Fabio Capello faces a few tricky decisions ahead of deciding the make-up of his England World Cup squad, none more so than in the striking department with pubs all over the land debating over a pint or dozen the proposed five that should be taken. But I ask this, why is Jermaine Defoe nailed on for the trip and considered international class and Darren Bent is not?
It’s for this very reason that many pundits are ruling Bent out of the running yet Defoe is nailed on for inclusion, and it’s important to look at this and pick it apart, for it’s simply not true. It’s lazy to consider both strikers in the same bracket, Bent is a lot more versatile in terms of the goals he scores and the way he plays but seems to lack something in successive England managers’ eyes for one reason or another.
Defoe on the other hand has finally graduated to being fully integrated into the squad and probably remains third choice striker for the Italian coach just behind the successful partnership of Rooney and Heskey, yet it seems both are in direct competition for a seat on the plane.
Darren Bent has scored 22 league goals this season, 5 more than Defoe, but the manner in which these goals come suggests he’s capable of making the leap. Much in the same way people seem to write off Bobby Zamora’s goals in the Europe League as nothing more than just good form, a one off, I must admit I’m now a convert to the church of Big Bad Bob and I think going into a major tournament with so many games coming in such a short period, to be playing well is a major plus and worth considering in the selection process, for this reason I’d not only take Zamora but Bent too.
Both Bent and Defoe play with big men up top capable of knocking balls on for them, Kenwyne Jones is probably one of the best exponents of this art in the whole of the Premiership and so is to a lesser extent Peter Crouch, a man derided not for being better in the air considering his height. Whilst Crouch does seem to lack a bit of accuracy with his flick-ons to Defoe, with Dawson at the back pumping the ball forward at any given opportunity a few of them do invariably manage to make their way into Defoe’s path.
Defoe has been on the periphery of the England side for years and was unjustifiably left out of the England squad for the 2006 World Cup, just one of many baffling decisions by Sven as he chose to take the unproven and relatively untested bright young thing Theo Walcott, whom he didn’t even go onto use more frustratingly.
In 39 games for his country, Defoe has an acceptable total of 11 goals, and a lot of his caps have been from coming off the bench as a replacement, which does give the total a fairly unbalanced goals to games ratio considering his time on the pitch. His goals have come against Poland (1), Andorra (4), Trinidad and Tobago (2), Kazakhstan (1), Slovenia (1) and a notable double against Holland in a friendly last year. Hardly the game’s elite and in his first 25 caps he had just 3 goals to his name. Even Peter Crouch who seems to be the flavour of the month at international level, didn’t score until his eight game for England.
The nature of international football means the majority of games are against weaker opposition and you rarely, other than in friendly matches perhaps, get to test yourself against the best which goes some way to explaining the easy opposition barring Holland of course that Defoe has netted against.
Bent’s five caps in comparison have come against much stronger opposition in Brazil, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Uruguay, only 2 of which were starts, and in the Greece and Croatia games he was brought on with only around 10 minutes to go. Therefore it’s entirely unfair to say that he’s been given a fair crack of the whip so to speak, and even in the friendly in Doha against Brazil, Bent was dragged off with 54 minutes of play gone, and let’s be honest, nobody exactly shone in that showing. To make the assumption he’s not cut out for the international scene based on the evidence above is quite frankly ridiculous, he’s simply not had enough time.
To judge them both it’s a lot easier to go on their league records for to be truly successful you have to prove it over an extensive period. Let’s look at the facts, Bent plays for a side currently 13th in the league and has 22 goals from 34 league games, and has scored against all of the traditional ‘big four’ even if that does show sounds of changing with Liverpool’s poor season and in part due to the helping hand of a much talked about beachball.
Defoe has an impressive 17 goals in 28 league games and his fluent Spurs side sit narrowly behind Man City in fifth place and to date he has a cracking finish against Man Utd this term to his name, so he’s proved that he can perform in the big games too.
It’s clear to see Defoe is playing for a much better side and has a much stronger support cast around him. He has a midfield of Lennon, Modric, Krancjar, Palacios and Huddlestone not to mention Bentley and Bale when they play and a partner of either Crouch or Pavluychenko to pick from. To use Jamie Redknapp’s words, Defoe has ‘top top top players’ to support him and his Spurs create a lot of chances and at times they can truly be a joy to watch.
Bent plays with a strong and solid yet technically limited midfield of Cattermole when fit, Cana, Malbranque, Richardson, Reid and youngster Jordan Henderson. It has to be said that with Bent, team’s often have to alter their style of play to adjust to his strengths and that’s why he didn’t achieve as much as he could have done in his time at Spurs, as he’s not as good as Defoe with ball into feet and likes a ball over the top to run onto or a flick-on into the channels to chase. Bent is quicker, better in the air and with his back to goal as well as playing up front by himself, Defoe is more skilful, technical and with a marginally better finish, ye thrives on playing with a partner only.
If Bent was taken to the World Cup, he’d be on the bench, and in any eventuality you mainly bring strikers on to change something in the game, alter your style of play and with Bent you get that, with Defoe I’m not so sure he’s as versatile despite his superior technique.
To say Defoe has had a great season would be too far, of his 17 league goals 5 came against Wigan in their 9-1 thrashing at White Hart Lane and a further three came in his hat-trick against Hull, so it’s clear to see his goals come in bunches and give his stats a disproportional feel to them.
Without these goals, and I know that’s somewhat disingenuous as he’s clearly done well in certain games when his team have ran riot, as any good striker invariably should, his season would read a rather less impressive 9 in 26 in the league, hardly great form and certainly not as rounded throughout the season in terms of consistency as Bent has been. Admittedly Defoe has had to deal with more niggly injuries than Bent, and to Defoe’s credit, he’s played on despite not always being 100% fully fit, something Bent has not had to contend with.
I hope this gives a balanced account on the fallacy that one is international class yet the other isn’t. The composition of the striking department looks like being two target men, possibly even three with Zamora’s form hard to ignore at the moment, so the choice comes between Bent and Defoe. My opinion leans towards Bent, as he’s better at stretching the play and offers a break from the norm more than Defoe does, which after all is supposed to be what an attacking player on the bench at a World Cup offers you, a real alternative. Defoe looks a certainty right now to make the trip, Bent a mere outsider waiting on an injury to someone in front of him.
It would be a real shame if Bent were to be the top English scorer in the league the season before a World Cup for the second time running; only to be dealt the same treatment and be ignored and cast aside once more and it categorically shouldn’t happen. I will now return to my football managers’ armchair.
What are everyone else’s thoughts?
Written By James McManus