Although it is yet to be officially announced by the Football Association (at the time of publication), it would appear that the seven awkward “it’s not you, it’s me…” phone calls have been made and – after several hours of water-torture style press leakage – we can at last piece together the final draft of the squad that England coach Fabio Capello has chosen to have at his disposal for the World Cup proper.
There are a couple of surprise omissions and inclusions of note, with Capello seemingly choosing to retain experienced international players within his trimmed-down collective, rather than gamble on the alternative ‘wildcard’ options available to him.
What follows is a player-by-player look at the 23 men England will be taking to South Africa.
* * * * *
Rob Green A fine 45 minute performance (punctuated by a couple of world-class saves) against Mexico a week ago, undoubtedly ensures that Green will travel to South Africa as England’s ‘No. 1’.
Joe Hart The young Manchester City stopper dispelled any reservations over his ability to cope with the daunting pressures of international football by playing with a huge smile on his face during his two recent (and highly impressive) cameos between the England sticks.
David James The Portsmouth veteran has a wealth of experience and his domestic form last season was arguably better than that of Green. However, before the Japan friendly, James hadn’t started for England since April 2009 and therefore the oldest man in the squad may face a struggle for game time in South Africa.
Rio Ferdinand His form since being installed as captain of the national team has been questionable but his intrinsic quality is not in doubt. Winging it against friendly opposition is one thing, but Ferdinand will have to up his game if he is to live up to the high expectations that come with wearing the England armband.
John Terry Let’s face it. Whatever you may think of Terry the man, Terry the centre-back is still one of the best in the world. Old-fashioned (read: ‘slow’) as he may be, you cannot deny that the Chelsea skipper’s staunch defending and chest-puffing leadership mean he must start for England, as captain or otherwise.
Ledley King For many, King’s inclusion within Capello’s 30-man provisional squad came as a slight surprise due to his prohibitive injury problems, although the Tottenham man has proved his doubters wrong by coming through a fairly intensive pre-World Cup training schedule unscathed. The classy centre-back will probably not make the first string in South Africa, but will provide reliable back-up to Ferdinand and Terry.
Ashley Cole A full-back that is equally as effective defensively as he is going forward is a rare commodity in the modern game. Cole is tenacious, athletic and, as strange as it may sound, intelligent – putting him light-years ahead of his competition for the England left-back slot.
Glen Johnson The fact that 32-year-old Jamie Carragher had to be dragged out of international retirement (see below) as cover for Johnson is a shocking indictment of the paucity of international-class options available to Capello. Johnson’s ominously fluctuating form means that he can go from looking like a world-beater (Mexico) to looking abjectly awful (Japan) within the space of a week but there can be no doubt that, on his day, the Liverpool flyer is up there with the best of them.
Jamie Carragher Following weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling, Fabio Capello finally managed to persuade the Liverpool veteran to come out of international retirement for one last World Cup swansong. Carragher has been bought in as an auxiliary right-back, but will also provide solid cover in a central role if needed.
Matthew Upson Didn’t feature at all in either of England’s warm-up games, but this was apparently because Capello knows all he needs to know about the West Ham defender. Not necessarily the worst of England’s central-defensive options but certainly the least fashionable, Upson is known to struggle when faced with mobile, technique-based opposition.
Stephen Warnock Yet another defender that didn’t get a chance to prove his worth during the pre-World Cup friendlies, but that has still managed to find a way into the final 23. His inclusion probably says more about Capello’s lack of faith in Leighton Baines than it does about Warnock’s footballing abilities.
Frank Lampard After yet another 20+ goal season for Chelsea, the ever-reliable Lampard is still churning out the kind of industrious performances at domestic level that have made his name over the past decade or so. It’s a slightly different story on the international scene however, with many left questioning why the 31-year-old can’t replicate his game-winning exploits so readily in an England shirt.
Steven Gerrard Following a frustrating season with Liverpool, Gerrard will be hoping that the freedom afforded to him within the England system will see his form restored to it’s imperious best.
Gareth Barry That the England management were willing to wait until the very morning that their final draft had to be submitted to re-test Barry’s fitness is indicative of how important Capello feels the anchor man’s presence within the team is. After the poor showings from Michael Carrick and Tom Huddlestone during the warm-ups, you can see why.
James Milner Had Milner broken into the national side earlier, there’s a good possibility he would be starting in South Africa. As is, he is still a little green-around-the-gills in international terms and, as a result, failed to impress when handed what was only his second England start against Mexico. Disappointing as his performance against El Tri was, Milner’s excellent club form will be enough to see him feature during this summer’s tournament.
Joe Cole Was in very real danger of not making the cut for the World Cup after an indifferent, injury-marred season with Chelsea. Many expected Cole not to feature at all during the two recent friendlies, but the winger took his chance to prove his mettle by producing an energetic second-half performance against Japan. Put simply, Joe Cole is too good a player not to go to South Africa.
Aaron Lennon Although Lennon struggled to recapture his glittering club form after returning from injury, the nippy winger is still a crucial part of the England attack. The Tottenham man did just enough against Japan to nose himself ahead of Theo Walcott in the race for a spot on the flanks.
Shaun Wright-Phillips Losing his place in the Manchester City first team last season appears to have not cost Wright-Phillips as dearly as many predicted. An eager performance in the second-half of the Japan game has secured the diminutive winger his place in the final draft.
Michael Carrick Looked to have blown his big chance to convince the management that he was an able deputy for Gareth Barry in the holding role against Mexico, but Capello obviously still sees something in the Manchester United midfielder that the rest of us are finding increasingly hard to.
Wayne Rooney No surprises here! England’s biggest flaw is that they are just about solely reliant on Rooney to create anything from open play. If he gets injured (or let’s his frustration get the better of him) England may as well kiss their World Cup ambitions goodbye.
Peter Crouch Proved his worth yet again with a towering (literally) performance in the first-half of the Mexico game. His height is an invaluable weapon and, thankfully, his touch and intelligence are starting to get the credit they deserve. The ongoing criticism is that he only scores against the ‘minnows’, but a record of 21 goals in 38 international games is impressive by anyone’s standards.
Jermaine Defoe Carried his late-season lull in form into the game against Mexico and will need to have much more of an impact during the World Cup proper to justify his inclusion in the squad. That said, Defoe is a proven ‘spurting’ goalscorer, so if he can synchronise a purple patch with the start of the tournament, he may end up with the Golden Boot.
Emile Heskey The Aston Villa ‘striker’, who has managed just nine Premier League goals in the last three seasons, somehow makes the squad yet again.
Those who missed the cut
Leighton Baines His ‘shock’ omission isn’t actually that much of a shock considering that he did himself no favours when given a chance to shine against Mexico. The Everton man still looks nervous and uncomfortable on the international stage, and will not be troubling Ashley Cole for a starting berth anytime soon.
Michael Dawson Didn’t feature during the warm-up games, which is a slight surprise given his excellent season with Tottenham.
Tom Huddlestone Payed the price for spurning a glorious chance to repay the England manager’s faith in him. His lacklustre, nervy showing against a limited Japanese outfit means ‘Hud’ may be facing a lengthy wait until his next cap.
Scott Parker Like Dawson, Parker was included within the preliminary squad but not given a chance to show his stuff during the warm-ups. Shame, as he couldn’t have done any worse than his rivals, Carrick and Huddlestone.
Theo Walcott There was mounting speculation that Walcott’s recent poor form for both club and country would see him receive a ‘shock’ omission from Capello’s final squad and, by jove, the speculation has proven to be correct. It seems that the Arsenal youngster’s latent potential just wasn’t enough to secure him yet another reprieve. Bit of frivolous trivia for you, Theo was apparently half-way through a round of golf when he answered that fateful telephone call.
Adam Johnson Seems like Fabio Capello just wasn’t prepared to gamble on such a inexperienced wildcard despite rating him so highly. Shame, as many would have liked to have seen such a vital young talent get a chance to shine on the world stage. His time will come.
Darren Bent Unlucky not to have been retained after a prolific season that saw the Sunderland man score 24 league goals including 5 goals against the ‘big four’. Bent didn’t seem to be a natural partner for Rooney during their 45 minutes together against Japan but, in fairness, that was the first time they’d ever been partnered together from the start of an international game.
* * * * *
There you go. What do you make of Fabio Capello’s choices?