This summer we will be saved from football starvation thanks to a feast of tournaments to plug the gap to next season. Less than a month after the Champions League final England will begin their quest for Euro 2012 glory and try to end the 46 year dry streak.
There’s the small matter of the Olympics after that but winning in Kiev on July 1 is much more important than claiming the gold medal. The route to the final is pretty clear for outgoing boss Fabio Capello now and with the season now past the turn it is time for him to start considering who will be in his 23-man squad.
Rumour mills are creating transfer speculation by saying that players want to move so they can force their way into contention for their country and every week new players will be thrown into the conundrum.
Despite the wealth of talent at our disposal there is very little chance that England will be able to come out on top against the likes of Spain, Holland, Italy and unfortunately the Germans when the games start to matter. It is a crying shame that I should be so pessimistic with so much time to go before a ball is even kicked in the tournament but rational thoughts should be put in place before newspapers start printing stories that we are going to win or even worse, print another image of a player’s foot.
Like many fans, I will still keep the faith in my country to do the business against all the odds because like most Englishmen, I love an underdog. But whether the team return from Ukraine (and Poland- only for one game, if they get that far) victorious or not, there is an opportunity for Capello to start something special.
Although he will not be in the job after the summer, he has the opportunity to build a squad that can go on and be a force at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Rather than giving the so-called Golden Generation one last unlikely shot of success, it is time to inject youth, raw talent, enthusiasm and ambition into the side. Because they will never have been subjected to the media vultures that jump on every other failure they will be able to play with less fear and enjoy the situation. It also means that they will know what to expect from travelling to the tournament, playing and living alongside people who are your comrades in the competition but your rivals every weekend. In doing so it offers them an invaluable learning curve this time round so that when they head to South America in two years time the situation will not be a culture shock, which could happen if it’s the first time they have had to cope with it.
By no means would this be a full proof plan but I’m sure the next manager would be delighted to come in and see a group of players in their early twenty’s that have already played together at Euro 2012 and after the Barmy Army have suffered so much heartache from previous failures, taking a different plan of action can’t hurt.
So here’s the squad I would pick.
Joe Hart, Robert Green, Scott Carson
Manchester City keeper Joe Hart will definitely get the number 1 shirt for the tournament because he is the best English stopper by a long way and is perhaps even the best in the Premier League. At only 24 he will be between the sticks for a long time to come and his ability, athleticism and command of the area breeds confidence in his defenders.
Elsewhere, despite his calamitous moment at the World Cup, Robert Green is a good keeper and a very worthy back-up to Hart. He is playing well for West Ham this season and deserves to be included.
The third-choice keeper’s spot is a difficult one to decide between Ben Foster and Scott Carson. West Bromwich Albion keepers past and present will both be fighting for the shirt but I would give it to Carson. The Bursaspor keeper is only 26 but has crammed a lot of experience into that time and with him now playing on the continent it makes him a more rounded candidate for the squad.
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Kyle Walker, Ashley Cole, Phil Jones, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Micah Richards.
Despite currently holding the England captaincy and the linchpin of the back four for a number of years, John Terry would be left out of my squad for the tournament. This season he has looked frailer than before and with the arrival of Gary Cahill at Stamford Bridge this month it will start to show that the old guard needs replacing by the new pretender.
As one of the best full-backs in the world, Ashley Cole is in and would line-up alongside Cahill, Phil Jones, a future England captain, and Kyle Walker, who is as effective in defence as he is going forward and will be the first-choice right-back for years to come.
As a replacement left-back would be Leighton Baines, who would offer quality from dead-ball situations and superb crossing ability and hopefully wouldn’t be too homesick. Elsewhere, Phil Jagielka is a magnificent replacement to have in the squad and could be brought in from the start if Capello wanted to reposition Jones. Also included would be Chris Smalling and Micah Richards. The pair are both capable of playing in the heart of the defence or at right-back and can offer different things depending on the opponents, which will be handy as the tournament progresses.
Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere, Scott Parker, Jack Rodwell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson, Ashley Young.
Although I am all for the blooding of youth in the team, Steven Gerrard has to be included. For this tournament he should be made captain because he can lead by example and is a proven match winner. He is the best all-round player England have produced in the last 15 years and still has a big role to play on the international scene. Alongside him should be Jack Wilshere if he is on form after his injury because his strength, aggression and passing quality will work wonders with the Liverpool skipper. And depending on the opponent I would also bring Scott Parker into the starting XI to sit with Wilshere just behind Gerrard so they can beat off their midfield counterparts and allow the new captain some creative freedom.
Capello may choose to play with two attack-minded wingers as well and there I would pick Ashley Young and Adam Johnson. They can both play with ease on either wing so they can interchange to offer up different angles to whip the ball in or cut-inside to shot themselves. The squad should also include Jack Rodwell, who could replace Parker or Wilshere in the holding role and offer the energy to join the attacks when necessary and Theo Walcott would be picked by me as well to offer an injection of pace to frighten defenders in a 4-3-3 formation.
Adding to that, I would have wildcard pick for the squad and it would be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. When he has played for Arsenal he has shown immense talent and has the potential to be one the world’s top players. He plays on the wing and can cut inside or get the ball in, often better than Walcott. At 18 it would be experience for the future but he has something to offer to Capello already and should be included.
Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe.
Since his stupid red card in October there has been great debate about whether Wayne Rooney should be taken to the tournament and for me I would say no. He will miss the first two games by which point we could be dead and buried, plus he will come back hot headed having had to sit and watch the opening games, be over-zealous in a bid to justify his place and more importantly, it could cause problems when Capello has to shuffle his team around to accommodate the Manchester United forward in there.
Instead, I would start with Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck up front. They have come into the starting XI at their respective clubs and earned their places in the side. Both like to play through the middle which will allow space for the wingers but they are both capable of pushing out-wide if the manager decides against a rigid 4-4-2. Also in the squad would be Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe, both of which will be debated by most but the pair can work well in combination. Spurs striker Defoe is a goalscorer and is a real poacher, something that the other selections aren’t. Meanwhile, Crouch is completely different from the other three. His height will cause defenders problems, particularly at set-pieces because they will be marking him so tightly that it creates space for others. He also has a great scoring record for his country and after all, goals are what matter.
That would be my 23 and it offers a variety of possible formations and line-ups. Who would you take instead and what would your starting XI be? Comment to me on Twitter @jrobbins1991 and let me know.