With the official end of the football season culminating in QPR’s smash and grab and ‘La Decima’ for Real, the 2014 World Cup is very much turtling from the arse cheeks of the football calendar, so I thought it would be a good time to write about how and who Roy Hodgson should play and consider whether his squad really can bring football home.
Let us first start with the squad itself, which shall also be part 1/2 of my ‘If I Were a Roy’ series, making it a more digestible and a less time consuming read than a 4000 word word spunk. (For those unsure of what I mean by ‘word spunk’ refer to a previous article, Brilliant Belgians in the Premier League, and try to read all of it.)
Overall, I was extremely happy with Hodgson’s selection. The axing of Ashely Cole was a pleasant surprise, as given Hodgson’s age and often dull approach to the game, I very much thought that this squad would still be littered with the traditional pillars of past generations, and given Paul Scholes’ uncanny habit for renaissance, including the 40 year old ginger wizard wouldn’t have even surprised me.
All this aside, the truth is that I was in fact surprised by Roy, and very pleasantly so if I may add. The combination of exciting, in-form, young footballing talent interspersed with World Cup ‘know-how’ and perpetual class has served up what I believe could be a rather potent cocktail come the 12th of June.
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Joe Hart (Manchester City)
This bracket was probably the most predictable, in as much as Joe Hart has done everything in his power to consolidate his number 1 spot for both club and country, and whilst Ben Foster has been in one of today’s modern mysteries, that of self-imposed international exile; on announcing he would once again like to be considered – shock horror! – his inclusion was also rather inevitable after another consistent and solid season for WBA. To whom Roy Hodgson would bestow the great honour of third choice ‘keeper was always going to be the most difficult to predict, however with the unlikelihood of England’s number 3 even getting a look-in this summer, it was at least nice to see that Hodgson took the edgy, alternative route, Fraser Forster. Despite his lack of experience of regular top quality football, let alone international standard, in picking this giant of a man, Hodgson laid the benchmark for a squad with more risky, less conventional picks; something which I believe has done nothing but freshen up what was becoming an increasingly bleak situation on the whole.
Goalkeeper Selection Rating: 10/10 – Solid number 1, strong back up and an equally talented, but more importantly, new face for the third spot, who in fact performed miracles in Celtic’s Champions League triumph over Barcelona.
On to the Defenders, an area of the pitch that in its current state is probably our weakest area of the field, in depth of quality rather than anything else.
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Ashley Cole’s omission from the squad was one of the most polemic parts of this year’s squad selection, however I believe it was completely the right choice. Not only has Luke Shaw played the majority of the season compared to Cole’s infrequent outings, giving him vital match practice heading into the tournament, but he has also played fantastically well. His appetite to get forward epitomises the modern game and the modern play style I hope we adopt this summer whilst his unrelenting engine, breakneck pace and tenacity represents all of what Ashley Cole used to be. Cole has played well when called upon, but not in the way we are used to. His intelligence on the pitch would always ripen with age, but it is the loss of legs and subsequent inability to contribute as effectively in the final third as well as the defensive one, that in my opinion, put Luke Shaw head and shoulders above him in the reckoning for a ticket to Brazil.
However what I want to really focus on is the other players in the area and how any injury would be severely harmful to any slim hope we may have of winning. The reason this group of players fills me with so much trepidation is that although we have two amazing left backs – who I would start will be a topic for later – the rest of this sorry bunch, no matter how hard they try will most likely never fall into that world class bracket, with Gary Cahill perhaps having the largest claim to do so. Phil Jagielka is a player I like also, and its not that he himself is bad but my main concern lies in the fact that if either of these two rather decent centre backs were to get injured, I’m afraid to say that we could be looking at a centre back duo including the man of a million faces, Mr Phil Jones. Don’t get me wrong, he obviously isn’t as awful as I like to think he is, but still, Big Bad Phil lining up against some of the world’s best strikers, or even Costa Rica’s best, fills me with as much confidence as a man next to a pornstar at a urinal.
Glen Johnson too is another decent player, neither exceptionally good nor dreadfully bad, whilst Chris Smalling, arguably main cover for the Liverpool full back, is again, a mediocre player. However, to be displeased with this selection is impossible due to the simple hard fact that there is actually no one else. My one alteration would be replacing Phil Jones with John Stones, not because it rhymes, but because the Everton man was something of a rock at the back in Jagielka’s absence towards the end of the season. As much as I would like to say I only included him in my discussion to execute that subtle, yet marvellous pun, I do genuinely think he would do a better job than Phil Jones, god help us any sort of replacement is to be needed. I never thought I’d say this, but a certain John Terry would have been rather useful…
Defender Selection Rating: 7/10 – In the most controversial area, picking Shaw over Ashley Cole was the right thing to do for many different reasons whilst Jones/Smalling could easily be replaced by Stones/Flanagan yet a lack of experience and in Flanagan’s case, his dangerous tendency for mid-game erections, probably counted against them in the end. Also, if anyone cares, the fact Kyle Walker isn’t in the squad is something that genuinely makes me happy and slightly more optimistic about this group of players.
Now this selection is the one which got me most excited as for once all of those included have been rewarded for scintillating form this season with complete disregard for their age and the lack of experience that comes with it.
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
This season, with the rise of so many young English talents, the phrase ‘If you’re old enough, you’re good enough’ has become the cornerstone for many England fans like myself in arguing that people like Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling (of whom discussion will feature more in the second article) should be on the flight to Brazil. Ross Barkley, who has been excellently managed by and therefore flourished under Roberto Martinez, has marvelled us all this season with dominating midfield performances sprinkled with unrivalled creativity and completeness of play, topped with the odd spectacular goal. This article would have taken a completely different tone should Barkley have been omitted from the 23, yet although I don’t believe he will start, his inclusion was one of the main factors behind my surge of optimism. A player of Barkley’s calibre, even from the bench, will be sure to have some sort of say in our World Cup campaign, and not tapping into this source of infinite talent would have been very much a sin, one I don’t think I could’ve forgiven the England manager for making.
On top of Barkley’s inclusion, by slightly altering the above cliché you could argue that with by selecting Lallana and Henderson, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re good enough’ is an equally as relevant idea as their inclusion was very much on the brink due to the lack of international acclaim, despite plenty agreeing on their immense talent. Adam Lallana especially has single handedly become one of my favourite Premier League players, let alone English players, with an eloquence and substance to his play that in my opinion bears resemblance to the likes of Bergkamp and Zola, some of the greatest creative minds and most technically gifted players to grace our league. Like Barkley, not including Lallana on the basis he doesn’t play for a top four club nor has had champions league experience (both of which could change in the near future should Liverpool get their way) would have been unforgivably unfair and in my opinion his inclusion is far more than simply deserved.
Perhaps the only question marks could be raised over the Arsenal contingent, purely due to the lack of fitness causing them to miss large parts of the season. However as an Arsenal fan myself and watching both of them many times this season, their inclusion will do nothing but add quality to the team and as well as a drive and tenacity, which again is a prevalent theme in this years squad selection.
Midfielder Selection Rating: 10/10 – I honestly can’t think of any other fit player I would include (Walcott, whether considered a midfielder or striker, would have most likely appeared). Michael Carrick’s omission has caused a slight stir but all in all (least of all with me), but the vitality, dynamism and hunger of those who have taken the Premier League by storm, alongside the likes of Gerrard and Lampard does nothing but wet my appetite for the imminent World Cup. Not only does their selection signal once more this promising change in direction for the national time and a look toward the future, but given the play styles and lack of inhibitions within this young squad, it should also result in an attacking and exciting brand of football, something that has been missing from the England team for far too long.
Finally, probably the least exciting area to talk about, as not only does it contain the fewest players but our options are fairly limited in this regard too.
Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
First and foremost, it was something rather inevitable that the trio of Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck were going to be included as they have either become part of the furniture as it were, or in Sturrdige’ s case more than most, had an undeniably fantastic and prolific season. This is not to say these places aren’t deserved, as although I have an inexplicable dislike for Welbeck as a player, I think this is more to do with the fact he always manages to find himself playing left wing for England, a position which not only does he fail to excel at, but has the majority of the time meant the sacrifice of a more talented, yet less renowned player. As for Rooney, his class again is something that no matter how poorly he may play, cannot be questioned. We have seen glimpses of it this season and hopefully, finally, this summer will be the World Cup in which Rooney proves to us all that he is a world class talent.
The fourth place was also going to cause a debate, but with the injury to Jay Rodriguez (who I would have chosen over Welbeck, not his Southampton teammate) the race for this final spot was very much ended. Andy Carroll provides an alternative style of play, but Lambert’s ability to hold the ball up and win aerial battles is arguably just as good, if not superior to that of West Ham’s number 9. Jermain Defoe was the other option, and once again, despite his lethal finishing forming the basis of his claim to be included, Lambert is far from a poor finisher himself. Thus, the fact Ricky Lambert brings the best of both worlds was probably the contributing factor to his inclusion, whilst his penalty taking prowess is also something that could prove useful in Brazil this summer.
Forward Selection Rating: 8/10 – These guys picked themselves really and whilst Jay Rodriguez and Theo Walcott would have provided a tasty debate were they not to be injured, I think it is safe to say that these four give us a rather healthy amount of firepower up top, each brining something different to the game as well.
23 Man Selection Rating: 9/10
Overall, as I said in the beginning, England’s 23 man squad was the first squad announcement that has genuinely left me content with selection. The mixture of young and old, both in terms of the players’ age, but more significantly in terms of previous England experience is exciting and refreshing, whilst any doubts I may or may not have over some players, were in this case, largely unavoidable due to injuries or a simple lack of options.
I genuinely believe this squad will pack a few punches, and also cause a few shocks come the start of the tournament and in my next article I will be discussing my theories on how to get the best out of this group of players, and who would make my starting XI. But as far as squad selection goes…
If I were a Roy, I’d do exactly the same … Doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Or sex appeal for that matter…