With the World Cup just a mere 100 days away, Fabio Capello has named his squad for England’s friendly with Egypt this week.
The England boss already knew he would be unable to call upon the services of Wayne Bridge, after the Manchester City left-back made himself unavailable for selection in wake of the well-documented scandal, involving Chelsea captain John Terry.
With Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole facing a race against time to recover from a broken ankle, there has been plenty of debate surrounding England’s problematic left back position.
With those inconveniences in mind, Capello has included Ryan Shawcross, Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock in his initial 24-man squad.
Uncapped Stoke City centre back Shawcross has been rewarded for his exceptional performances at the heart of Stoke’s defence this season. Despite receiving a red card against Arsenal for his tackle on Aaron Ramsey, Shawcross thoroughly warrants his call up to the national side. Every footballer at one point in their career has either mistimed a challenge, or gone in a little higher than anticipated. In any other game, Shawcross’ foot would have harmlessly skimmed off Ramsey’s shin pad, but that’s the fine margins of football. Ultimately, Shawcross is a high-quality defender, and will be playing in the Premier League for years to come.
Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey has also been included in the squad, and it frustrates me how there are still a section of England fans that berate him. What that division of supporters fail to understand, is that picking a team is more than simply selecting eleven of the best players. There is the intertwining of their various talents and strengths, so that the whole team become greater than just the sum of the parts.
In the 5-1 demolition of Croatia at Wembley, Heskey was having such a major influence on the game, that in an attempt to stifle the threat he posed, Croatia manager Slaven Bilic instructed his side to ‘double up’ on the forward. Even with two defenders marking him, Heskey matched them aerially and continued to dominate.
Similarly, when England were locked at 0-0 with Andorra, at halftime Capello took the decision to bring on Heskey in place of Jermaine Defoe, the change proved decisive. It was no coincident that within three minutes of his arrival, England took the lead. Capello’s men went on to win comfortably 2-0, and since then, qualify effortlessly.
The striker is never going to be a prolific goal-scorer, but he is an integral component of the England team. Heskey’s hold up play is arguably the finest in the Premier League, and combined with his pace, it ensures opposition defenders a forced into playing a deeper line. This, in turn, exposes pockets of space for the likes Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, to exploit with devastating effect.
In a newspaper interview last year, Capello praised Heskey’s approach, but at the same time, disregarded Peter Crouch as a permanent strike partner to Rooney: “We have to play Crouch because he’s now the best we have who can play.
“My first idea was one style and one particular forward, fast and with movement. Crouch has a different style. He is not Darren Bent and not Emile Heskey. He can’t do the same movement as Heskey and can’t press like Heskey.”
It’s Capello’s loyalty and nerve to persist with Heskey, along with England’s incredible record in the World Cup qualification campaign, which suggest the man is one of the best things to ever happen to our national side.
The fact that we have qualified for the World Cup with just one defeat, illustrates just how good Capello is, compared to someone like Steve McClaren. No one should forget the miraculous transformation Capello has made to the team; it was around 12 months time from when McClaren’s England lost to Croatia 3-2 at Wembley, to Capello’s side that emphatically beat the same team 4-1 in Zagreb.
Other than the unjustifiable abuse by some fans towards Heskey, the fact there is still a section of England supporters who believe we should comfortably win every tournament we enter, also irritates me.
Every nation apart from our own understands we are realistically, not genuine contenders to win the World Cup. In the 19 major tournaments we’ve entered, England has won just one, and that was when we hosted it in 1966. The statistics infer that there is little to no chance of us lifting the World Cup, yet every time a major tournament comes round, the media build up England’s abilities, raise everyone’s expectation levels, then hangs, draws and quarters the team.
We don’t sit at the top table of World football with the likes of Brazil, Spain and Italy, whose records are far superior to our own. Nevertheless, a number of fans believe England are automatically guaranteed at least a spot in the semi-finals of every competition. We haven’t even installed a first choice goalkeeper, whereas a nation like Spain, have Pepe Reina as their third choice keeper; the Liverpool custodian would walk straight into the England starting XI.
In the 2002 and 2006 tournaments, our performances and the WAG’s circus made us a laughing stock, but that’s not going to happen under Capello.
There is no denying the fact that we have a very strong starting eleven, and Capello has worked wonders, resurrecting the team from the shambolic state McClaren left behind. I’m not saying we can’t win the World Cup, as I’d dearly love 2010 to be different, but whether through bad luck or incompetence, at virtually every major tournament, without fail, we always disappoint.
England squad to face Egypt in full:
James (Portsmouth), Green (West Ham), Hart (Birmingham), Brown (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), Upson (West Ham), Lescott (Man City), Shawcross (Stoke), Baines (Everton), Warnock (Aston Villa), Milner (Aston Villa), Beckham (AC Milan), Walcott (Arsenal), Lampard (Chelsea), Barry (Man City), Gerrard (Liverpool), Carrick (Man Utd), Wright-Phillips (Man City), Downing (Aston Villa), Heskey (Aston Villa), Defoe (Tottenham), Rooney (Man Utd), Crouch (Tottenham), C Cole (West Ham).