Reading a piece in a national newspaper whilst idly flicking through the sports pages at the barbers last week, a small feature at the bottom of the page caught my attention. It raised the question; what impact, if any, will Roy Hodgson’s recent appointment as England manager have on those previously connected with the much-travelled successor to Capello’s ill-fated regime?
The piece dealt with both the supposed ‘winners and losers’ of the appointment, discussing whether or not Hodgson’s apparent soft spot for the likes of Ben Foster between the sticks at West Bromwich Albion and his role in the emergence of Chris Smalling at Fulham, for example, would lead to any significant tweaks in what is so often a rinse and repeat process as far as squad selection, and often starting XI is concerned. The antithetical argument was channelled via the case of Steven Gerrard. Much maligned with injury and lack of form during Hodgson’s reign at Anfield, the piece questioned, rather naively for my liking, whether or not this would have any bearing on the Liverpool captain’s degree of involvement with the national side this summer.
For all its briefly interesting worth, the segment on this debate left me debating the far more general conundrum; the first-choice XI itself, regardless of any conceived prejudice one way or another from the new cursed one.
So, without further ado, after lending the issue some thought, this is what I came up with during the intermittent breaks in activity at my dreary Saturday job;
Walker Terry Cahill Cole
Walcott Parker Gerrard Young
And my justification for each;
Hart: Needs no justification, arguably the most well-rounded and reliable ‘keeper produced by this country, Hart exudes confidence beyond his years, and has proven himself in the toughest league in the world time and time again.
Walker: Brings athleticism and power unlike anything I can remember in such a young defender, let alone an English one. Possesses a rare yet devastating array of physical attributes – height, speed, strength and agility. One of the game’s new breed of attacking fullbacks, his goal against Blackburn of late wasn’t too bad, either.
Terry: Like him or loathe him, England’s options at centre-half are limited to say the least, as far as tried and tested internationals go. In this respect, Terry should, realistically, walk in to the starting eleven at the expense of an increasingly error-prone Rio Ferdinand, his partner in crime in the field of international nous and know-how. That and the prospect of marrying the blossoming Chelsea pairing of Terry and Gary Cahill lending some form of reassurance.
Cahill: The other half of the aforementioned Chelsea partnership that has clicked so successfully towards the business end of this season, Cahill is one of few selections at this position that doesn’t appear to have a legion of doubters. Proved he wasn’t just a big fish in a small pond at Bolton, and here’s his shot to even further demonstrate that he is the real deal.
Cole: One of the few consistent and reliable pillars of the English national side, and an increasingly lonely survivor of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of English football, which perhaps speaks more for the ill-measured branding of such an era. Only really has Kieran Gibbs challenging after Leighton Baines’ insistence on failing to step up to the plate, Cole would be in 99% of people’s preferred line-ups.
Parker: The new captain is assured a starting berth almost regardless of events between now and 11th June, barring a dramatic, and customary big-player injury, of course. Possesses the heart and tenacity essential in any assault at a tournament of this nature, and will no-doubt lead by example as he has done for several years now at club level, be it in the colours of West Ham or Tottenham, with numerous accolades now adorning the Parker mantelpiece as a result.
Walcott: Previously a perennial under-performer at Arsenal, his 2011/12 season alongside the heroics of Robin van Persie, has not gone unnoticed. Having seemed to have raced to the age of 23 after bursting on to the national scene signing for the Gunners as a 16 year old, Walcott has had his finest season yet in the Premier League, providing an 11-goal haul and 8 assists, he gets the nod ahead of an injury-ravaged Aaron Lennon, and a simmering Adam Johnson.
Gerrard: Selected on Roy’s behalf by yours truly, Gerrard shouldn’t be over-looked. The central midfield role, in a creative sense at least, is a bit of a stumbling block for the England side at present. Frank Lampard will turn 34 during the tournament, and Gerrard was arguably England’s finest ambassador at an otherwise wholly disappointing 2010 World Cup campaign. Has immense talent, and knows all about the requirements and pressure to be dealt with on the biggest stage, should definitely not be overlooked.
Young: Got his big move to Manchester United at the beginning of this domestic campaign, and hasn’t faltered. Struck up a deadly partnership with Wayne Rooney early on in his United career, and was rewarded with the ‘in the hole’ role in one of his best games in an England shirt to date in the qualifier in Sofia against Bulgaria in September. Will provide a consistently high standard of service to the front men, as well as posing a goal threat of his own.
Wayne Rooney: The long-heralded talisman of the side, needs even less justification than that of Joe Hart’s selection. Epitomises English grit and determination, and backs it up by concocting a rare blend of bullishness and power with guile and fantastic technique. Despite his suspension for the first two group games, Rooney has to play.
Welbeck: The most difficult selection, in what is, for me, the most difficult position at the moment. Peter Crouch’s international record is nothing short of staggering from the big Stoke forward, and Darren Bent has never quite managed to convert Premier League effectiveness in to his international game. Welbeck gets the nod largely for his recently clockwork-like relationship with Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford, seen in all its glory in the recent 4-4 draw with Everton, in which he helped himself to a goal and two assists with the help of team-mate and strike partner Rooney.
So, there’s my attempt at gathering 11 of the best English footballers at present in to some form of cohesive formation. Good luck Mr Hodgson, some tough calls to make.