I know, I know – there’s no ‘I’ in team and football is a team game blah blah blah – but that doesn’t mean that players aren’t more valuable than others right? That’s why the fat boy at school, (e.g. me,) was always picked last in P.E and all the cool kids just so happened to be amazing a sport of some description. When it gets to international football – it’s similar. (I’m not suggesting that Capello is going to stick Lampard or Heskey in goal or anything like that; I’m just saying that despite what the managers, pundits and players say about it being about the squad rather than the individual – it is no secret that there are a number of ‘star men’ that are vital to England’s success.) Everybody knows who the most talked about ones are – but are they strictly speaking the most crucial? After spending the last 10 or so minutes studying the squad, I’ve devised my list of the most ‘crucial’ players… though I’m sure that many of yours will be different to mine.
1. Wayne Rooney
I think that this is one that we can all agree on right? Wayne has had the season of his life and he literally is our only world class striker. Crouch and Defoe are good, don’t get me wrong, but they’re nowhere as lethal in front of goal as this man can be. An injury to Rooney or a couple of unnecessary bookings for rash challenges could prove to be disastrous for England’s World Cup campaign. I’ve been saying for a few weeks now that becoming a father may have made him more mature and that he’ll be harder to wind up… let’s find out if I’m right! (By the way, yes I did deliberately leave Emile Heskey out of the ‘good strikers’ list.)
2. Ashley Cole
Hardly a popular figure across the country for his infamous off-field antics but he is without a doubt our best left-back by a country mile and arguably one of the finest in the world. The man is both sensational and direct when going forward as well as strong and brave at the back. Warnock as cover is a reasonable option but he isn’t the same. The good thing about Ashley is that he has a real desire and hunger to win and I think he’ll be one of the mentally tough ones off the field who gives those around him a lift when they need one. Probably one of my spot-kick takers too for the same reason.
3. Steven Gerrard
The new captain for the summer is 30 years old now and realises that, like many others in the England squad, this is probably his last chance to win the World Cup. A poor season in club football for Stevie G & his Liverpool chums may well work out nicely for England as he looks to prove his worth on the biggest stage of all. Something else that Stevie probably loves about playing with England is that he doesn’t have to do all the work. He knows as well as anybody else that he has struggled to carry his club form over to international level in the past but hopefully the added pressure of the armband and that ‘last chance’ feeling could be that little extra that he needs.
4. Aaron Lennon
Fortunately Azza enjoyed a good season during the 08/09 campaign as well as the one just gone; otherwise the injury that kept him out for a few months may have seen him slip through Capello’s net. I was relieved when the off-form Walcott didn’t make the 23-man squad solely because I think that Capello would’ve been tempted to pick reputation over form and that would’ve seen one of the fastest players going to South Africa be limited to substitute appearances. Wright-Phillips is quick… but Lennon is lightning quick. The fact that other areas of his game such as crossing, passing and shooting have all improved drastically over the last 2 years is such a relief – he could be a real worry for defenders in South Africa. Who knows, he may even get tripped in the box a few times… not that we’d score the resulting penalty if he did though.
5. John Terry
The injury to Rio puts even more pressure on John to prove his doubters wrong this summer. He will need to be back to his best both on and off the pitch – although he’s not the designated captain anymore, he still has the attributes of a leader and that will never change. John is without a doubt a trooper and he’ll be willing to risk life and limb to help the country that he adores lift the World Cup next month. Whether it’s an inch-perfect last ditch tackle or blocking a shot from point-blank range – Terry can be a hero this summer. God knows he needs to be.
Written By Stephen Rudd