2010 World Cup Squads – England
The squads have come thick and fast in recent days, and England are the latest to confirm. And I cannot make my mind up as to whether they are the smallest of the big guns, or the biggest of the outsiders. Some may argue that it is the strongest England side for a long time, but I am not so sure. Those who say this is England’s best chance for a while should maybe take a look at the similar quotes that were made in 2006, or 2002, or 1998, and so on.
Actually, I believe this is in fact one of the weakest England squads in many years, lacking in creativity, defence and strength in depth. Starting at the back, there is no clear cut first choice goalkeeper, and not because the three chosen are particularly strong. David James is infamous for making the odd error in every game, Robert Green remains short of world class quality, and Joe Hart is still young and inexperienced. On the other hand, look at Spain – Casillas, Valdes and Reina could walk into this English side if they had the right passport. This is a problem England has had for a number of years since the retirement of David Seaman. A settled number 1 has remained elusive, with the likes of Robinson, Kirkland and Carson falling by the wayside.
Moving into defence, and the preferred back 4 is Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole on the flanks and Rio Ferdinand and John Terry in the centre. Johnson, despite his wonder goal against Mexico, isn’t particularly special – like the goalkeeper, the number 2 jersey has yet to find a settled home since Gary Neville was dropped by Steve McClaren. Neither do I rate the other 3 main defenders particularly highly either, despite what the hype would have you believe, but, credit where credit’s due, they have been pretty solid during Capello’s reign. The main problem is beyond the first choice players. Whilst Ledley King is very good, his perpetual knee problems hold him back, and I would be surprised if he could keep the pace if one of the first choice centre-backs was injured early on and he was to come in as replacement. The recognised alternative is Matthew Upson, who played at the back for a team that was nearly relegated this year – doesn’t sound confidence-building. Carragher is available but he has not necessarily been brought in as a reserve centre-back. Cover at left-back is Stephen Warnock, who edged out Leighton Baines – again, neither are that great, so England will be relying on the fitness of a player who missed quite a lot of the 09/10 season due to injury.
Into midfield and compared to 4 years ago, England may miss the creativity of Beckham, who providing the impetus for nearly all of their goals in Germany. Lennon was impressive then but the jury’s still out on whether or not he can perform at the highest level. Playing Gerrard on the left wing limits his effectiveness, although he is not in form anyway, and Barry, the holding midfielder, is injured, with history suggesting fully fit players are nearly always better than half-fit players however good they are. One positive is that Lampard has had a good season, and so England will be looking to him for goals. Of the alternatives, the option to use Walcott’s pace as an impact late on has now been eliminated, in place of the one-dimensional Wright-Philips, and the same goes for young Adam Johnson, a potential spark on the left. Instead, Joe Cole is cover on the left, despite never really being a left-sided midfielder. Carrick, who hasn’t played well for England and hasn’t played much at all for Manchester United, is cover in the centre. Milner could prove to be useful but he has barely played for England as well, and so again I am unconvinced.
Up front, Rooney is a given, perhaps England’s only true world class player on current form. Alongside him, England have 3 options – Defoe and Crouch are good, fair selections, but I and many others will question Heskey. In my opinion, he has always been overrated, and he is out of form, although he does bring experience and a few international goals to the table. Instead, I would have chosen Bent, who has more goals than any other English striker in the Premiership bar only Rooney. Earlier omissions Agbonlahor and Zamora perhaps were also worthy of greater consideration despite their international inexperience.
And this is why I believe it is the weakest England squad for a while. The key is strength in depth in a tournament like the World Cup, because it is inevitable that not all 23 players will go the distance. England are relying on a handful of players, in particular Rooney, to pull acts of genius out of the hat. Now of course this has been done before, like in 1986 with Maradona’s Argentina, but it is increasingly difficult to do so in modern football. The emphasis has shifted from single gifted players to a team effort, and that is not just the 11 starters. Take Italy last time out, for example – key defender Nesta was injured part-way through the tournament, but Materazzi was an able replacement, solid at one end and scoring 2 crucial goals at the other. If England lose a key player, as we have seen numerous times in the past, most notably with Rooney and Beckham, they tend to go to pieces.
Added to this, their key creative forces of recent tournaments, main creator Beckham and main goalscorer Owen, are both missing. This means extra emphasis on Rooney, and to a lesser extent, Lampard and Gerrard to find the back of the net. England scored just 6 goals in 2006, most of which either came from or were created by Beckham’s right boot. Whilst Rooney’s goal-scoring prowess is well-documented, the team has to unlock the defence first, and it remains to be seen how they are going to do this.
However, if there is one thing in their favour, it’s that they have a relatively easy draw. They have two of the minnows of particular continents, Slovenia and Algeria, which should all but guarantee progression providing there are no embarrassing slip-ups, although the USA will be tougher opponents than some are expecting. But after the first round, things may get tricky – they will face the runner-up of one of the groups of death, which could be a tough Ghanian side, Serbia, Australia or even Germany. Ghana in particular could be difficult – although they are missing Essien, they proved in the ACoN that they are a solid side with many very good players even without their key men. After this, they could face France, Mexico (who outplayed England in a recent friendly) or the runner-up from Group B. The French, of course, are the big threat here, and even this French side, which scraped into the tournament, would be very tough for this English team to beat.
I doubt this England side is good enough to go the distance. There are too many better sides out there. The best international days of this current generation of players have passed, disrupted by injuries in 2002 and wasted by a gutless display in 2006. The side as a whole is not good enough as an all-round package, even if you consider the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard and Lampard to be better than I believe them to be. It’s still the same core of players that have failed to deliver on the big stage time and time again. Don’t buy the hype – Capello’s England is no different to Sven’s England, because it’s still England.