What Next For Frank Lampard?

Due to the recent ‘events’ in London and elsewhere, the England v Holland friendly tomorrow evening has been postponed – we’d received a preview article from William Taylor and although the game’s off, William’s points are worth reading.

The emergence of Jack Wilshere on the international scene has cast doubt over the future of Frank Lampard’s England career.

Currently sitting on 86 caps, Lampard must surely have one eye on trying to reach the prestigious milestone of 100, most recently achieved by David Beckham.

However, Beckham is a case point. In the cut throat world of international football, you suddenly realise that it is all a young man’s game.

Once you hit 30, people begin to question you place in the team.

There is no doubt that Lampard has been an invaluable member of the national side, but like many other English players of his generation, the lack of silverware with the Three Lions will be a negative that hangs over his name.

Lampard’s immediate future is not of great concern, though. He is expected to feature in the friendly against Holland next Wednesday, and it would take a bold decision not to include him in the European Championships, having been heavily involved in qualification.

He and Steven Gerrard will be considered the stalwarts of the England midfield – although at 33 Lampard is two years older than his Liverpool compatriot.

Furthermore, many would argue that Gerrard’s impact on the national side has been greater than Lampard’s, in recent years.

It all points to Jack Wilshere ultimately succeeding the Chelsea player as the midfield partner to Gerrard in a quintessentially English 4-4-2 formation.

Lampard knows that there will be a time when he will simply have to accept that he can no longer be a part of the international picture.

It was a decision that Paul Scholes made a few seasons back, and it meant that the former Manchester United play-maker was able to extend his club career right up until the end of the season just gone.

“There will be a time when maybe for your own benefit and your own career as a player that you come out of it, like the Paul Scholeses of this world,” Lampard confessed.

“Whether that’s ever an option I don’t know but at the minute I want to give everything. It will be difficult but it’s great to see young players coming through, like Wilshere and McEachran.

“If I can be involved I’ll be happy. If not, I’ll be happy I was there.”

Football betting pundits note how Lampard could perhaps view Euro 2012 as his swansong. He can have one last go at winning trophies with England and then call it a day.

Barry Handed England Captaincy

Pete South takes a look at some of tonight’s possible team changes before our first ever meeting with Ghana.

Manchester City’s Gareth Barry has been handed the England captaincy for the Friendly game against Ghana on Tuesday.

John Terry was controversially re-named as captain for the comfortable 2-0 victory over Wales on Saturday, but was released from his duties along with four other players involved in the upcoming Champions League quarter finals.

Barry was dropped for that game, with his replacement Scott Parker impressing in his absence, but the former Aston Villa midfielder will return to a much changed England side. England boss Fabio Capello believes he has made the right choice, despite coming in for some criticism for changing captain once more.

“Barry is a really good player, a good captain and he’s also the player with the most England caps in the squad now.” He commented.

Capello insists he is keen to avoid overkill as some of his squad potentially faced playing four games in ten days, but climbed down from his claim after the Wales match that he would make 11 changes for the Ghana game.

Some of the players have played a lot,” he said. “They should only play three games in eight days – I think four games in 10 days is too much. I respect the clubs and the players.”

“Joe Hart will play in goal, we will have Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka at centre-back and Leighton Baines will play at left-back. Barry will be the captain and Carroll will play up front.” He added.

Overall, Capello will make “about seven changes” to the line-up the helped England move back to the top of their European Championships qualifying group over the weekend, with only the services of Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart, Ashley Young and Scott Parker likely to be retained.
The Italian manager came in for criticism for his botched handling of the captaincy issue, and is still yet to speak to Rio Ferdinand about his decision to take the captain’s arm band from the Manchester United Shirt wearer and give it to Terry, who was initially stripped of the job because of accusations over an affair with a team-mate’s ex-fiancée.

Capello then faced a further grilling after vice-captain Stephen Gerrard revealed the former Real Madrid coach had spoken to him by phone over the captaincy issue, while insisting it would be inappropriate to contact Ferdinand in the same way.

“Rio was captain, so I must meet him. Steve is only vice-captain,” he said. I hope I will speak with Rio next week.”

England look to build with Denmark friendly

Guest blogger Thomas Rooney gives his perspective on the forthcoming friendly against Denmark…might be worth remembering that the last time we played the Danes in a friendly in Copenhagen we lost 4-1!

In the middle of a Premier League season isn’t the most popular time to have a friendly. But that is the prospect facing England as they prepare for the away fixture against Denmark on February 9th. And in what shape do we find that national side in?

Well, in an odd position truth be told. Gone is the early optimism of the Fabio Capello reign; If the disheartening World Cup fiasco didn’t dampen the mood all together, the 0-0 draw with Montenegro in the Euro qualifier at Wembley.

More disappointing perhaps was the result, or more pertinently, the performance against France. The game offered a lot of parallels in some respects. Both teams were looking to rebuild their reputation after disastrous World Cup campaigns. Unfortunately that was where the similarity ended as the next generation of French players played around and through a baffled England side. The final score may have been a 2-1 defeat, but you would need to add two or three more goals to the French score to find a more fitting scoreline.

Going into 2011, those placing regular football bets will tell you that Fabio Capello faces a difficult task. Qualification for the European Championships is a must, but if he does manage to qualify easily enough then most observers will wave this away, safe in the knowledge that they have seen it all before and that emerging from Group G isn’t much of a challenge. If he fails to do this, then his planned retirement after the Euro’s may be bought forward somewhat.

But there is some light amongst the gloom. English players have proved themselves as up there with the best, James Milner, Adam Johnson and Jack Wilshere have all performed well this season, and fringe players such as Michael Dawson and Darren Bent are putting their hands up for a starting place. Perhaps most importantly Wayne Rooney looks to finding some semblance of form as he looks to bury his own personal South African nightmare; his performance in tandem with Dimitar Berbatov against Birmingham City a couple of weeks ago was excellent, and Fabio Capello will take heart.

Denmark represents a challenge of sorts and will be a good warm-up ahead of the important qualifier against Wales in March. Football betting patterns will see England emerge as favourites, but the Danes will pose a genuine threat.

Premier League managers could do without the extra strain of an England fixture in the middle of a busy Premier League schedule; any potential knocks to key players would not be welcome in the crucial second half of the season. Capello will look to use his time wisely as he looks forward to a key period in his time as England manager. Lots to lose, nothing to gain. Who would be an England manager?

Will Capello Bring in ‘New Blood’ for Friendly with France?

Thanks to guest blogger Richard Smith for his thoughts about next week’s international – with the possible exception of Italy, France were probably the worst of the major European nations taking part in South Africa last summer…

England take on France next week at Wembley in what will be their last international of what has been an almost forgettable year. Almost forgettable in the sense that at least they seem to have picked up from where they left off before their woeful World Cup performances in South Africa.

Although unable to beat Montenegro at Wembley last month, England still look the best team in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, securing three wins from their four matches played thus far. They will go into 2011 in second place in the group, with a potentially feisty encounter against Wales their next group game at the end of March.

With the issue of who will be captain now decided in favour of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and John Terry can both concentrate on what they do best, by returning to their best form and confirming in the process, that they are both vital links in the England set up.

The match against France presents manager, Fabio Capello, the opportunity to include one or two youngsters, most notably perhaps, Jack Wilshere of Arsenal, who has been impressing plaudits since forcing himself into the Arsenal team. Wilshere made his debut of course against Hungary as a late substitute and has been in sparkling form for Arsenal since and could be given a start ahead of Gareth Barry, who has been well out of touch.

In the absence of first choice strikers, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe, Capello might even be persuaded to select Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, who looks like he has far more about him than regular England pick, Peter Crouch; Carroll’s off the pitch behaviour might just put Capello off however.
Kevin Davies has continued to impress up front for Bolton, with his boss, Owen Coyle, calling him unplayable at the moment. Capello is a known admirer and gave him his debut as a substitute against Montenegro which strongly suggests that he, like Carroll, might get the nod over Crouch.

Another striker who has been receiving rave reviews all season is Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd, who has scored ten goals from 12 appearances for the ‘Bluebirds’ so far this season. Bothroyd was once upon a time on Arsenal’s books but was released by Arsene Wenger in 2000. He had spells at Coventry, Perugia in Italy, Blackburn, Charlton, Wolves, before finally settling at Cardiff, where he has a huge following. Whether Capello would dip into the The Championship though remains to be seen with David Nugent the last player outside of the Premier League to be capped in his only appearance under Steve McClaren in 2007.

Gary Cahill, team mate of Davies at Bolton could also get another chance, particularly after his fine display against Spurs last weekend. If Ferdinand and Terry are both fit then Cahill might have to content himself with a place on the bench, but he is certainly one for the future.

France who had an even worse time of it than England in South Africa have also picked up since Laurent Blanc took over the reins from Raymond Domenech in August. As is well known several of their players even went on strike in South Africa, unhappy with the way Domenech managed the team, players such as Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Patrick Evra of Manchester United received suspensions for their actions from the French FA.
France however come into the game against England having won their last three games and sitting on top of Euro 2012 qualification Group D with nine points from four games played. In those last three games they did not concede a goal. However, the England odds of 6/5 to win this game suggest that France’s change of form will come to a halt at Wembley; however, at 2/1 about the visitors, you know which of the two team’s odds make most appeal!

Hopefully, Capello will use this friendly against France to offer some new faces a chance to impress and at least finish what has been a disastrous year for the national team on a positive note.

Are You Hungary For More?

Excuse the inevitable pun…the good news is that we’re still pretty formidable at home: nine straight wins, unbeaten since that game against Croatia in November 2007 and playing a country that hasn’t beaten us since the 1962 World Cup and hasn’t beaten us in England since that game in November 1953.

The bad news? This is a game we should win. Just like the game against Algeria during the World Cup, although to be fair to the Algerians the current FIFA rankings have the Desert Foxes thirty places above the current crop of slightly less than magical Magyars, but after this summer’s dismal failure anything might happen.

Having said that, the contrite atmosphere that has permeated the press conferences given by Fabio Capello and Steven Gerrard this week have been encouraging yet slightly depressing. Admitting that there were various problems with both the preparation and execution of the World Cup campaign is refreshing, but the comments that were coming from the England camp before the World Cup contradicted those statements. Attempting to put those things right in one game won’t work and – like most fans – I’ll be extremely wary if the expected romp through the Euro 2012 qualification group materialises. It shouldn’t be forgotten that half of the World Cup semi finalists had to qualify via the playoffs.

Then there are the withdrawals. I’ve already commented on Robinson and Brown and to some extent I sympathise with their points of view, but although it’s encouraging to see that Capello has called up Scott Loach and Frankie Fielding from the Under 21 squad as replacements, he didn’t really have much choice in the matter and I seriously doubt that they’ll get any playing time tomorrow.

Spare a thought for Hungary though. Despite their 1954 squad being widely acknowledged as one of the best teams never to have won the World Cup, they haven’t qualified for a major tournament since 1986, although the under 20s finished third in the 2009 World Cup for that age group. That team was coached by Sandor Egervari, who replaced Erwin Koeman as senior team manager at the end of July. Although there are several well known names amongst the Hungarians – four of the squad play in England and keeper Gabor Kiraly played for Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Burnley – the Hungarian league isn’t particularly good and it’s significant that only five of the twenty man squad play for domestic clubs. Kiraly is the most capped player in the current squad and any goals will come from either Zoltan Gera of Fulham or Tamas Priskin, who scored at the weekend for Ipswich Town.

Prediction: England to win and keep a clean sheet. Immediate post-match reaction tomorrow but it won’t be either an instant classic or have the same long term implications this game did, although after this summer’s shambles it could be argued we still haven’t learned the lessons from that foggy Wednesday afternoon in November 1953…

Squad for Hungary Friendly – 2nd Update

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster (Birmingham), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Paul Robinson (Blackburn)  – although Sporting Life is reporting on Sunday morning that Robinson has withdrawn from the squad and announced his retirement from international football.

On Sunday, Wes Brown did the same thing as Robinson – presumably fed up with being a reserve, he’s also retired from international football. I’m actually beginning to wonder if this is a sign of widespread disatisfaction by the players about the way the team is heading in – it’s almost insulting to be left out of the World Cup squad but to be included in the squad for a pre-season friendly which no-one really cares about.

Defenders: Gary Cahill (Bolton), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham Hotspur), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Aston Villa), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlton Cole (West Ham United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Bobby Zamora (Fulham)

Hungary (from – I’ve always wanted to write that!)

Goalkeepers: Gabor Kiraly (1860 Munich), Marton Fulop (Sunderland)

Defenders: Zoltan Szelesi (Olympiakos Volosz), Krisztian Vermes (Ujpest FC), Zoltan Liptak (Videoton FC), Roland Juhasz (Anderlecht), Adam Komlosi (Debreceni VSC), Vilmos Vanczak (FC Sion)

Midfielders: Krisztian Vadocz (Osasuna), Akos Elek (Videoton FC), Balazs Toth (Genk), Akos Buzsaky (QPR), Peter Czvitkovics (Debreceni), Balazs Dzsudzsak (PSV), Szabolcs Huszti (FC Zenit), Vladimir Koman (Sampdoria)

Forwards: Zoltan Gera (Fulham), Tamas Hajnal (Borussia Dortmund), Gergely Rudolf (Genoa), Tamas Priskin (Ipswich Town).

Full preview coming before the game.

Man Underperforms But Keeps Job (Part 1)

The only real alternative was Roy Hodgson, who…ummm… got ‘lucky’ when he was appointed Liverpool manager yesterday. Despite dropping hints here, there and everywhere while working as a media pundit during the World Cup, Harry Redknapp isn’t the right person for the job at all – let’s see how he gets on in the Champions League before going in that direction. So Fab continues as England manager, probably because he’s too expensive to get rid of. I believe the expression is ‘Golden Handcuffs’.

We’ve got three Euro 2012 qualifiers before the middle of October: Bulgaria at home on September 3rd, Switzerland away the following Tuesday and then Montenegro at home on October 12th. The first of those games comes three games into the Premiership season; the friendly against Hungary is three days before the Premiership kicks off, so the week following the Community Shield between Man U and Chelsea. So it’s anyone’s guess who is going to be in the squad for that game. I’d volunteer but it’s my mum’s birthday the week before, I’m far too old and I’m also eligible for another international team from the British Isles I want to keep my options open 😉

Last thing today: Jerry and I had discussed who we’d like to win the World Cup. Needless to say – and I’m writing this just after the second half of Ghana v Uruguay has begun – my choice is already out. Jerry’s choice is still in the competition, but I’m only going to tell you who he likes if they win. Unless he wants to tell you himself of course…

A Win’s A Win…

…even if it wasn’t particularly convincing. A well taken goal from Ledley King, a rubbish handball offside one from Peter Crouch (which we should try again during the knockout latter stages of the tournament) and an absolute beauty from Glen Johnson gave England an ultimately flattering 3-1 win over a Mexican team who had a number of first class chances (23 shots on goal, nine on target to our eight attempts, five on target) throughout the game. If last night’s opponents play that well in the finals, France, New Zealand and Uruguay will have to watch out.

To be brutally honest, there were times when we were outplayed: King’s goal came against the run of play and the Mexican goal just before half time was a result of defending at a set piece that would have embarrassed a team of under elevens.

Having said all that…this is exactly what friendlies are for and not playing particularly well and winning is far, far better than being the best team in the world and losing. I have no doubt that the performance against Japan will better: to put yesterday’s result in perspective, Portugal drew 0-0 with the Cape Verde Islands, which is about the same as England drawing with Gibraltar.

Oh and Argentina beat Canada 5-0. I can’t remember if I’ve written it before, but there’s always one team that scrapes in after a rubbish qualification campaign and then suddenly becomes a major threat. Our evil twins may be that team: they’re fourth favourites to win the whole thing at about 7/1.

BTW, techology hates me. I was happily twittering away last night and my laptop fan decided it didn’t want to play. Twice.

Mexico Preview

England play their last game at Wembley before leaving for the World Cup Finals against a Mexican side that most of us will next see playing the hosts in the opening game of the tournament.

This will be the first time we’ve played ‘El Tri’ since 2001 (a 4-0 win at Pride Park in Derby if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me) and the Mexicans don’t have a good record in England: we’ve won all four games played here and they have yet to score. Despite that, we actually have quite a lot in common with them: until about half way through the qualifying campaign they were managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson and in the last four tournaments they have qualified from their group only to be unable to get past the second round. So…umm… actually quite a lot in common then.

It used to be quite rare for Mexicans to play abroad (Hugo Sanchez is the only name that springs to mind) but that’s changed. The provisional squad named by Javier Aguirre contained ten players who play their club football in Europe: captain Rafael Marquez and midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos play for Barcelona, defenders Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido (five yellow cards and a sending off in qualifying) are team mates at PSV Eindhoven and strikers Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela play in this country for West Ham and Arsenal respectively.  However, the most intriguing Mexican prospect for years will probably be playing at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool next season: Javier Hernandez (who will only be 22 on 1st June) joined Manchester United recently and is arguably the best striker to have emerged from the country since Sanchez. I’ve not seen him play, but if I was Dimitar Berbatov I’d be on the phone to my agent if Hernandez starts banging them in during the tournament.

Hernandez is more of a long term goalscoring prospect as Mexico don’t really have a dominant striker – the apparently ageless Cuauhtemoc Blanco is 37, neither Franco nor Vela have really done the business at international level and Nery Castillo wasn’t even named in the provisional squad. The short term solution appears to be Alberto Medina, who didn’t play at all in the qualifiers but has scored in two of Mexico’s last three friendlies including the 1-0 win over Chile last Sunday.

I’ll go for an England win, but if we stop the Mexicans from scoring then I think we can look forward to both the Japan friendly and the first game of the finals against the USA with a lot of confidence. Another point to remember is that the Mexicans are tight defensively and have a decent track record in the World Cup – it would not be a huge surprise if they beat South Africa in the opening game – and so we may have to be patient. And no booing Jamie Carragher either.

In other news, Gary Linekerdecided to leave The D**ly M**l as a football columnist this week…Diego Maradona ran a journalist over (as far as we know it wasn’t one from the Mail)…Michael Ballack and Lassana Diarra won’t be playing in the tournament, which is a shame as I really wanted to use ‘Ballack’s Out’, ‘Never Mind The Ballacks’ or ‘What A Load Of Old Ballacks’ as article titles. It’s also a shame that we won’t be treated to a French player running around with ‘Lass’ on the back of his shirt, but you can’t have everything can you 😉