World Cup Countdown…..England’s eight midfielders

by Wally Downes

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

An infamous Achilles injury has eradicated an argument that was overshadowing England’s World Cup chances and the emerging talent more than ready to take David Beckham’s place. Had he been fit Goldenballs would have made my list but the rumpus surrounding his inclusion detracts from the team too much. I now look at the premature end to Beckham’s World Cup dream as a painful blessing in disguise, it saves the possible embarrassment of him being over looked and it leaves a space open for a younger, in-form midfielder to cement their place. Mind you in the recent days Jamie Carragher has hinted at his return to the fold and one of my previous defensive selections would make way for him, much in the same way that if a certain evergreen Manchester United redhead returned to the England fold a degree of reshuffling to this group would be required.

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard maintain their posts as England’s leading midfielders, Chelsea’s goal machine has spoken recently about this season being his best and, in terms of team silverware, he might be right. Liverpool’s captain is suffering a different fate, a miserable season with Liverpool will hopefully not leave Gerrard too deflated, we must hope instead that the new found freedom from Anfield’s heavy shackles reinvigorates the scouser.

The ‘utility man’ tag can be a poisoned chalice but it seems to be working perfectly for James Milner. The former winger, occasional fullback and newfound centre midfielder has shone in Aston Villa’s engine room this year. In Milner you have a squad member that can play on either flank, in either fullback position and in the middle of the park, he has also been known to get on the scoresheet, he is a complete player.

Gareth Barry’s recent injury may tragically force him out of the reckoning but on current form he would not make my squad. Viera, De Jong and Kompany have outshone him in Manchester City’s midfield and while Barry was relied on so much by Aston Villa he has faded somewhat into the back ground at The Eastlands. Replacing him is not easy, especially with Owen Hargreaves’ tendonitis reducing him to just one league appearance this year.

Michael Carrick gets the nod from me. He has become the scapegoat for Manchester United’s misfortunes this year and that has cost him his place in the starting 11. In my goal keeping and defensive selections stats had a defining role but further up the field ability, temperament and technique play a much larger part. Carrick has the discipline that is vital for all holding midfielders, that mental strength that allows you to sacrifice personal glories for that of the team. Carrick also has a range of passing, off either foot, that is unrivalled in the Premiership. He has experience at the highest level of club football and he has been free of injury all season.

Scott Parker also goes to South Africa in my book, I am a big fan of Parker’s and without him I don’t think West Ham would have survived this year. I do, however, think that he looked especially good when he was lining up alongside some very average West Ham players. A mix of inexperienced young Hammers and a few foreign mercenaries surrounded parker and while they were picking up ratings of 5s and 6s his combative style and never-say-die attitude ensured him 8s and 9s in comparison. Had Barry and Hargreaves been available this may have been a tougher choice but with the attacking options still to feature a reliable anchorman is what I need and that is certainly what Scott Parker is.

Aaron Lennon has made his return to action just in time and I assume that over the next eight weeks he will regain as much sharpness as possible. Lennon gets the nod ahead of Sean Wright Phillips for a few reasons, first touch, a final ball and a smug father separate the two. SWP is a sub at best at international level and I think most international defenders will be able to cope with the predictability of his game and his lack of ball control.

My inclusion of Joe Cole may surprise some and it’s not an easy choice by any means, especially having watched Chelsea’s celebrations yesterday. Cole offers a mercurial talent that England’s squad lacks, he does the unexpected, he does the things that Zidane, Del Piero, Laudrup and Bergkamp have done for their respective countries. I am not putting Cole on the same pedestal as those mentioned but I hope it demonstrates my point. When a team lays out two banks of four and invites you to attack them then pace and power will not cut the mustard. Something audacious and unexpected must happen, something that an average player would not think about let alone attempt. Wayne Rooney has this certain ‘je na sais quoi’ in abundance but his goal scoring instinct takes priority as a striker. Cole also offers the option of playing as a second striker and as a centre midfielder.

Adam Johnson completes my eight midfielders although one of the forwards I am to name in the next installment is as effective on the flank. Johnson has had a fine season and in a short time he has proved he is Premiership quality at least. He is not just a speed merchant, going outside every time, playing into the defenders hands, he also has the verve to try something different. Johnson’s an unknown entity on the international scene and that could work in our favour. If he travels I certainly expect him to have more of an impact than Theo Walcott did at our last attempt and he does not seem the type to be phased by anything, having settled into the Man City soap opera with apparent ease.

I thought I would be more conflicted as I went through my list and had to put crosses through certain names and ticks next to others but when I look at these eight names and consider where they could play anywhere in a team’s six most offensive positions I get a sense of assurance, confidence even.

I wonder if Fabio realises how easy this job really is?

IN: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, James Milner, Adam Johnson, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Aaron Lennon

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  • Mike

    A lot of people are dissapointed about the inclusion of Tom Huddlestone. What are your thoughts? Obviously not first choice though and I agree that Parker deserves it ahead of Huddlestone.

    For my wild card I would go for Danny Murphy! Why not!

  • Darren

    Danny Murphy has been brilliant this season so yeah, why not? If Tom Huddlestone played for Blackburn he wouldn’t even be in the final 50! Over rated & over weight.

  • Michael

    Even Scotty Parker (whom I don’t particulary rate for in an England shirt) is a much better prospect than fat boy Tom. Huddlestone is just a body in midfield like a Denilson or a Anderson. At least Parker gets forward, makes tough tackles and is generally a nuisance to the opposition

  • dexylongshot

    I’d like to see some stats on Parker, I’m obviously a bit biased being an hammer but i would say that he was man of the match in about 75% of all matches he played this season. Of course there wasn’t much compo from the rest of the hammers (with the exception of Greeno and Cole before xmas) but when he was playing the opposition, he was outshining plenty of other England players over the season. He is the nearest thing we have to a hard tackler like Owen Hargreaves and his calmness under pressure is first class. Huddlestone and Carrick, while both good players with expert slide rule passing ability are too similar for me and lack Parkers Hargreavesque tackling/nuisance ability. He is the modern Day nobby Stiles, FABIO, get him on that plane (Once the Ash settles)

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