With qualification secured and the media taking a breather from trying to bring down Sven, Slakr takes a look at those who actually are responsible for England’s success come 2006 – the players:
Can England actually go through and win next summer’s World Cup? 40 years after a success on home ground, there was a lot of hope and hype about how this was the best team England has had since that glorious victory, all of which came crashing down with defeats, dull draws and poor performances in the last couple of months. So now that we’ve gotten over the positive media circus, and we’re back in the usual mode of the media hampering and critisizing, with qualification over (and successful) lets take a serious look at England’s team prospects for next summer. The quality of the competition is another story – lets look at who’s going to be pulling on the shirt come June.
On paper, England are a staggeringly good team. No team in recent memory has had such a tremendous amount of quality in the centre of defense, which is so crucial in a large and long tournament. Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell will probably compete for the main starting places, but with Ledley King and Jamie Carragher there as more than capable backups, Sven should have no issues filling the roles there. England earn a 10/10 for potential here.
Fullbacks are a little more interesting. The injuries to Gary Neville and Ashley Cole highlighted the lack of depth there. Luke Young is untried. Jamie Carragher can honestly play competently anywhere on the pitch, but has had much more success at club level in the middle. Danny Mills has been discarded (presumably for inconsistency or temperament both of which are fair reasons). Kieren Richardson doesn’t really work in this role, lacks experience and quality (though provides inspiration at times). But with Cole and Neville, England’s first choice at least is of international quality. 6/10.
Midfield. Apply your cliche at will here. An instance of an embarressment of riches. Too many cooks. etc. etc. What is not in doubt is the quality of the options available. Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard would individually make any midfield in the world. Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips are certainly not, on their days, far behind at all. Alan Smith seems to be relishing his new apprenticeship under Roy Keane, and that can only be a good thing for him and the country. Add in Ledley King as a potential holding midfielder, and a recently ignored, but much improved, Danny Murphy and you’ve got a great deal of talent at your disposal. What is equally indisputable is that the midfield combination of Gerrard, Beckham, Lampard and Cole have never shown themselves to be the sum of their parts. While they (with the possible swap in of SWP) are clearly the best players on the list, maybe its time to swap a couple of them out for better squad players? Gerrard’s ability to take a game by the scruff of its neck (sure, he hasn’t done this for England recently) would give him the nod for me, but then I hate the Soviet National Team and Lampard by extension. Putting King in would be a great way to allow the remaining players a little more freedom. The potential is there for a 10/10. The reality at the moment: 5/10.
Up Front. I feel the blame for England’s situation up front rests firmly and squarely on the shoulders of one Robbie Fowler. Every few years, England has produced a striker of undoubted quality. Robbie was that striker before Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. If it hadn’t been for his complete fading from the scene, England would have three quality strikers with very different abilities and of different levels of experience. With Alan Shearer well beyond it, there are really just two world-class strikers available. The other option used this week is Peter Crouch, who despite having “great touch for a big man” is not a goal machine and may just not be good enough for this stage. Jermain Defoe certainly shows the class on occasion, but is out of form and needs to show sustained goalscoring ability. Marcus Bent is inexperienced both nationally and on the top stages, but certainly has adapted well to the Premier League. Overall 7/10 now, but 3/10 with an injury to Owen (an injury to Owen? Never!) or suspension for Rooney.
In Goal. Paul Robinson, Chris Kirkland, David James and Robert Green all have one thing in common. They’re all goalkeepers for underperforming or poor teams (apologies to Spurs fans, but your team didn’t even make the UEFA cup last year). James has the experience, but lots of it has been a very bad experience for anyone supporting England. He’s pulled off some fabulous saves for England, but will be remembered forevermore as “Calamity”. Kirkland is injury prone and has barely come back from serious injury. Green doesn’t play at the highest level. Robinson shows quality for sure, but having him as senior keeper seems a little strange given his level of experience. Compared to Seaman, Martyn and James last time around, this set seems like a bunch of babes in cradles. 5/10.
The Manager. Sven’s come in for a lot of stick recently. It will probably die down given the final qualification victory against Poland. But a lot of it is deserved. Given the talent in this team, and in the country in general, qualification should not have taken till the last week. The quality of teams in the group suggested that England should have run away with qualification. And his tactics at previous tournaments haven’t inspired confidence in HIS confidence in his players. There are also lingering questions as to whether or not he can act as the leader this team needs. 5/10.
So what does that add up to? 38/60 isn’t exactly an inspiring total. The potential is there for a higher score, but the midfield doesn’t have the unbelievable players a la Zidane or Ronaldinho. Brazil is the team to avoid yet again, but there’s no reason that this team cannot make it past the group stages and well into the knockout draw if they avoid the form team. Winning is probably out of reach given that in addition to Brazil there’s certainly going to be a team or two that peak beyond expectations and capabilities. But then again, what if England is that team?