Roy Hodgson will have a lot on his mind in the next few weeks, so THL makes things easier by picking a 23-man England squad for Euro 2012 for him. And does so without reference to the “Woy”, “Euwos” or “Yuwup”.
For the first time since Gordon Banks, in Manchester City’s Joe Hart, England has a truly world-class goalkeeper. Comfortable with the media and without the baggage of others, or any real challenge to his supremacy as England’s Number One, Hart could also be a serious candidate for the captaincy. In May 2011 Ben Foster quit the international scene due to ongoing injury problems, but let’s face it – he could do a job, and as his current club manager at West Brom, Roy Hodgson knows it and has his number. For a third option, Roy could do a lot worse than Paul Robinson. He took a while to rebuild confidence after his infamous air-kick against Croatia in 2006, but has since re-established himself as one of the Premier League’s most assured stoppers. And he’s had to be behind Blackburn’s back four. But if Foster and Robinson decide they would rather swap the subs bench for a sun-lounger then the tournament could be an opportunity for Derby’s Frank Fielding to gain more exposure to the England set up.
When it comes to right backs, despite a late surge from Everton’s Tony Hibbert (no, seriously!) and good seasons for Norwich’s Kyle Naughton and Newcastle’s Danny Simpson, it’s a straight three horse race between Glen Johnson, Micah Richards and Kyle Walker. Although Fabio Capello clearly didn’t fancy him, Micah Richards has to be on the plane. Pundits have said he doesn’t have the “footballing brain” and relies too much on his pace and power to get him out of trouble, but then pundits also said “you don’t win anything with kids” and didn’t know who Hatem Ben Arfa was despite being a French international. With six assists this season from right back Richards is a genuine attacking threat and a tough tackler that the likes of Ribery, Robben and Nani will not relish a 50/50 with. A tough call, but the second right back spot goes to Kyle Walker. After a successful loan spell at Aston Villa the season, the surging right-back has had a brilliant first full season in the Premier League, winning the award of PFA Young Player of the Year, and being part of one of the best Tottenham for a generation. Given the chance, he could establish himself at right back for years to come. Why not Glen Johnson, you ask? Yes, he has 35 caps, but in most of those he’s proved himself to be unconvincing too many times, and a poor league season at Liverpool has not helped his case.
Love him or hate him, snarly-faced love-rat Ashley Cole is one of the best left backs in the world. A winner with Chelsea, with an England career spanning ten years, he is tried, tested, and knows how to deal with the likes of Ronaldo. Just don’t ask him to look after your phone…..When you leave behind the bog-standard Premier League regulars Stephen Warnock and Kieran Richardson, it’s a choice between Kieran Gibbs and Leighton Baines. Neither can be regarded as 100% fit – Gibbs has had an injury-plagued season, and Baines is currently out with a hamstring problem. However if Roy really has one eye on the future at this tournament, he’ll give Kieran Gibbs the nod. Schooled “the Arsenal way” and a real attacking threat, he could be the new Ashley Cole, just more likeable.
John Terry and Rio Ferdinand might not be the best of friends right now, but they are by far the most accomplished defenders England possess and could not seriously be left behind this summer. Terry has recently been accused of not just racism, but also immense stupidity after kneeing Alexis Sanchez in a Champions League semi final (it doesn’t matter if he deserved it, John). Ferdinand has had a tough season without Nemanja Vidic alongside him. Both men are determined and proven winners, with razor sharp ability to read the game, but they are not getting any quicker. The solution – don’t play them together. That’s why bringing their club teammates Phil Jones and Gary Cahill is such as good idea. Despite the occasional shaky moment, there is no doubt that the Jones is “the future” and would relish a major tournament. He’s also versatile. Cahill’s move to Chelsea has enabled him to build on the significant Premier League experience he gained at Bolton. With Cahill ruled out of the FA Cup Final and currently struggling to make the Champions League final, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka are seriously capable alternatives. Chris Smalling however, probably needs another season.
Had Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell been fit, this tournament would have been a prime opportunity to build a new midfield with James Milner as the third man, with the vision that one day they could become England’s Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets. But such progressive thinking will have to wait. This time, we are somehow yet again faced with the age old debate about whether Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together. They shouldn’t. But both should be in the squad. Lampard is still an effective force, and with 11 goals this season and some sterling displays this season, cannot be ignored. However he’s no longer the box to box midfielder he used to be, so a deeper role in midfield could bring the best out of him. Stevie G has also had a mixed season. Despite a superb hat-trick against Everton it has been a mixed season. But he’s capable of taking games by the scruff of the neck as if they didn’t like Phil Collins. For that reason alone, he’s in.
As for the anchor-man role, everyone’s favourite water-carrier Scott Parker is the best of what is currently a limited bunch. He has performed well in the Spurs midfield this year, minding the shop to allow Modric, Bale and Van der Vaart to surge forward. Elsewhere, he might have retired once already, but Roy needs to get on the phone to Man United’s Paul Scholes and offer him one last hurrah. Getting the nod just ahead of the criminally under-rated Danny Murphy, Scholes has the ability to help England achieve the holy grail of actually KEEPING POSSESSION. James Milner should also make the trip to Poland and the Ukraine. He is versatile, was one of the best performers at World Cup 2010, and has bags of energy. The latter helped by the fact he’s been rather under-used by Roberto Mancini at Man City this season. These selections inevitably mean no place for the languid and immobile Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick, but would anyone really miss them?
Out wide, England has long had a problem with players who just can’t cross (Shaun Wright-Philips) or are just plain ordinary (Stewart Downing). Ashley Young may just be bucking that trend. Young was a key player in the early part of the season for Man United and if he can recapture that form just in time for the Euros, he could be vital. And not just for winning penalties. The final slot in THL’s England midfield goes to Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon. Ok, his crossing used to be as bad as Wright-Philips, but under Harry Redknapp he’s improved his final ball and overall game and could be a shrewd choice over the erratic Theo Walcott.
He might be banned for the first two games, but Roy Hodgson has made it pretty clear that Wayne Rooney is going to the Euros. And as he’s one of England’s few truly world-class players, Roy’s right to take him. With no yellow cards this season (in the league anyway), he seems to have genuinely curbed the petulant streak that cost England so dear in 2006.
Peter Crouch is a must too. And not just for his barnstorming strike against Man City. It might sound a bit Pulis-like to say it, but European defenders will not like dealing with him, and he could be a great foil for a quicker partner up front. His goalscoring ratio of a goal every two games for England is also second to none.
That lightning-quick partner for Crouch? Step forward Danny Welbeck. Provided Nigel de Jong’s cynical tackle in the recent Manchester derby hasn’t ruled him out, Welbeck is a nuisance for defenders and has an eye for goal and has the faith of Sir Alex Ferguson, and he knows what he’s doing.
If Hodgson is considering a lone front-man for the matches with France and Sweden, he’d do no worse than Bobby Zamora. Anyone who thinks he lacks the ability for international football only need look back at what happened when he faced Juventus as a Fulham player in the 2010 Europa Cup.
Darren Bent has been one of the Premier League’s most consistent goal-scorers for a number of years, but the fact he’s been out since February with injury and has never really proved himself at international level (despite many opportunities) raises doubts. However, the fact he knows where the goal is gets him on the plane. Just.
As for other options, Andy Carroll, Gabby Agbonlahor and Jermain Defoe have just not done enough over the season. Grant Holt has had a good league season, but if he really wants to go to the Euros, his best hope lies with tracing the family tree for an Irish grandparent.
Goalkeepers: Hart (Man City); Foster (West Brom); Robinson (Blackburn). Defenders: Richards (Man City); Walker (Tottenham); A Cole, Terry & Cahill (all Chelsea); Gibbs (Arsenal); R Ferdinand, Jones (both Man Utd) Midfielders: Lampard (Chelsea); Gerrard (Liverpool); Scholes, A Young (both Man Utd); Lennon, Parker (both Tottenham); Milner (Man City). Forwards: Rooney, Welbeck (both Man Utd); Crouch (Stoke); Zamora (QPR), Bent (A Villa)