England: What Can Fabio Do?
Every boy across the land dreams of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup before holding it aloft in front of millions of adoring fans.
Since Fabio Capello took charge of England and turned them from Euro flops to World beaters it seemed a dream that might come true for John Terry.
When the World Cup groups we announced, England's odds were rapidly slashed as they became third favourites to win the FIFA World Cup, and no one could argue with that.
However, since we have entered World Cup year it seems Fabio Capello has ran out of luck, and he has been abruptly woken from his England dream and thrown straight into an England nightmare.
Capello is a stickler for discipline and consistency—something he hasn't been given by his players. Of course some of this is not directly the players' fault, but we'll delve deeper into that in a moment.
Before you stop reading—this isn't an article about Bridge/Terry.
Well not just about them.
England's main problem for a few years now has been in goal.
In recent times, very few goalkeepers have reached the sheer number of caps as England greats Shilton, Seaman or Banks. Unusually coming into World Cup year the first name on the team sheet is hard to call. Since Capello took charge, nine different keepers have played or been involved in England squads. James, Robinson, Hart, Green, James, Carson, Lewis, Foster, and Kirkland have been in and around the England set up; however, not one seems to have nailed down the England No. 1 jersey.
Of the nine, only six have regular first team places in the Premier League, and only one of them is keeping goal for a top 10 team. So who does Fabio pick?
Many feel David James is the current England No. 1.
As well as being the most experienced of the nine, he is widely regarded to be a top-class keeper.
However the nickname "Calamity James" seems to stick with James—and with good reason too. Having played at top clubs like Liverpool, West Ham, and later Portsmouth as they won the FA Cup, there is no doubt he has quality and we see week in-week out that he makes vital saves for Portsmouth. But can he stay fit and hold the No. 1 going into South Africa?
James' main rivals are in from Man City (via Birmingham) stopper, Joe Hart and West Ham keeper, Robert Green. All three keepers have been selected for the mid-week friendly with Egypt with no real indication from Capello who will start.
Green currently has nine caps to his name, is having a very solid season for struggling West Ham, and is apparently in high demand.
Hart, on the other hand, has been in fantastic form for Birmingham this season having kept 11 clean sheets. He is one of the main reasons the Blues are looking at a much unexpected top 10 finish in the Premiership after their promotion from the Championship last season.
Outsiders for the coveted No. 1 jersey are Paul Robinson, Ben Foster and Chris Kirkland.
With Ben Foster only making 13 starts this season, he looks unlikely to be selected if Capello insists he wants all his players playing regularly.
Having won his first cap under Capello, it seems he is a fan; however, the stubborn Italian will not budge unless Foster is playing regularly for Manchester United.
Unlike Foster, Kirkland and Robinson are both playing regular first team football for Wigan and Blackburn respectively. Like Green, both are playing in struggling sides; however, both have often come to the rescue of their teams on many occasions, and both are still considered top keepers.
Fabio is spoilt for choice when it comes to his goalkeepers and this could be more of a hindrance than anything else.
On the other hand, a position where Fabio is not spoilt for choice is across the defence.
Ashley Cole's injury, as well has his personal troubles, has left Capello with a difficult decision when it comes to naming his final World Cup squad.
During Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to Everton, Cole suffered a broke ankle in an innocuous challenge which could lead him out to up to three months. This means, come June time, Cole might not be fit enough to compete in the World Cup, leaving his left back position wide open.
Many consider Cole to be the best left back in the world at this moment, and it will take some big shoes to fill the position he could leave vacant.
The situation has been complicated after long time deputy Wayne Bridge decided he is not in the right frame of mind to line up with England with John Terry.
Wayne Bridge's decision leave the door open for one, or maybe two, unlikely player to make the plane to South Africa.
Potentially there are six players who could be England’s left back for the World Cup.
The three favourites are Leighton Baines, Stephen Warnock, and Kieran Gibbs. They are having very solid seasons for their clubs and have been named in the squad to face Egypt.
With full back's playing a vital part in Fabio Capello's system, England needs a great all-rounder.
Kieran Gibbs has been touted as a carbon copy of Cole having come through the same youth system at Arsenal.
If Fabio wants a like-for-like swap for Cole, Gibbs is the answer.
Despite only 11 first team games for Arsenal and 14 Under-21 level, it’s widely considered if Gibbs can get himself fit from now until the end of the season, he could be in with a shout. However, the pressure could be too much for the 20 year old, and his inexperience, coupled with his fitness doubts, could be his downfall.
The only capped player of the three is Stephen Warnock, who played six minutes as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Trinidad. He is currently a regular at Aston Villa, who are fighting for a top four spot this season, with Warnock playing a key part.
Baines, however, remains favourite to take the left back spot if Cole is unable to.
He's a consistently high performer for Everton, has a threat from set pieces, and gets his fair share of assists for David Moyes's men. The former Wigan man was also a regular at Under-21 level.
As well as those three, England also has three makeshift left backs in Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and James Milner.
Lescott's versatile nature could see him jump and become left back, as Capello values the idea of having a versatile squad in a tournament structure. Lescott also seems to be a favourite of Capello, having been selected often by Fabio. However, since his big money move from Everton to Eastlands, Lescott’s form has hit a dramatic slump, and he has not performed to the high level he did before.
Barry and Milner are unlikely to play left back as Barry has a vital job to play in the England midfield and Capello could have very different ideas for Villa man Milner...
England’s right back situation is not much better.
Glen Johnson's recent injury has exposed Capello's lack of options. Luke Young effectively retired from international football after he rejected the call to join up with the England after Johnson pulled out last November.
This leaves England with only four replacements. The longest shots of which are the two Neville brothers.
Gary and Phil, 34 and 33 respectively, have represented England numerous times before.
Gary has 85 caps to his name and is the ninth most capped player of all time. For a majority of his cap, he formed a fantastic relationship with David Beckham. However, Neville will be 35 when the World Cup kicks off and with decreasing ability comes decreasing playing opportunities. He is unlikely to make the squad.
His brother Phil, however, is playing more than ever. He is currently captaining Everton and playing regularly all over the pitch. In recent times, a national newspaper has championed Phil's unlikely recall to the England team.
The likely back up for Johnson (a fully fit Johnson) will be either Micah Richards or Wes Brown.
Despite only being 21, Richards made his international debut in 2006, becoming the youngest defender to do so.
The athletic full back has dropped down the pecking order at Manchester City in recent times and also down Capello's order, with Wes Brown seemingly jumping ahead of him.
Brown, like Lescott, is likely to be in the squad due to his versatility as well as his ability. Brown has played a few games at right back and by many is a logical choice. However, Fabio Capello's recent squad has listed James Milner as a defender with him likely to be used at right back.
During the week, we saw Florent Malouda play left back for Chelsea against Inter Milan, dispelling the myth that midfielders cant play in defence. Milner is a very versatile member of Capello’s squad, and it would be no shock to see Milner play defence in the build up of, or even during, the world cup.
With the problems in the wings, Capello and his centre back choices should be a lot more straight forward.
Injury and circumstances permitting, Fabio has three centre backs set in stone—former Captain John Terry, current captain Rio Ferdinand and West Ham's Mathew Upson.
However, all three have hardly been models of consistency this season.
John Terry’s fall from grace is well documented.
His alleged affair with former England left back Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend has been all over the news in recent weeks.
The revelations have affected the player's game.
A day before the stories surfaced, John, with knowledge of what was going to be printed, played one of his best games of the season for Chelsea away at Burnley, scoring the winning goal. Many praised him for being a tower of strength.
However, since that day his performances have been in steady decline, being blamed for Lewis Saha’s winner for Everton in a 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park. This lead to Ancelotti giving his captain some time off while he tried to get his marriage back on track.
After successfully doing this, the 2009 Dad of the Year came back to the fore playing for Chelsea in big games, such as their first leg against Inter Milan and the crunch game at home to Manchester City. Chelsea lost both of these games and many critics have questioned Terry’s focus, as well as his game, while he is failing to hit the high standards he has set for himself. All this comes as Capello ended Terry’s chance of become England captain again, as he told media he will never be captain as long as he is England manager.
This lead’s us to former deputy, now England captain, Rio Ferdinand.
Rio has had a stop-start season for Manchester United with injury and suspension spoiling the centre back's season. Questions over Ferdinand’s fitness will continue right up until the start of the tournament, with a dodgy back the culprit of problems.
One player who has deputised for Rio Ferdinand at international level is Matthew Upson.
Upson is considered a very solid defender playing well below his level at struggling West Ham. The West Ham captain, at the age of 30, is hitting his peak and playing some great football under Capello and Zola at West Ham.
To some, Upson is not just a worthy deputy, but could steal a regular starting place from either Terry or Rio if their problems persist.
The so-called fifth CB place is well up for grabs if Wes Brown and Joleon Lescott are selected as auxiliary full backs. The contenders for this spot are Gary Cahill, Ryan Shawcross, Ledley King, Michael Dawson, Roger Johnson, and Phil Jagielka.
This seems a position that England are spoilt for choice for quality, but are any of them world beaters? Cahill, Shawcross, Dawson, Johnson and Turner have all been regulars of their respective clubs.
Cahill was a surprise inclusion in one of Capello’s squads, and the Italian had rave reviews about the Bolton centre back.
However, a cruel blood clot in his arm has seemingly cut short his season, and this means he is even more unlikely to make the World Cup squad.
Another player unlikely to make the plane is Roger Johnson. Johnson has been part of the Birmingham team who, along with Joe Hart, has kept 11 clean sheets. His performances this season have lead to him being called a "dark horse" for a spot in Capello’s squad. He has even had a facebook group called "Roger Johnson for England" set up in his favour and has attracted nearly 3,000 fans. However, he is unlikely to be included.
Stokes’ Shawcross has been in top form this season and has helped Stoke consolidate on their fantastic first season in the premiership. Shawcross has been included in the squad to face Egypt and could play. The former Manchester United fan is also in contention with Phil Jagielka and Ledley King.
Capello is a fan of both players; however, both have had restricted game time this season due to injury.
King’s chronic knee troubles could see him miss out, as it is rumoured he needs six days off between games and he doesn’t train.
Jagielka has been out since the tail-end of last season, after a horrible injury in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley that caused him to miss the final. Jagileka has been in previous Capello squads and, if he can regain his form, is in prime position to make it to South Africa.
Many believe success is based on a solid and consistent defence selection. Going into World Cup year, Capello should well be worried about his defence with players off form, injured, or distracted by other issues.
Fabio’s midfield is more straight forward; however, not settled.
For many years England has been crying out for a complete left midfielder and this year is no different. Or is it?
In recent years it has been up to a right-footed player playing out of position to fill this position.
Joe Cole has done well, but picked up a couple of injuries that have hampered him.
Steven Gerrard deputised well, but we all know his position shouldn’t be out wide and Shaun Wright-Phillips is right-footed, too.
England left side options seems clear.
Stuart Downing, Ashley Young, or James Milner.
All three Villa men are in contention when all fully fit, leaving Capello with a tough decision when it comes to this position.
Milner seems a given for the squad if he keeps his form up, as his sheer versatility means he’s twice as valuable as say Downing, who is limited to just left midfield. However, Downing is an out-and-out left midfielder and, unlike Milner, who is two-footed, has applied his trade from the left side for most of his life. Considered light weight while at Middleborough, his quality was obvious. Under O’Neill after his comeback form injury, Downing seems to have bloomed along with his teammates, and he also carries a threat from set pieces.
This means his Villa teammate, Ashley Young, is likely to miss out, unless he can grab an unlikely slot in right midfield. Young, who was last season's Young Player of the Year, has been in tantalising form again for Villa this season. However, he is likely to be low in Capello’s pecking orders despite his obvious qualities. But he is likely to be ranked behind a fully fit, on form Joe Cole.
Outsiders tip: Adam Johnson—Manchester City.
Young has a slim chance, but faces stiff competition from Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and the ever-green David Beckham.
With Walcott likely to be picked as a striker, the pacey duo of Aaron Lennon and Wright-Phillips are left to sprint it out while Beckham waits in the wings.
Wright-Phillips appearances under Capello has been considered poor by many; however, Fabio continuously picks the nippy winger.
Lennon has suffered an injury setback, which has kept him out for Tottenham. But he has definitely put in a strong case to Capello after a string of great performances for Spurs.
Beckham needs no introduction to Capello, having worked and fell out with him while at Real Madrid.
Having started his second spell at AC Milan, he is keen to make the 2010 World Cup squad—which could be his last for England. His lack of pace makes him an unspectacular choice; however, his off-the-ball qualities, experience, and dead-ball prowess makes him an automatic choice by many.
In the engine room of the team, Capello has two stone set options. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are the life and soul of the England team and two genuine world class players that England has to offer.
However, Steven Gerrard has been far from top form this season and has struggled with injury. Many feel he may have been burned out by the sheer number of games over the past few years and needs a rest before he can get back to form. This will be a worry for Capello.
Liverpool needs Gerrard more than ever as they could lose out on a top four place and vital champions league money. This has lead to him being rushed back from injury by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez. An out of form Gerrard is still a player capable of winning games; however, he is often prone to mistakes and could cost England games.
Lampard, on the other hand, has been in glorious form for Chelsea again this season and seems in no need for a rest.
Options to make up the midfield are Gareth Barry, who has been a prominent figure under Capello, Michael Carrick, and possibly Joe Cole and James Milner.
Barry and Carrick are seen as obvious players to include in the squad as back-up players.
Both are playing regular football for their clubs, and both have a quality they can show on an international stage.
However, for more attacking options, Milner and Joe Cole offer something Carrick and Barry don’t: Both are flair players and, going forward, are very creative and very different players from Barry and Carrick.
Cole is unlikely for this position; however, if fully fit, he could make the place.
James Milner has been mentioned for just about every position so far—he is a given.
As well as a settled defence, a world class team needs a strong, creative midfield.
Capello has big decision with the wide players, but scandal permitting his centre of midfield oozes quality from every pour.
Capello’s striking options seem simple.
Rooney is on top form for United this season post Ronaldo. Many pundits feel he has carried United and is the only reason they are still in contention for the title come March after scoring 23 goals so far this season.
However, finding the perfect partner for Wayne is a hard ask. England needs an unselfish, strong, goal-scoring striker with the ability to hold up the ball.
England cannot rely on Rooney’s goals alone if they are going to win the World Cup this year. Capello seems to favour Emile Heskey for the second striker role; however, Heskeys’s lack of goal scoring prowess and pace means he could simply be out of his depth. Fabio’s other options are Carlton Cole and Bobby Zamora.
Cole has won caps under Capello and has been in good form for West Ham this season; however, Cole has failed to really create any spark during his international appearance leading to doubts about his quality.
Zamora suffers from the same—however, only theoretically. Zamora has been in prolific form for Fulham this season and is brimming with confidence. Pundits and fans alike seem much split in opinion when it comes to the question of Bobby’s ability on an international stage. Having yet to be given a chance by Capello, it seems clear of Fabio’s opinions.
The likely partner for Rooney will be Crouch. Peter Crouch has been in good form for Tottenham again this season and has been prolific for England. Crouch’s height, goal scoring ability, and general play makes him the perfect foil for Rooney.
Places are still up for grabs in the striking positions with Walcott, Agbonlahor and Darren Bent, Jermaine Defoe, and Michael Owen.
Walcott was taken to the 2006 World Cup (many feel wrongly) by Sven.
Under Capello, Walcott scored an unforgettable hat-trick in Croatia, leaving many feeling he was ready for the big stage. However, injury and lack of game time at Arsenal has left Capello with a tough decision come July.
Bent and Agbonlahor have become instrumental for their respective clubs this season. Pace man Agbonlahor has scored 11 goals for Villa this season and is the fourth highest Englishman on the goal scoring lists as of March 1. Gabby’s main threat is his sheer pace and ability to scare defended into mistakes. His ability is rare, explosive, and could be very useful to Capello.
Bent has 15 goals to his name this season and is currently the fourth highest goal scorer in the Premier League. Like Cole and Heskey, Bent is a big target to hit. His pace, strength, and rebound goal scoring touch has left him in with a shout at a World Cup place.
Jermaine Defoe is an almost cert for a place after impressive displays both for Tottenham and for England.
This leaves us with Michael Owen.
Owen has scored three goals in 19 games for United this season, but has yet to find the form we know from him. Injuries have blighted what should have been the peak of Owen’s career. Having scored 40 goals for England, already many feel only a fool wouldn’t take Owen to South Africa.
England’s striking partnership is a key part of Capello’s team. Being too reliant on a fragile Rooney could prove costly; however, Rooney is very much the focal point of any team and should be built around. Whoever plays next to him will carry a huge responsibility.
With injury, scandals, and out of form players, England’s dream year could be little more than just another missed opportunity. Fabio has some huge choices in the coming months and only time will tell…
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