Comparing eras is always challenging. Nothing is trickier than the ‘was X better than Y’ question. Was Stanley Matthews better than Raheem Sterling?
Probably, yeah, but the game has developed so much it’s almost impossible to know. However, comparing a more recent team is not as challenging. We reckon that 2006 and 2016 are not all that different. Football is changing all the time – obviously – but that doesn’t mean that a decade ago is incomparable.
England’s squad for this summer is yet to be announced and Roy Hodgson has some tough decisions to make. We all know the areas of weakness and the magnificent strength in striking depth introduces its own difficulties. Back in 2006 we didn’t have quite the same issues.
Wayne Rooney was still a youngster and England were reliant on Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch. As good as those two were when in top form, none would come close to the striking cohort Hodgson has right now. Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Danny Welbeck are all lightyears ahead of that triumvirate, whilst Rooney is likely to play in a slightly deeper role. Theo Walcott was the wildcard pick for that tournament and the fact that he may well not make this summer’s squad shows how significantly he has failed to reach his potential, too. Of course, Michael Owen was still around this point, but his injury-ravaged career meant the ’06 version would hardly make the plane in ’16.
So, that’s one position. No strikers taken.
Remember we are taking specifically about the XI, not the squad. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard leap out, don’t they? Well, would they both fit in? Knowing that they never really worked together that well, one of the two would surely fill the third midfield role alongside Dier and Alli. Lampard’s goals from deep would give an extra dimension; let’s take him. Gerrard or Lampard is a bit of an either/or pick, really. They could both fit in with England’s potential diamond system and would surely stride into the 2016 XI like the modern colossal footballing icons they are. I mean, Lampard/Gerrard against Henderson or Drinkwater… it’s a walkover.
The wide options back in ’06 were fairly modest, too. Stewart Downing, Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon are hardly going to compete with Raheem Sterling for this summer. England are short of wingers right now so, although a narrow formation is likely, Welbeck or Vardy are more likely to be used out-wide and would still be selected ahead of any of the ’06 crowd.
Now, attacking midfielders. Rooney may well play ‘No.10’ for England this summer, whilst Barkley and Alli try and sneak their way into the XI elsewhere. Back in 2006, one of England’s most naturally gifted footballers in the last two years was available, Joe Cole. His career has been blighted by injury, but Cole at his peak would surely fit nicely behind Harry Kane in 2016. It’s a close one, sure, guess we can leave that down to you.
2006 saw Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and Scott Parker as the defensive midfield options; were any of them close to Eric Dier’s current form? Hard to tell, they’re very different players. Dier gets the edge, for us, mind.
Midfield: Lampard/Gerrard and Joe Cole.
The defence. England’s treacherous defence is the biggest concern this summer.
At centre-back there’s no discussion, really. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in 2006 were arguably the two best centre-halves in world football and Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, John Stones and Phil Jagielka just don’t come close. In fact, if this England team had those two at their best they would look quite a side. In fact, the 2006 team has such a plethora of centre-backs that any of their first six would walk into this XI.
Full-back is a little more interesting. One of England’s all-time greats, Ashley Cole, would get into this side, despite an overwhelming choice for Hodgson at left-back. Aaron Cresswell, Ryan Bertrand, Kieran Gibbs and Luke Shaw are all likely to make a claim for a place in the squad this summer and it’s great to have such depth to pick from. Unfortunately, none come close to Cole, one of England’s most under-valued players.
Right-back, however, is tricky. Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker both have their flaws. Gary Neville would be the pick for many, considering his immense success at Manchester United, but it’s hard to tell if he would really work with the energetic overlapping style demanded in a team so short of natural width.
Defence: Terry, Ferdinand, A.Cole
To finish it all off, the ‘keepers.
David James, Paul Robinson and Scott Carson. James would probably go as back-up to France this summer, but get close to competing with Hart?! No chance.
GK: Hart remains.