Following England’s qualification for Euro 2012 last night in Podgorica via a less-than-convincing 2-2 draw against Montenegro, I was left baffled and confused at some of the decisions made by Capello. I do, believe, however, that you can’t criticise the decisions of others without saying your own opinions first, so I present to you my 23-man squad that I would take to the European Championships if I had to pick now.
Joe Hart - the selection of Joe Hart speaks for itself, he’s our first choice beyond any doubt and rightly so in my opinion. He’s a very good all round goalkeeper playing for one of the top sides in the country and is still improving.
Scott Carson - we’ve not exactly got a plethora of goalkeeping talent on our hands. I’ve got to name two spare ‘keepers and I guess that one will be Scott Carson, if he plays. He moved to Bursaspor in the summer so hopefully he’ll have a steady season in order to provide able back up to Hart.
John Ruddy - Scraping the barrel somewhat, John Ruddy would be my third choice GK. He has shown himself to be a very steady ‘keeper who rarely makes mistakes, and will have plenty of practice this season behind a relegation-battling defence at Norwich.
Ben Foster might have had a shout but he wanted ‘a break’ - as soon as you make the announcement that you don’t want to play for England whilst you’re a second-rate, mistake-prone GK, your international career is over for me. Paul Robinson is another retiree, and he is in good form, but his proneness to mishandling long range shots makes him an unfeasible option, especially with FIFAs tendencies to deploy beach balls at major tournaments. The other candidates would be the likes of Green, Stockdale, Fielding and Loach, all of whom are playing in the Championship this season. I miss the days of Seaman, Martyn and Flowers.
Hart against Mexico. Our only goalkeeping hope.
Kyle Walker - In my opinion, Walker will occupy our right back spot for years to come, he has a fair bit to learn defensively but that will come with age. Going forward he is more than capable and just as quick as Walcott or Lennon, he can also cover the right midfield spot if we needed a more defensive winger against an attacking full back.
Micah Richards - Following Glen Johnson’s fall from grace, Micah Richards is the obvious candidate for the other right back spot. Some would argue that he is too similar to Walker and that we should take one of the two as well as Kelly from Liverpool, this is a moot point for me as we have plenty of defensive right back cover in our centre-backs
Walker scores against Arsenal
John Terry - despite the fact that I become more and more disillusioned with ‘JT’ every time I see him play, this squad lacks experience and with Ferdinand’s injury worries, Terry and Cole would be the only defenders in the squad who had ‘been there and done it.’ It seems silly to say this after we threw away the three points in Podgorica but I would feel a lot more confident of withstanding a late barrage with the likes of Terry in my team.
Phil Jones - He would partner Terry in my first XI, he reminds me of Ledley King and has the potential to be the best centre back in the world. Sir Alex Ferguson has the faith in him to play for Manchester United week in, week out, so there is no reason not to play him in a major international tournament for England.
Chris Smalling - If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, yet another youngster that Sir Alex has put his faith in, as well as being more-than-useful right-back cover. If Man Utd. have a good season in which he plays over 80% of the games, it would be extremely hard to say that he’s not good enough for England.
Rio Ferdinand / Gary Cahill / Michael Dawson - Out of the latter two, whoever has the better season. They are both very good defenders who are prone to mistakes, and as they age, this becomes less and less acceptable. They would provide a bit of premiership experience to this young defence, but are indeed lacking in England caps. With regards to Rio, he has to be fit to go, we saw the danger of taking injured and injury prone players to an international tournament. If 100% fit, he goes ahead of the latter two.
Terry, Cahill and Jones against Montenegro
Ashley Cole - For my money, the best left back in the world, and our only consistent performer in major tournaments. He was the only one worthy of the shirt in South Africa so I can forgive any amount of tabloid exposure and infidelity.
Leighton Baines - Eleven goals and eleven assists last season in a very average Everton side. He is not on Cole’s level, nowhere near, but you’d be hard pressed to make an argument for anyone else to be Cole’s deputy; if Warnock goes over him I will question Capello’s sanity, that is, unless it is true that Leighton Baines gets homesick, which could prove an issue in eastern Europe.
Cole at the last World Cup
Jack Wilshere – The heir apparent to Fabregas’ Arsenal throne, it would seem. Wilshere has been capped five times already by Capello at only 19 years of age. He is an incredible prospect who needs to be looked after carefully and nurtured in the correct manner; something which you can trust Arsene Wenger to do for the forseeable future. He has everything in his locker for a central midfielder and reads the game beyond his years, he put in a very impressive shift against the Danes back in February and it would be a travesty if he was left at home.
Steven Gerrard - Depending on his fitness and form, Gerrard can still be our best midfielder. He has the drive and dynamism coupled with the technical ability and leadership abilities to be the main man in our midfield. He can play any central midfield role and would be a good option alongside Wilshere and Parker, who would probably play deeper than he. If fit, Gerrard goes to the tournament, no question for me.
Scott Parker – Parker has started well for Tottenham after more than earning his move from West Ham in the summer. He was last seasons writers’ player of the year and has hit the ground running at Tottenham, partnering Luka Modric and leaving Sandro and Tom Huddlestone wondering how they will get back into the team. He has enough ability on the ball but will be brought for his work rate and defensive abilities which will become more important as the tournament progresses. Parker is, in my view, an upgrade on Gareth Barry, rending the latter unnecessary in the squad.
Frank Lampard – Hopefully for England; Lampard will have a good season for Chelsea. He looked revitalised against Bolton at the weekend, grabbing a hat-trick in Villas-Boas’ new look Chelsea side, dare I say it, he looked back to his old self. On form, Lampard is one of the finest attacking midfielders we have ever seen, and things could have been oh so different in Germany had the linesman had his glasses on. Even as a bit part player, his experience around the camp as well as his winning mentality will provide invaluable within the squad.
Tom Cleverly – Hopefully Tom Cleverly carries on in the vein he started as he has had a terrific start of the season so far. He impressed in the Community Shield and took that form into the league. He is a dynamic, all round central midfielder who will only get better with age. He’s now 22 years of age and he finally made a name for himself on loan at Wigan last season. In the long run, the presence of Cleverly makes more sense than that of Milner or Barry in the squad as we need to start giving our youngsters some experience at major tournaments.
Wilshere battles against Denmark
Ashley Young - Had always threatened to be something special ever since he broke onto the scene with Watford and earned his big money move to Villa. Following his big money move to United in the summer he has produced some of his finest form ever, he has struck up a formidable partnership with Wayne Rooney and is looking like the player that we all knew he could be. A definite starter on the left on current form.
Theo Walcott / Aaron Lennon - Walcott is one who is still threatening, he struggles to find consistency and can often go missing. However, we have seen glimpses of a good player, none more evident than his hat trick against Croatia, he is starting to show a final product from the wing and demonstrated so when he found Ashley Young with a very good cross against Montenegro last night. Lennon had a very good season last season in a somewhat inconsistent Spurs side, he also added what has been missing from his game in recent years; goals. He scored a few crucial goals for spurs, last minute winners against both Liverpool and Newcastle spring to mind. Like Walcott, though, he struggles to find a consistent vein of form. He also tends to play better when he is in front of a defensive right back and struggled when partnered with Hutton on Tottenham’s right hand side, all that said, though, if he strikes up a good partnership with Walker this season, they could easily stake a claim to be England’s right hand side at the tournament. There’s only room for one in my squad as I think that they’re too similar and not versatile enough to take both.
Adam Johnson - He needs to leave City. He needs to play week in week out for a team that appreciate him so he can show what he’s capable of. He is the better player out of he and Downing and I would take Johnson every time but sorry Adam, if you’re not playing regular first team football, you can’t expect a seat on the plane. Johnson has only made two league appearances this season, and it seems that Silva is the preferred option for Mancini; if this carries on and Downing impresses this season then Downing should go.
Ashley Young nods home a Walcott cross against Montenegro
Wayne Rooney - Need I even pass comment? He is our best player, a talismanic figure in our front line who is becoming of age. Hopefully he will have learned from the incident last night as we can’t afford any Carvalho moments at 2012.
Andy Carroll - Carroll is big, strong and quick. Foreign defenders will struggle to deal with his directness and willingness to fight, as well as his ability to strike a ball from distance - a rarity for a big man. Unfortunately he’s not only a nuisance to his opponents, his drinking has been well documented, as well as his womanising and his brawling. Capello has noted this publically and it would serve Carroll well to keep his nose clean and his head down for the season.
Danny Welbeck - Fantastically talented young man who can also act as cover on the wing. Ferguson refused to loan him out again after he had a successful season long stint at Sunderland and was rewarded when Welbeck began the season in fine form. After a short spell out injured, Welbeck is back, and straight back into the United first XI at the expense of Berbatov, Owen and Hernandez. If the United front three of Welbeck, Rooney and Young carry on the way they started then they should be our front three in the summer.
Daniel Sturridge - Prior to last season, many had started to worry if Sturridge was yet another youngster not to live up to his potential. He answered those critics in a prolific six month spell under Owen Coyle at Bolton where he scored 10 goals in 12 games. Like Welbeck at United, any loan offers were firmly rebuffed and is now a part of Villas-Boas’ first team squad and his ability to play anywhere across the front three make him an asset to any squad.
Rooney and Welbeck in action against Norwich last weekend
Just for good measure, this would be my starting XI as things stand:
Hart; Walker Terry Jones Cole; Parker Gerrard Wilshere; Welbeck Rooney Young.