EDIT 1: Update – November 2009
EDIT 2: Update 2 – April 2010
Another month passes, another international week appears just when you least want one. The title race was just beginning to get interesting with Liverpool gathering momentum and Man Utd being on the rocks. You’ll notice there hasn’t been a post for a couple of days. This is mainly due to my brain switching off at any thought of international friendlies and qualifiers. I guess the games are important but I for one am happy to just wake up in ten days time knowing that everyone who was meant to win probably has and that I spared myself from watching 180 minutes of tedious football.
One good thing is that we are only 15 months away from the World Cup in South Africa. I thought it might be fun to have a go at picking the potential squad of 23. Three goalkeepers are standard even though the likelihood of the second choice playing is tiny, let alone the third choice. That leaves twenty spots for outfield players which I shall divide into eight defenders, eight midfielders and four strikers. We’ll assume everyone is fit to play so even Ledley King will get considered, much to Mr Redknapp’s chagrin…
On the plane (first class of course)
Most of the first choice XI picks itself so the usual suspects can consider their position safe barring a dramatic loss of form or injury. People like Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand and Ashley Cole have nothing to worry about. If fit they go. David James will probably still be playing well enough but I wonder if he can hold off Foster as first choice. Joe Cole is one of the few in the squad with the ability to take on a man but his injury record is a worry. Gareth Barry may well be at a bigger club than Aston Villa next season and his versatility at three positions gives him an advantage over someone like Jenas (the other advantage being that he’s better, full stop).
In the departure lounge (drinks complimentary)
I think next season should see Ben Foster finally become first choice England goalkeeper. I imagine that if he’s not playing for Man United by Christmas, a loan move in January will ensure he has enough football under his belt to make the cut. Glen Johnson has improved greatly at Portsmouth and could well be first choice right back. Carrick and Hargreaves are both strong contenders as they play for Man United and are the best holding midfielders England have. It could be a bit of luxury having both those guys and Gareth Barry too. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, it may well be Carrick who misses out. Walcott and Agbonlahor offer similar skills (great pace, inconsistent finishing) and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both picked. Walcott is very much ahead in the race though and for now Gabby belongs in the next column. Joining Walcott will probably be Heskey and Crouch. Both offer something different, which in international football means you get picked, even if your goalscoring record is not great. Matthew Upson appears to have established himself as third choice centre back meaning he plays if either Terry or Rio are injured. I’m not convinced he has what it takes against the very best. I’d sooner take people who can play full-back and centre half as my reserve defenders and free up a midfield or striker spot. Wayne Bridge probably goes for the simple fact he possesses a left foot and plays full back. No chance of dislodging Cole but better than any other reserve. Wes Brown seemed to be first choice right back earlier in the season but I’m not sure how long he can keep this up without being first choice right back at Man United. As he can play centre back too, he should make it. We can’t end this bit without mentioning Sir David Beckham (believe me that knighthood is coming). For all his critics, his lack of pace, and superstar lifestyle, there’s no denying that he loves playing for his country and has done everything he can to ensure Capello still picks him. Personally I think he still has a lot to offer coming off the bench, and his experience and dead ball expertise will be useful in closing out games. Plus, if some other players showed half as much passion when playing as he does, you might actually have a team that cares.
Looking for their passport (ever forgetful these footballers…)
Lots of players who have done well this season will need to maintain their form next year if they are to make it. The likes of Phil Jagielka, Carlton Cole and the aforementioned Agbonlahor have all had good seasons at smaller clubs but will have to show it’s not a one off. The latter’s Villa teammate Ashley Young stands a good chance of going for his crossing ability alone and he offers pace from midfield which is a bit of a rarity in the England squad. For Carlton Cole to go, a defender may have to be sacrificed. To be honest I would go with seven defenders and five strikers, you’re more likely to need options to chase a game than defend it. Micah Richards will presumably bounce back next year from a poor season at club level and his ability to play right back and centre half gives him advantage over a few others. Kirkland should go as third choice keeper and it’s good to see him get rid of the injury proneness that blighted the early part of his career. Jermaine Defoe takes the spot of poacher ahead of Michael Owen. His (ex-)partnership with Crouch is another plus point. Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon offer pacy right wing play which will be a nice alternative to the slow right wing play of Beckham. It may come down to a choice between SWP and Young, but I’d happily take them both.
Browsing lastminute.com instead (not good enough for Don Fabio)
A couple of years ago, you’d put a lot of money on Michael Owen breaking Bobby Charlton’s scoring record. He’s now stuck on 40 however and Capello clearly doesn’t fancy him. I know his play is limited to the penalty area (being generous) but if my team needed a goal with ten minutes left, there are few better poachers in the English game. Joining him are West Ham teammates Scott Parker and Rob Green and ex teammate Anton Ferdinand, all decent players but not quite international quality. Gary Neville’s time has been and gone and his injury nightmare has seen several right backs overtake him in the pecking order. Phil Neville will do his usual trick of being in every squad in the run up to the finals but then not make cut. Stewart Downing will need a move to a bigger club, as he’s become a bit stagnant at Boro. He seems somewhat one paced for a winger and will probably miss the cut. Joleon Lescott seems to behind Jagielka in the pecking order though if he cuts out the mistakes he may yet be taken for his left back ability. Joe Hart and Paul Robinson need solid defensive campaigns to be considered, as do Jonathan Woodgate and David Wheater.
Wild cards (looking for a great 2009/10)
It’s always tricky to break into a squad with only a year left before the finals but Capello has shown that he looks at form not reputation. I tend to think that with the last couple of squad places it’s worth taking a gamble on something different rather than just wasting it on another generic central midfielder like Jenas (nothing against him personally but he does epitomize the kind of player who is jack of all trades). Sven had the right idea in taking Walcott to the last World Cup but never got round to actually putting him on the pitch. James Milner could be an outside shot if he continues improving at Villa though I personally don’t really rate him. Ledley King would be a great option at centre back but he can’t handle seven games in a month. Dean Ashton could feasibly to the job that Heskey does but with perhaps a few more goals. He’s always getting himself injured though. Jack Wilshere is very highly thought of at Arsenal despite being just 17 but it would require him to start playing regularly in the league which will probably be a season too soon. Beyond that you have the usual selection of players who get tipped for a potential England call but actually have no chance of going barring a deadly viral outbreak which wipes out the 50 best players in England. I’m talking about the likes of Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies, Jermaine Jenas, David Bentley, Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent (noticing all the Spurs players?), Leighton Baines (though a good season could see him challenge Bridge), Luke Young, Nigel Reo-Coker, Curtis Davies, James Beattie, Jimmy Bullard and Andy Johnson.
James Foster Kirkland
Terry Ferdinand Cole Johnson Brown Upson Bridge
Lampard Gerrard Cole Young Beckham Hargreaves Wright-Phillips Barry
Rooney Walcott Heskey Crouch Defoe