Can Walcott Finally Be England’s Main Man?

With a little over three weeks to go until a rare local derby, guest blogger Pete South wonders if Theo Walcott can shine in Cardiff – and identifies one of Walcott’s biggest fans.

Those studying the online sportsbook will note that being selected for a World Cup isn’t always necessarily a good thing, while being dropped can also have its benefits.

Wayne Bridge, caught up in the eye of a storm as tabloids exposed the comings and goings of ex-team mate John Terry and his former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel, decided to rule himself out of Fabio Capello’s squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Lampooned as he was lamented for his decision, sports betting pundits note how Bridge had the last laugh as he stood back and watch England burn to the ground.

Conversely Theo Walcott’s selection for the 2006 tournament has gone down in history alongside a despairing Rob Greene fumble or  a  Wayne Rooney stamp as one of the biggest aberrations in English football in recent years.

Sven Goran Eriksson took the young winger with him to Germany at the expense of Jermaine Defoe and promptly left him out of every single game. To add to his World Cup woes, Fabio Capello didn’t include him in his squad for South Africa as his form deteriorated towards the end of last season.

Both decisions involving Walcott affected the young winger, his club boss Arsene Wenger concurs, and as yet he has been unable to showcase his undoubted talent at international level

Is he ready to finally leave his mark on England as they look to recover the aura that slipped so badly during the farce in South Africa? The upcoming qualifier against Wales could provide the perfect opportunity for the former Southampton man.

He has impressed sporadically for England, most notably his hat-trick against Croatia in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but his omission from the world Cup squad in 2010 began a series of hurtful insights into his ability.

TV pundit Alan Hansen was ruthless in his assessment of Walcott, suggesting he lacked a “footballing brain”, and was more akin to a sprinter than a footballer.

It is the curse of the modern English winger that pace and dribbling ability cannot be married with a decent final ball – Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson suffer as Walcott does – but Walcott is the only one of the three who has been marked as the next big thing for England since a young age, the emphasis is on him.

His performance against Barcelona in Arsenal’s first leg Champions League tie was fairly typical. Some malice, some dangerous running, but he cut inside too often, refused to take his man on and most frustratingly of all, failed to put in a final ball against a side that Lionel Messi admitted they were worried about.

“Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried us” the current Ballon D’Or holder said and it is a source of constant frustration that he is unable to replicate the form that saw him terrorise the Catalan club at the same stage last year.

But he has matured this season and looks to be learning his craft – something which can be said of the entire Arsenal team as they look for their first trophy since 2005. His seven goals so far is a good return for a wide-man, and with Arsenal still in with a chance of winning four trophies this year, big things are expected of him.

If England can find the best way to utilise him and extract all the talent from his right foot then they will have a very dangerous prospect on their hands. He is still young and learning, but sooner rather than later he must prove he is the man for England or face getting left behind. He is good enough, players of Lionel Messi’s calibre do not dish out praise at will, but now is the time, when England need him most, to show he is a world class talent.

Can Arsenal Win In Barcelona?

Well, who’d have predicted victories for both Arsenal and Spurs in the Champions League at the beginning of this week?

It’s easy to be wise after the event and regret not putting money on the games, but with two weeks to go before the return legs it’s worth taking a look at what might happen – as well as taking advantage of any free bets that might be available.

Of the second leg ties involving the North London rivals, Arsenal’s trip to Barcelona looks the more difficult one. The excitement of a stirring come from behind victory against arguably the best club in the world at the Emirates was only tempered by David Villa’s away goal and Barcelona’s formidable record at home. 

The blaugrana have only lost twice in their last 20 Champions League games at Nou Camp and once in their last ten home games in the competition against English clubs in the Catalan capital – a 2-1 defeat by Liverpool in Feb 2007.

On the other hand, Arsenal do not travel well in the Champions League. The Gunners have only recorded six away wins in their last 20 away games in the competition and have only won one of their last five trips to Spain – a single goal victory against Real Madrid six years ago.

The following evening Milan – without Renato Gattuso – travel to White Hart Lane. We only have this season’s form in the Champions League to judge Spurs on but as they’ve won all four games at home in the competition this season then it’s reasonable to assume that they might not lose  – which increases when you look at Milan’s recent away record in the competition.

The only victory the rossoneri  managed  in the group stage was at a poor Auxerre side: additionally, Milan have only one win in their last eight away games versus British opposition. The current Serie A leaders need to score to stand any chance of qualifying, but once again they don’t have a great record, having failed to score in three of their last five away games against British sides.

It’d be great if both Arsenal and Spurs reached the next round, but however unlikely that prospect may look, we won’t know until the final whistle blows at White Hart Lane in a few weeks time.

Will this be the England Squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?

Guest blogger Richard Smith takes a look into the future…don’t forget, coverage is on ITV1 tonight and kick off is 7:15pm.

It’s the first International fixture of 2011 this week and with all eyes firmly fixed on qualifying for next year’s European Championships, it is sure to be a pivotal year for all concerned with the England setup. Namely Fabio Capello, who has already announced that he is stepping down after (or before if the Three Lions fail to qualify) the Euros but also many of the senior players who are coming to the end of their international careers.

Euro 2012 will almost certainly be the last international tournament that many of the established England players will participate in, with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Ashely Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch all likely to call it a day, therefore it is interesting to wonder, even at this early stage, what the likely squad and team will be assuming of course they qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

One player who will almost certainly still be around will be Wayne Rooney, who by then may even be the captain of the team. Rooney will be 29 in 2014 the same age as Pele was when he stole the show for Brazil in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Rooney is certainly including in the following suggested 23 man squad:


Joe Hart – Manchester City. Hart will be an experienced 27 year old by 2014 and is already regarded as one of the leading keepers in the world and a player who should be at the top for some time.

Ben Foster – Birmingham City. Not in the current squad but playing well for Birmingham following his move from Manchester United. Foster will not be everyone’s choice but has an advantage over his rivals by playing regularly in the Premier League.

Frank Fielding – Blackburn. Recently called up by Fabio Capello to the full squad and made his debut against Hungary last August. Only 22 at the moment, he is certainly one to keep your eye on in the between now and 2014.


Gary Cahill – Bolton. Has been receiving the plaudits for a couple of years now, Cahill will be one of several central defenders who are seen as natural replacements for either John Terry or Rio Ferdinand. Has 1 senior cap and is 25 years old but is likely to more on from Bolton will will also aid his international progress.

Micah Richards – Manchester City. Maturing as a player of substance at Eastlands, Richards always had a great talent but it was just his ‘bad boy’ image that let him down. He should be a top class defender by the next World Cup with his private life seemingly back on track.

Kieran Gibbs – Arsenal. A richly talented left back who has made several appearances for the ‘Gunners’ already. Aged just 21 he would seem to be a natural replacement for Ashley Cole.

Chris Smalling – Manchester United. Another hugely talented defender who can play in central defence or as full back. United paid £10m for him from Fulham when he was just 20 years old which gives some indication of his talent. He is playing more and more for United and has a bright forture and could be a possible captain further down the line.

Kyle Walker – Spurs. Currently on loan at Aston Villa, this exceptional right back will challenge Richards for that role in the team. Has been called up by Capello for the first time for the friendly in Denmark.

Michael Dawson – Spurs. He will be a very experienced central defender by the time of the next World Cup. He is one of those expected to replace John Terry once the Chelsea man has hung up his international boots.

Phil Jagielka – Everton. Another player who will offer the England team reliability and experience at the back. He has earned seven caps under Capello and although not necessarily everyone’s choice, it would make sense to have a player like him available.


Aaron Lennon – Spurs. Very exciting right sided player who has improved out of all proportion over the last two years. Very quick, tricky and who can score goals, he will be a certainty for Brazil.

James Milner – Manchester City. Extremely versatile midfielder who can play out wide or in the middle. He is very highly thought of, has World Cup Finals experience and will be at his peak in Brazil at the age of 27.

Theo Walcott – Arsenal. Another right sided player who offers searing pace with great perception. Missed out in South Africa, should not miss out in Brazil.

Jack Wilshere – Arsenal. Has been a revelation for Arsenal this season in his central midfield role, where he can either anchor or push forward. Has tremendous passing ability and can only get better.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Southampton. Already being tipped to be on the books of a big club by the start on next season, this exciting 17 year old has the ability to be an absolute sensation. Has broken into the Under 21 squad and is the talking player in League One at the moment but not for long with a move to the Premier League surely not too far away.

Jack Rodwell – Everton. Another top class player in the making, Rodwell is now starting to command a regular place in the Everton midfield, having first made his debut as a 16 year old. Regarded as a defensive midfielder, Rodwell is not with goal scoring ability as well and is a certain star of the future.

Adam Johnson – Manchester City. A top class player who will play for England for a very long time to come. He will be at his absolute peak come 2014 and will be one of the most important England players.

Jordan Henderson – Sunderland. Another highly regarded progressive player who made his full England debut against France in November. Hugely talented and a very powerful player he will be a huge asset to the England’s central midfield.


Wayne Rooney – Manchester United. Could well be captain by the time the team take off for Brazil in 2014. Not having the best period of his football life currently, but Rooney is sheer class and will be a big threat to any defence in Brazil.

Andy Carroll – Liverpool. Could well partner Rooney up front, Carroll has great height, determination, ability and will improve greatly over the next few years now he’s at Liverpool.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – Aston Villa. This very speedy striker has been tipped for several years now to become a huge player for England. So far that has not materialised but he should get more chances  to impress in the near future.

Daniel Sturridge – Chelsea. Currently on loan with Bolton, who he scored for on his debut, this 21 year old has not had too many chances to impress as yet at Stamford Bridge, but when he has had the opportunities he has grabbed them. Yet to fully emerge as a top striker, but he is on his way!

Predictable Drop-outs For Ill-timed Friendly

Guest blogger Thomas Rooney takes a look at tomorrow’s friendly against Denmark – if we’d opted into the Nations Cup, at least it would have been competitive.

The difficulties in juggling club management and international management are once again in the spotlight this week with England set to play a pretty pointless friendly in Denmark.

Coming as it is between two sets of Premier League games and a week before the resumption of the Champions League it is little surprise there has been a flurry of drop outs.

Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch and Ben Foster have all been released from the squad because of injuries, with Rio Ferdinand already out. In total 24 players from the four England age-group sides have been released this week.

For Fabio Capello he somehow has to get his message across the remaining players in a matter of days, before playing the friendly and waving the squad back off to their respective squads once more.

It must be terribly difficult for an international manager to try and build any team spirit or plan any tactics in such a short space of time. I agree they need these games to experiment, but to shoehorn them in almost as an afterthought benefits no-one. It doesn’t appeal to fans either. Obviously people will be keeping an eye on the live match score , but they won’t be getting overly excited about it.

He must also be fielding several calls from Premier League managers asking that their players don’t play more than 45 minutes of the friendly in order to keep them fit for future domestic games. And god forbid one of them get injured as a demand for compensation will soon arrive at the doors of the FA from the player’s Premier League club.

International football at the moment is being treated like an irritable distraction. In order for it to work it needs to be given the space and time it deserves. I agree with the idea that two dedicated international windows should be set in the season, where the squad can gather for two, even three weeks and play all their qualifiers or friendly games. England will play nine games in total this season, that surely can be split into two windows of five and four matches? It would make things much more exciting for those following the football live scores .

It will give Capello vital time to work with his players and perhaps avoid the awkward club v country tussle that we are seeing now.

It seems like common sense to me – but that is exactly why I can’t see it being implemented any time soon.

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?

Four Out Of Four?

With only a couple of group stage games left, it looks very much as if there might be four English sides entering the knockout stages of this season’s UEFA Champions League. Here’s a quick preview for this week’s games involving the English clubs.


Braga v Arsenal (7:45, Sky Sports 4)

Braga didn’t play at the weekend but despite only losing once at home in the Portuguese league this season, it’s their away form that’s been letting them down – they haven’t won in the league since April. After losing to Shaktyar Donetsk in their last game, Arsenal’s qualification isn’t as straightforward as it was and it’ll be interesting to see how they cope after their home defeat at home to Spurs on Saturday lunchtime.

Chelsea v Zilina (7:45, Sky Sports 2)

Group F’s whipping boys suffered a rare away defeat at 2nd place Senica on Saturday but having lost all their Champions League group games this season Zilina won’t  even qualify for the Europa League. Having already booked their spot in next round, a Chelsea win looks a formality but after their recent run of poor form they might want to put on an exhibition against the Slovakian champions –
if Marseille can beat them 7-0, then Chelsea could easily equal that.


Rangers v Man United (7:45, ITV)

Apart from losing 3-0 at home to Hibs a couple of weeks ago, Rangers have a pretty formidable record at Ibrox; compared with last season’s disaster at group stage (three home defeats), beating Bursaspor and drawing with Valencia indicates that Walter Smith’s side have worked out how to play in the UCL but they need to beat United to stand any chance of qualification for the next round. United’s loss to Bayern Munich earlier this year was their first away defeat in the Champions League since May 2007 and despite supposedly not being at their best, they’re still undefeated in the Premiership and only need a point to qualify for the next round.

Spurs v Werder Bremen (7:45, Sky Sports 2)

Spurs’  win at Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime was the first time they’d won at either the Emirates or Highbury since Herbert Chapman was Arsenal manager May 1993 and they should be clear favourites for this game. Bremen lost 4-0 at Schalke 04 on Saturday and are currently only four points outside the relegation places in the Bundesliga with the second worst defensive record in that competition this season; if Spurs win – and they should – then they’re through.