. I can honestly say I know little about Joe Cole’s form to judge whether he would be a viable option, I clearly need a better scouting network. Rooney could play off the striker but as he’s suspended for the first two games England need another option, plus I think he’s better for England further forward.
Wayne Rooney can’t play the first two games, otherwise he’d be in my team. Yes I think he plays better when he can play off someone, but playing him upfront I think benefits the team more, as when he’s in the right frame of body and mind he’s the best goalscorer England have got and these days there isn’t anyone who offers a better option. This is the weakest area of the team for me. I still think back to the World Cup game against Algeria. We really do lack an out and out World Class goalscorer, Rooney can do a good job for the team in this role, but it would be great to have a genuinely class front man for him to play off of.
Darren Bent has a habit of missing sitters and isn’t a team player, but can cope with playing as a lone striker for England so I’d take him. Peter Crouch has no pace which has knock on effects to other areas of the team, however I still feel he’s an underused option. Danny Welbeck offers a future, his link play is good, he’s strong and mobile and works his socks off, but if a chance were to fall to him I’m yet to be convinced he’s got the ability to consistently take it. Should injury befall these players, England will seriously have to look at the likes of Grant Holt or Danny Graham. Jermain Defoe is another option but his style doesn’t lend itself to the role. Andy Carroll should be a serious alternative, but he would have to find a large amount of fitness and confidence from somewhere in the time between now and the finals to get a seat on the plane. Did somebody say Michael Owen? Yes… I did… Stranger things have happened and 40 goals for England is a record nobody currently playing can get anywhere near, if he gets fit and scores a couple of goals he’s not a bad option to have in your squad.
There has perhaps never been so many places up for grabs in the starting 11 going into a major tournament. Right now there will be many players thinking that if they have a good end to the season they could sneak on to the plane. A lot will depend on who takes the managers job, but regardless it’s unlikely England will have a major impact on the tournament. The thing about international football however, is that you never know. It’s only 6 games, with a good performance and a bit of luck you can easily end up in the semis and then well, just ask Greece… Unfortunately, heading towards a major finals, when was the last time England got lucky?