England’s finest – allowing for injuries and lack of fitness – assemble this afternoon at the team hotel at Watford as they start preparations for their 6th Feb friendly against Switzerland.
Capello’s first game – except that this isn’t Capello’s England yet.
The core is pretty much the same as what Eriksson took to Germany 2006, and the same as what McClaren failed with in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. For England to be Capello’s team, they need to transform themselves into a winning team, a team that fights and capitalises on its talents, a team that is more than the sum of its parts.
And as we wait for England to trounce Switzerland and for Capello-mania to start for real, here’s a look at Capello’s chosen 23 – and yes, we’ll be choosing a captain as well.
Capello on England captaincy:
“I don’t expect to appoint a permanent captain until we start the qualifying games. I want to work closely with the players before deciding on this.
I’m looking forward to working with them on the training ground. There is a lot of work to do but I am ready for the challenge.
We have seven months to prepare for our first competitive match, but the work really starts now.”
The provisional captain will be announced on Tuesday, a day before the Switzerland game.
David James (Portsmouth), Scott Carson (Liverpool on loan at Aston Villa), Chris Kirkland (Wigan)
Despite romantic notions of an ageing goalkeeper getting better and better (’37 going onto 27′ was heard), David James is not going to be first-choice in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. He’s a hard worker and has been in good form for Portsmouth, but 5 big, big reasons count against him.
- He’ll be 39-40 by the time South Africa comes along. I know that goalkeepers are still good around that age but it is definitely a factor, especially considering that James, at his best, is about as good as the other four contenders for his jersey when they are at their best – and they’re considerably younger, so they could still improve. His experience is a positive aspect but that hides something else – James has already had his chance, and he didn’t take it too well.
- Scott Carson
- Chris Kirkland
- Robert Green
- Ben Foster
Leaving aside Paul Robinson (tried and found wanting, like James was a few years ago) and Joe Hart (one for the future), there are four young English goalkeepers who are as good as David James and have more or less an equal chance of claiming the England #1 shirt. One of Capello’s toughest decisions will be to buck the purist / traditionalist opinion and give Carson and/or Kirkland a run-out against Switzerland instead of trying James.
My pick is Scott Carson, but that’s only because he’s been under the tutelage of Martin O’Neill, and from that aspect he is bound to be mentally tougher than your average England goalkeeper (ironic considering his gaffe in his last England performance). Kirkland has been through a lot and it is to his credit that he’s in the squad, but in the long run I can’t see him as a regular England #1.
Wayne Bridge (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Wes Brown (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Everton), Micah Richards (Manchester City), Matthew Upson (West Ham United), Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham Hotspur)
The left-back berth is well covered, with Wayne Bridge, Ashley Cole and Joleon Lescott all able to play in that slot. Barring any fitness problems Ashley Cole is bound to be Capello’s first choice, if only for his natural talents, comfortable ball-skills and his work-rate. Bridge is an able deputy and would be first-choice at all Premier League teams outside the Big 3, but he lacks Cole’s experience and work-rate. Bridge is a better crosser of the ball (IMO), but it’s not like England have Ruud to launch crosses to (no, Crouch doesn’t count).
At right-back England have Micah Richards and Wes Brown – as much as I love Brown, I have to go with Richards for his chemistry with Shaun Wright-Phillips, his energy and how he pushes the opposition’s left flank under constant pressure. Brown, because of his ability to play both right-back and center-back, should be the first defender on the bench for England.
Rio Ferdinand is the automatic choice as a center-back, and it will be interesting to see how he leads the back four in John Terry’s absence. The other center-back spot is a toss-up between Woodgate, Lescott and Upson, although to be fair these 3 are only there because Terry and King are injured and Carragher has retired (who is better, Woodgate or King?). Woodgate would be the first-choice assuming he stays fit.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham Hotspur), Owen Hargreaves (Manchester United), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), David Bentley (Blackburn Rovers)
Left midfield has been a constant problem for England, with first-choice Joe Cole rarely using the width available to him and as a result snuffing out England’s chances of attacking from the left flank. Without Stewart Downing in the squad you can expect Capello to start with Joe Cole, although that completely depends on whether he plays a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1/4-3-3. Ashley Young and Gareth Barry are both second options for the left midfield berth, although both are stronger in central positions.
Right midfield will see Shaun Wright-Phillips as the incumbent facing competition from David Bentley – and my money is on SWP starting with Bentley, if he’s lucky, getting a few minutes on the pitch. Training will tell us more, but Capello isn’t going to spring any major surprises and SWP has been good for England on the right whenever he has played.
Steven Gerrard, like Rio Ferdinand in defence, is first-choice in central midfield but his role and the name of his partner is still uncertain. Hargreaves is the obvious choice but Barry has been imperious for Aston Villa and Jenas has played a big part in Tottenham’s revival under Ramos, and both offer something different to the team.
Hargo and Gerrard are still the best combination, but just for kicks (and especially if Capello tries a 4-5-1 some time in the future), it would be interesting to DROP Gerrard and play Jenas or Barry with Hargreaves – this England team relies far too much on Gerrard and they need to start pulling their own weight.
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Michael Owen (Newcastle United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Peter Crouch (Liverpool)
With Owen out of form and Crouch just limited (although both do score goals, unlike Rooney), it’s tempting to consider Rooney and Agbonlahor as sure starters. I have a strong suspicion that Capello could bench Rooney and start with Owen and Crouch, but looking at the rest of the team, Rooney is a better fit and under Capello you would certainly hope that he starts scoring goals for England.
Agbonlahor is tipped to get a runout as a sub, but he could also start either with Rooney or in his place. A side with Rooney and Agbonlahor leading the line (with Cole / Young and SWP / Bentley on the wings) would be a fast, fluid and very attacking side and keeping England’s long-term future in mind the Aston Villa player certainly deserves more time in the spotlight.
Starting XI / Subs
Mind you, this is my pick from the 23 players available, not a prediction of what Capello will do.
Micah Richards, Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Ashley Cole
Shaun Wright-Phillips, Owen Hargreaves, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole
Wayne Rooney, Gabriel Agbonlahor
Bench: Chris Kirkland, Wes Brown, Wayne Bridge, David Bentley, Jermaine Jenas, Ashley Young, Michael Owen
Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, John Terry
John Terry is the incumbent but I don’t expect him to stay captain (and his place in the team will also be up for debate). Steven Gerrard is the vice captain and most likely to get the armband but he’s not the best man for the job, and he already bears the burden of being England’s best player.
Rio Ferdinand is the next logical choice, considering his stature at United and the fact that he’s one of the most respected members of the England squad. Capello’s choice as captain (provisional and permanent) will make for an interesting debate but neither of these 3 men are the natural-born leaders that England so desperately craves. Maybe Gerrard will mature, or maybe Rio will evolve into the statesman the job requires him to be. Maybe Terry will play with his mind as well has his heart.
David Beckham, Jermain Defoe, Paul Robinson
Shame to see Becks being left out, am gutted but with qualification on Capello’s mind Beckham is not ahead of SWP or Bentley in the pecking order. I doubt that Capello will turn to Beckham, with Lennon waiting in the wings and even Gerrard capable of playing there in times of need. Eriksson and McClaren needed Beckham because their teams needed moments of individual brilliance to turn games around, and Beckham’s set pieces and picture-perfect crosses gave them that option. Capello should be able to deal with his absence better.
Rob Maul from 4sportsake.com makes an excellent point for us Beckham fanboys:
Had he [Beckham] not been ‘clever’ and picked up a booking against Wales, thus missing an easy trip to Azerbaijan a few years ago, then he would have reached his century already and this argument would have been academic.
Defoe’s goal for Portsmouth (that too against Chelsea) showed that he hasn’t lost his goalscoring touch and while some argue that he’s not as hard-working as others, Defoe is a far better option than Peter Crouch but is also unfortunately too similar to Michael Owen to be in the England squad at this time. He’ll definitely get his chance by the time summer comes and I would expect him to be playing for England soon – he’s good enough to start in the current team.
Robinson is not going to get a chance anytime soon, simple as that. He’s at #7, behind the 5 keepers discussed above and Joe Hart.
Lennon also deserves a mention here, but Capello’s move to switch him to U21 and pick Bentley instead is a master-stroke – Lennon needs to be away from the pressure to be able to develop properly and the U21 gives him that option. It’s also an indication of how highly Capello rates Young and Agbonlahor to have brought them into the senior squad almost immediately. Lennon will come back, but the competition for the right-midfield spot is quite fierce.