Huddlestone, Parker…who will Capello look to as a Plan B?

With the release of Fabio Capello’s preliminary 30-man squad for the World Cup, news has emerged that Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry has made the cut despite his recent injury. The loss of Barry, who suffered ankle ligament damage in a Premier League clash with Tottenham last week, would have been a huge blow for the England manager. The former Aston Villa man has been one of the mainstays of the England side under Capello, with the midfielder featuring in 19 of 22 games that the Italian has overseen since the start of his England reign. Notwithstanding his inclusion, Barry is not a certainty to be fit for England’s opening match against the USA on June 12th. As is the norm with matters concerning the national team, it seems that every man and his dog has an opinion on whom should be drafted in to replace Barry at the heart of England’s midfield should he fail to recover in time for England’s opener. The following players have all been touted to deputise for the crocked Manchester City man, but which option should Don Fabio go for?

Tom Huddlestone

Undoubtedly a beneficiary of Harry Redknapp’s managerial magic, the ascendancy of Tom Huddlestone from squad player to chief component of Tottenham’s midfield has garnered a wealth of national acclaim and attention this season. Previously criticised for weight issues and a perceived lack of presence, Huddlestone drew upon his much-lauded technique and passing abilities to produce a string of mature displays in Tottenham’s successful quest for fourth place. The midfielder, famed for his ferocious long-range shots, has clearly caught the eye of Capello, who was rumoured to have been considering the selection of the Tottenham man prior to the injury of Gareth Barry.

Question marks will no doubt be placed upon Huddlestone’s lack of experience. The former Derby man only has one cap to his name (he featured as an 81st minute substitute during England’s 1-0 defeat to Brazil in November 2009). Whilst firmly established in the Tottenham first-team, the former Derby man has yet to taste Champions League football, despite a couple of UEFA Cup runs with Spurs.

In spite of these experience issues, Huddlestone’s inclusion could turn out to be a masterstroke by Capello should he decide to select him in the England XI. Whilst less ‘combative’ than the likes of Hargreaves and Parker, Huddlestone’s measured approach may be well-suited to the slow-paced nature of international football, especially given his eye for a good pass. Previous World Cups have shown how the placing of faith in such a ‘wildcard’ player is a decision often vindicated, with the likes of Totò Schillaci indicating that prior experience is not always a barrier to individual success at an international tournament.

As expected, Huddlestone was named in Capello’s 30-man provisional squad, therefore indicating that the Italian may rely upon the Tottenham man to start against the USA, should Barry fail to win his fitness race.

Scott Parker

Voted Hammer of the Year for the second year in a row, the consistent form of Upton Park talisman Scott ‘Mr. West Ham’ Parker led to strong media clamouring for the midfielder’s selection within Capello’s 23-man squad for South Africa this summer. The stumpy midfielder has endeared himself to fans nationwide with his ‘heart on sleeve’ performances for West Ham during their fight against relegation, with the former Chelsea man’s displays typified by his tenacity, energy and passion.

Having made his international debut back in 2003, Parker has since collected just two caps (trivia buffs will gladly point out that Parker has collected three caps whilst playing for three different clubs; selection this summer means that he would become the first player to receive his first four caps whilst playing for four different clubs), with many suggesting that the midfielder has been unfairly overlooked by a succession of England managers. Pinpointed as the man responsible for West Ham’s survival this season, his importance at the club has not been understated, with club owner David Sullivan informing The Sun that, “If we get the right bid we will sell any player, apart from Parker. Parker is not for sale. He has several years left on his contract and has intimated on several occasions he wants to stay.”

A throwback to the era of the old-fashioned English midfield general, Parker is a tough-tackling player with the ability to negate the threats of the opposition, as well as to create attacks. His dominant presence in the heart of Capello’s midfield would allow the likes of Lampard and Gerrard to push forward, but having scored a couple of key goals in the last few weeks, it seems that Parker would offer creativity in the final third too.

Fabio Capello has at long last recognised the talents of Scott Parker, who last appeared for England under Steve McClaren in 2006. Having finally called up the West Ham vice-captain, I sincerely doubt that there are many players who will work as hard as Parker to repay the Italian’s faith.

Other alternatives

Ledley King

Lionheart displays at the heart of Tottenham’s uncharacteristically rigid defence this season have reminded the nation of exactly how good a defender Ledley King is. Whilst his place within Capello’s 23-man squad is all but assured, it is thought that his inclusion will be as backup for skipper Rio Ferdinand in the centre of England’s defence. However, King has also successfully played in the holding role for England before. Given King’s astute reading of the game, positional discipline and tactical acumen it would be no surprise if he reprised his defensive midfield berth within the England XI.

Michael Carrick

Following a poor season at Old Trafford, Carrick astoundingly looks set to add to his collection of 21 caps this summer. Castigated by many (including yours truly) for a lack of presence in the middle of the park, fans of the Wallsend-born midfielder will point to the midfielder’s supposedly excellent range of passing and often metronome-like control of Manchester United’s midfield. Unfortunately, it appears that Carrick is a player whose virtues are exacerbated by highlights reels picking up upon Carrick’s ‘dominant’ midfield displays against weaker Premier League opposition. Detractors (and indeed many Manchester United fans) will point to Carrick’s woeful performance against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford this season as a more accurate reflection of the former Tottenham man’s ability. His performance in this game was blamed by many for Manchester United’s Champions League exit, with said display thought to be characteristic of his (in)capabilities against strong opposition. Languid and insipid, I for one certainly do not hope to see Carrick drafted into to face the world’s best this summer.

Steven Gerrard AND Frank Lampard

Will the conundrum that famously dogged England managers for large chunks of the last six years rear its ugly head again? Although Capello appeared to have settled upon a favoured system, with Lampard and Barry fulfilling withdrawn central roles and Gerrard operating in more a ‘free’ role on the left, the Italian may decide to tweak his formation and put the duo together in a more ‘flat’ midfield four.

At domestic level one may point to the absence of a midfield ‘destroyer’ in Tottenham’s line-up, with the central midfield-pairing of Modrić and Huddlestone proving that a team doesn’t necessarily need an anchorman to sit in front of the defence. However, tweaking a proven structure so close to the World Cup would surely represent a move too risky for the Italian, and it is unlikely that we will see the nation’s two most talented midfielders being shoehorned into a central-midfield pairing this summer.

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