1. This Is It – So the elite have finally been chosen, the immortals decreed and the crème de la crème has risen to the top. Now it has to stay fresh for the next month and avoid going all lumpy (Emile Heskey aside) before it reaches the knock out stages of World Cup 2010. Apparently this is our best chance of winning it since our last best chance of winning it all the way back in 2006. Rooney’s ready (sort of), Barry’s fit (sort of) Heskey’s been taught what a goal is (sort of), the team has jetted off, it’s on people! World Cup fever starts now. The other, earlier World Cup fever was inferior, half hearted World Cup fever and the fever that reaches us when the games actually start is only bound to be a massive disappointment. Now is the perfect time to get all excited without feeling foolish or premature. We can be as crazy and optimistic as we like, something I’m going to be running completely contrary to for the rest of this article.
2. The Oh No – So there was no Gazza moment this time around. No brilliant but troubled talisman and reliable penalty taker jettisoned in favor of the majestic talents of Rob Lee. Nor were there any embryonic enigmas included ahead of the highest top flight scoring Englishman, though perversely the big shock of the squad was the exclusion of that very same embryo, who’s development into a fully formed Thierry Henry hasn’t been quite a fast as he is. It’s a shame for Theo Walcott, who’s done an excellent job of growing a pirate beard to rival that of Gary Neville, but with the injury to goldenballs limiting our wing choice to three almost identical players, the ones who performed better on England duty were the ones who had to go. Croatia aside, Walcott has failed to impress on the international stage whilst Lennon and little Ian have both grasped their fleeting appearances with gusto (and in SWP’s case, generous goalkeeping). Fair’s fair unfortunately, the number 7 shirt is still up for grabs.
3. The Generation Game – This is the oldest England World Cup squad ever apparently, which doesn’t say much for our youth systems, but even less for the group of players it’s left behind. The group that I like to call “the Lost Generation” but could equally call the spoiled little b*****d generation have been the greatest disappointment of this World Cup qualifying campaign. Whilst France – who are longer odds than us despite reaching the last final – have brought through the Gourcuffs, Benzemas and Riberys in recent years, we’ve still only managed Rooney. The rest of Rooney’s crop; the Bentleys, Jenus’, Walcotts, Pennants and younger Ferdinands have all failed to deliver. As we creep towards the beginning of a new decade proper, the fact that Lampard, Gerrard, James, J Cole and Beckham (who almost certainly would’ve been included barring injury), all gained their first England caps over 10 years ago isn’t a particularly comforting one. We’re relying on them again, and whether they finally deliver or not, the problem of what to do when they’re put out to pasture looms heavily. It may or may not be our best chance to win it since ‘66, but it looks like it’ll be our best chance to win it for some time to come.
4. Roo and Whose Army? – Whilst the one position we do definitely have a genuinely World Class player at the peak of his form in is upfront, it’s also annoyingly the position that seems the most underwhelming on paper. Where once we had Shearer and Sheringham, we now have Rooney and heading man, a terrible pun which could happily apply to either Heskey or Crouch, if you ignore the pesky problem of Crouchy not actually being terribly good in the air. Having not just one, but essentially two players who’s inclusion is mainly down to their ability to get the best out of our best player doesn’t strike me as something terribly brilliant about our team. Heskey’s goal record at international level is worse than both Rene Higuita and Jose Luis Chilvert, both of whom – as the more observant of you will have noticed – are goalkeepers. Crouch has an excellent return for England, but can’t play up on his own and isn’t the type of player who’s going to do anything magical against Spain or Argentina. If Rooney ends up injuring himself – which he probably will, most likely somewhere in his own half – we’re done for, unless Defoe (the one extra forward brought along to actually score goals) can replicate his club partnership with Rodney Trotter. Still, it’s hardly Villa and Torres is it? But mustn’t grumble, stiff upper lip and all that what what!
5. Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes – And what if we play Gerrard behind Wayne instead? The brief flirtation with 4-3-3 against Japan last Sunday actually worked quite well. Freeing Stevie from his abusive relationship with Frank Lampard and giving Joe Cole license to roam around whilst Wayne busily kicked people in the middle seemed to make us not just more attractive, but more dangerous. But then if we do do that, then what on earth is the point of brining Lump and Rodders along? Surely a goal getter like Bent would be the better option in that formation if Rooney does end up damaging his metatarsal or treading on someone’s gonads again. No, it looks like 4-4-2 is what Fabio wants, and hopefully we’ll be better at it with our first choice line up that we were against either Japan or Mexico. The arguments over the merits of 4-4-2, and indeed Heskey will continue until it’s won us the trophy. If it doesn’t, there’ll be hell to pay. Oh Fabio, hell hath no fury like an England scorned.
6. War(nock)..Huh!..What is it good for? – Leighton Baines out, Stephen Warnock in. I have absolutely nothing to say about that other than…OK then. Lets hope he can call on the whole wealth of his eight minutes international experience if need be. Yes We Can, Yes We Can.
7. Out the Daw – Dawson out seems a tad harsh since he’s had an excellent season propelling Spurs into the top four. More so than Matthew Upson at any rate, who joins Robert Green in the defensive options kindly provided us by West Ham United, a team who narrowly avoided relegation and lost to Wolves at home. Yes We Can, Yes We Can.
8. The Joe-ker – I’m glad Joe Cole’s in. Being behind the goal when he walloped in that volley against Sweden in Cologne four years ago probably sways my judgment a little, but he’s one of the few English players you can actually expect the unexpected from, in a good way. He looks a little heavier now though, a natural byproduct of age and a lengthy lay off. Playing up front with Rooney on Sunday gave the impression that Fabio had picked up two slightly overweight pub team stalwarts after seeing them humiliate some kids in a park.
9. Ooo err Mrs. – The WAGS will apparently be holed up in Sun City (which is coincidentally, but not unfortunately where I’ll be as it happens) which is sort of like the South African version of Las Vegas but with less rampant obesity. The players have been told they’re allowed to see them once a week after each game, before retuning to boot camp for extra drilling (presumably there’ll be some drilling involved during these fleeting conjugal visits too.) A repeat of Baden Baden seems extremely unlikely however, with Vicky B absent, Theo’s Mrs. no longer under any kind of spotlight and not going anyway, Stevie G embroiled in marital turmoil and John Terry acting as a kind of scarecrow bogeyman figure to any player who lets his other half out of their sight for more than 20 minutes.
10. Here We Go Here We Go Here We Go – So this is it, there’s nothing more to do but twiddle our thumbs until the USA on June 12th. Come on you England. As Liverpool fans have repeated for nigh on 20 years now…This is our year!
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