In 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson included the then 17-year-old Theo Walcott in his 23-man England squad for the World Cup finals. It was a complete surprise as there were other more established options such as Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Dean Aston. The decision was even more astonishing considering that Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen were both recovering from injuries at the time.
Will there be a shock inclusion this time around and, if so, who could it be?
Adam Johnson’s move to Manchester City seems to have given him a new lease of life and if he can continue to deliver the sort of inspiring performance he did on his debut then he could stand a chance. While there are plenty of right-wing options, natural left-sided players are in short supply for England. And Roberto Mancini thinks the Sunderland-born creator has a chance, after he told City’s official website:
“He can be an important player for the national team. There are three months to the end of the season. If Adam plays well and often, I think he could have a good chance.
“You need two or three players who can do that – play behind the striker, on the right wing, the left wing … striker, maybe. If we have those, it’s good for the team.
“There are some good English wingers around. But usually in the national team we play a diamond midfield behind two strikers – so if Adam can play at the top of the diamond, or on the left or right, that’s an advantage. It’s good for us, for the national team, and for Adam.”
And Tony Pulis has also stepped in to make a shout for a couple of his players, Ryan Shawcross and Matthew Etherington.
“They [England] know where they are and they have been watching them and will be watching them from now until the end of the season.
“But the two lads have got to push their way into the side, hopefully by putting in really top performances with us.
“Who knows, there might be one or two injuries picked up along the way outside this football club which might leave the door open for them and there will be no-one more delighted than me.”
Players who are at the top of their game should be the ones being looked at as potential gatecrashers of the Three Lions’ party. Birmingham have a few candidates in Joe Hart, Roger Johnson and Scott Dann if they continue their recent brilliant form. Gary Cahill at Bolton might have been considered until a blood clot ruled him out for the season.
Do any of these players have a realistic chance of heading to South Africa? Fabio Capello seems like the type of manager who could spring a surprise on us all. And if he did I imagine that player would see much more playing time in the summer than Eriksson gave to Walcott last time round as the Arsenal speedster never got onto the pitch despite being just one of two fit strikers in the squad. One thing is for sure though, any player squirming their way into the final 23 will have earned it. There are just three more months to impress the hard-to-please England boss.