So, Harry Redknapp has a problem with the England game next Wednesday because it's a 'pointless' friendly. He's not the only person that has had a problem with international friendlies in the past; nearly every Premiership manager has had a go at one time or another especially under the reign of Sven, who turned them in to a complete farce.
However this time it’s different, after all the talk and post mortems from England’s world cup campaign this friendly is a real chance for Fabio Capello to stamp his authority on the team and get rid of the let downs and trouble makers once and for all. Although he will be working towards qualifying for Euro 2012 (his last contracted tournament) really he should be focusing on the 2014 world cup and developing a team that will be at its peak then following the leads of Brazil & Italy, both of whom had disappointing campaigns and have overhauled their squads dramatically in the wake of this, although some of Brazil’s players that have been left out (Julio Cesar & Kaka) will make their ways back in.
My point is though they are using this time to try and test other players that are younger, hungrier and more to the point haven’t let the team down time and time again. People like Ganson & Neymar for Brazil and Balotelli & Cassano for Italy have been called up giving a new, fresh feeling to the team and now England need to do the same with certain players needing to be moved aside to make way for upcoming youngsters.
I know every time England crash at a major tournament we hear the usual ‘more investment in young players, there’s not enough youth coming through’ but the fact is there are some great youngsters coming through, just look at the recent records of the younger teams, the U-17 (winning the European Championship’s in 2010 beating Spain in the final) U-19 (reaching European Championship’s semi finals and losing to Spain) and U-21 (finishing runners up in 2009 also in the European Championship’s losing to Germany) which clearly isn’t the record of a team not producing young & talented players.
If you look at this current generation of players (since 2000) they have all struggled on the national stage, Euro 96 was an excellent tournament for England even if you could argue that home advantage was a factor, but even in France ’98 the team was exciting and only lost on penalties to a strong Argentina team. However after that the record is pretty awful, and the supposed spine of the team (also called the ‘golden generation’) have always failed to perform when it’s really mattered. David James seems to have called time on his career by joining Bristol City but the other players, people like Terry, Carragher, King, Gerrard , Lampard, Barry, Wright-Phillips & both Cole’s all made their names in the team & debuts in and around 2003/2004 so 6 years, or 4 major tournaments (3 as they couldn’t qualify for Euro 08) is enough time for the them to have reached their peak and done their best for England and after reputedly showing us they can’t do it the only one from that list that should still be guaranteed in the starting XI is Ashley Cole. I’m not saying none of them should play for England ever again; however I think there is a case for most of them becoming squad players and bench warmers.
For years we have heard about the Gerrard/Lampard problem and how can they work together and most recently we heard that Capello had solved it by shunting Gerrard out on the left in a 4-2-3-1 formation that had solved the problem, although for a few games (Croatia at home springs to mind) it did seem possible it wasn’t to be as usual they failed miserably in the World Cup, Gerrard having a good half against the U.S then falling silent & Lampard repeating 2006 up till the Germany game when he had one of his best games in an England shirt but no one else really turned up. This discussion has to stop now and Capello has to be the one to stop it by dropping one, if not both, from the England team and making way for Jack Rodwell who can play either as a defensive or attacking central midfielder although after seeing him against Germany (U-21 game, 1-1 22/6/09) in the defensive midfield role I think he could well become the player England needed this summer but of course it’s all down to where he plays for his club as there’s no point in playing him out of his usual position.
I’m suggesting dropping 3 central midfielders so obviously you’ll have to look at other options and another option, in my opinion would be Lee Cattermole. It’s easy to forget he’s only 21 yet was so highly sort after when he left Middlesbrough and again when he left Wigan. Whilst he’s by no means a finished article and certainly has a lot to learn on the pitch I think he is the sort of player England could do with, whilst like Rodwell he’s a defensive midfielder he doesn’t have the elegance or style or Rodwell he certainly is a tough tackling customer who is always 100% committed and works his socks off through 90 minutes and could be the ‘water carrier’ that England have been lacking (except when Owen Hargreaves is fit) almost being the ‘dirty player’ that a team needs like Van Bommel or Busquets both of who did excellent at their ball winning/pass to a better player jobs in the World Cup. Cattermole can tackle with the best of them and is certainly a more defensive minded player that Gareth Barry who was our answer in this role at the world cup, his injury being hyped to almost Beckham (’02) and Rooney (’06) levels of importance for a player that’s average at international level.
The other midfielder I think should be included is Jack Wilshere. Yes he’s only 18 but so what? Age was never an issue with Rooney or with Owen so why should it be with Wilshere? He spent a good second half of last season playing regularly with Bolton and in pre-season he’s been pretty good according to reports and highlights and Wenger has already ruled out a loan deal because he plans on using Wilshere more. He would be the attacking part of the midfield and the creative player adding a bit of the attacking flair that hopefully Wenger will help nurture and develop. I think if Dennis Bergkamp ever ends up on the Arsenal staff he would help Wilshere’s development massively and would hopefully see a player develop to his full potential but that’s all it is at the moment, and I think experiencing the taste of international football right now would only help develop a player who is used to training at that level with Arsenal’s squad and would certainly better prepare him for 2014 when, at 22, he will surely be a member of the squad.
The key thing this footballers have all shown is good footballing brains, Rodwell is able to play in many positions as he’s shown at Everton and for England youth playing as a centre back, defensive or attacking midfielder all to an excellent level whilst Cattermole has developed an excellent reading of the game and has great positioning as a result and can time a tackle pretty well making him a great ball winner whilst Wilshere posses great anticipation of the game around him for someone at such a young age, able to read the movement of both his team mates and opposition very well for someone so young. Whilst I think these guys can all start together against Hungary they don’t have to, and I don’t really expect them to, but starting 2 of them along side Gerrard or Lampard would be a great way to bring them in to international football.
The set up at the back is another area to come under scrutiny for reasons both on and off the pitch. Capello’s decision to bring Jamie Carragher out of international retirement was worrying and he never looked confident or up to scratch at the back and the same can probably be said for Matthew Upson who is a player that can do a job at a certain level but against a truly top team he is exposed and this has been the case to many times. I think Phil Jagielka certainly deserves a call up after allying fears over his fitness since recovering from a cruciate ligament injury, playing the 2nd half of last season for Everton and playing well.
Another name on the defensive side that I feel should no longer be on the list is John Terry who shot himself in that infamous press conference, expecting the support of his team mates by naming them and then being humiliated as they all denied anything to do with it, some reports saying certain players were angry at him doing this, and also seen in some sections as making a play for the captains armband again, an issue which apparently he’s never got over. Other than an OK game against Slovakia (one despairing diving header doesn’t make it a good game) which in hindsight was a game that was given more credit than it deserved doesn’t justify another guaranteed run in the England shirt. Rio is another one who’s time could be limited, depending on what his injuries and form are like in the coming season, although if he plays like last season I think he will have problems justifying his place as he is another one who it could be said has had enough chances. Ledley King would probably be an excellent choice but his injuries on top of his ongoing knee troubles don’t really seem the hassle as his performances in an England shirt have never really justified the trouble. I’d certainly say Dawson is worth a look as a starting centre back, if he can show the form he’s shown at Spurs then he can certainly be considered a starter and I think another one that should be considered is Gary Cahill who was cruelly robbed of the chance to lay his claim to a world cup spot with a blood clot in his arm. Back to full fitness he has become a key player at Bolton and has been linked with top teams, he’s certainly shown a number of times he deserves to be at a team challenging for a European place and I’m sure Man City probably wish they bought him instead of Lescott.
Whilst Ashley Cole is probably the only player that came out of the World Cup with his reputation intact he’s not getting any younger and it might be worth giving a younger left back some experience as well, Kieron Gibbs at Arsenal is certainly worth a call as he can also play on the left side of midfield as well and at 19 has shown a lot of progress so far for Arsenal, and if it wasn’t for injury some say he might have displaced Clichy as left back already.
In goal David James international career has to be considered over, he certainly won’t be in consideration in 2012 at 42 and definitely not 2014 so why carry on with him now? Rob Green will probably only be in the squad as there isn’t anyone else that can lay claim to the 3rd slot except maybe Scott Carson who seems to have under gone a pretty solid rehabilitation at West Brom, although it remains to see how he’ll cope in the premiership. Joe Hart should finally be given the No 1 shirt, if anything to strengthen his case for the City No 1 shirt or at least be allowed to move on if he’s going to be Shay Given’s understudy again and also given that on last season’s form he is one of the best keepers in the EPL, certainly English keeper. Ben Foster should be given another chance in the squad I think, his move to Birmingham should kick start his career and I think being under less pressure at club level will help him develop as well, sadly like most other young English keepers he made the jump to a big club to early in his career and the fact he’s still in the premiership at a top 10 team is a testament to his ability.
Players like Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott and Bobby Zamora should come in as well, Theo will have learnt a valuable and painful lesson from missing out on the world cup squad and I think this will help him improve as a player whilst the same tournament was too early for Johnson now is the time for him to step in to the squad and Zamora would probably have made the squad over Heskey had it not been for his injury. I think bringing these players through now will help set the team up towards the next world cup, and like I said I’m not suggesting dropping all the players I listed at the start, in fact other than James & Terry I think most of them should stay in the squad as their experience could be useful to the other players and they will also help take the pressure off, but we have to move away from this reliance on players that can’t perform at the highest level. My starting XI would play as a 4-5-1 and be Hart, G.Johnson, Dawson, Jagielka, Cole; A. Johnson, Gerrard, Rodwell, Wilshere, Lennon; Rooney
Just as a last thought I still think the idea of Mikel Arteta playing for England shouldn’t be written off, yes he’s not able to get in the Spain team but that’s because the players in front of him are superior and not because he’s a bad player, but that will never happen