Friendlies? Meh.

by on February 29, 2012
in Friendlies

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but I’m not a big fan of friendlies. Tonight’s game against the Dutch is basically an excuse to sell the new replica shirts that both teams will be wearing. Stuart Pearce may or may not be the next England manager, I doubt that many of the squad will actually make the final 23 for the European Championships and for that reason I’m determined to write less than 100 words about the game.

Looks like I managed that with a few to spare!

State Of Leadership – Who Should Wear The Prestigious Armband At Euro 2012?

With the second biggest question in English football looming overhead Discount Football Kits gives its take on the situation to 11lions.co.uk.

Whomever gets the nod for the next England manager, one of their first big decisions is going to be directly tied in with the departure of Fabio Capello. With the FA sticking to its guns that John Terry cannot captain his country while awaiting trial for an alleged on-the-pitch criminal offence, picking a new England captain become a priority in the run-up to the European Championships.

If fan polls are anything to go by, the public believes it’s a three horse race. The most cited candidate by supporters in a Guardian poll was Steven Gerrard. Supporters claim he’s a proven leader both at club and international level with both the experience and ability to be captain. There’s also a great argument that Gerrard leading them team would not only be an inspiration to the other players, but could even up Gerrard’s own game as he thrived on the pressure.

It’s also notable that Wayne Rooney has backed Gerrard as a candidate, and when you consider the bitter Man Utd-Liverpool rivalry, you can be sure Gerrard has the respect of his countrymen. The big drawback however is his reputation for aggressiveness both on and off the pitch: while it’s important to remember he was found innocent of all accusations, his courtroom appearances could be an issue given the context of the vacancy.

If the new boss is looking for a safer choice, Scott Parker could be the way to go. At 31, he’s developed the maturity and respect that’s required to be an effective captain. There’s also a case that his all-rounder style means he’s likely to always be close to the action, making it easier for him to take a lead role throughout the game. The main knock against Parker is that he is a relative latecomer to the senior national team and it could be curious to have a man with just a handful of caps captain the country.

The third main option is Joe Hart, who’s got the public backing of both James Milner and Gareth Barry. While he’s relatively young, the logic seems to be that he looks set to be a constant in the side for years to come, meaning he could bring stability to the role.

Wayne Rooney heads up the rest of the field and has openly said he’d relish the role, though it’s hard to see how somebody with a reputation for hot-headedness on the pitch could take over in the current circumstances. The rest of the field looks to be slim pickings assuming the new manager wants a captain who’s a safe bet for being both fit and in form for the duration of the tournament.

Of course, there’s another twist on the debate, which is to ask whether selecting a captain is really a worthwhile task in the first place. There’s a growing call for the FA to adopt the system that’s common in Italy by which the captain’s armband is automatically worn by the most senior player in the team. That would certainly remove a headache and allow the manager to concentrate on other matters without distraction.

It’s Beginning To Look Like The End Of An Era

Well, it’s two weeks since Fab resigned 19 months later than he should have done and it’s finally time for me to pick up my virtual pen and appraise the current situation.

Personally, I think Capello should have gone after the shambles of the World Cup in South Africa. If you’d said in July 2010 that he wouldn’t have been in charge for Euro 2012, I don’ t think many people would have disagreed with you: arguably the bigger surprise is that he was still in charge less than six months before the tournament started.

The big problem the FA faces with his abrupt departure is whether the process of finding a new manager should be begun immediately or after the European Championships.  Stuart Pearce will be in charge for the friendly against the Netherlands next week but the bookies make the loveable but dysgraphic Cockney dog walker Harry Redknapp the favourite for the job – in fact, if Redknapp’s odds were any shorter it’d be worth betting against him getting the job.

However, despite being the people’s choice there are some issues surrounding Redknapp. He’s only won one major domestic honour (the FA Cup with Portsmouth four years ago – and they beat a Championship side to do it) and – if as seems likely – he has to fulfill his obligations to Spurs before he leaves them, there’s the prospect that he might only have twelve days in which to familiarise himself with the job. Spurs’ last game is scheduled for May 13th: England’s first warm up for the Euros is against Norway on May 25th.

The main issue that seems to have finally exhausted Capello’s patience is the decision by the FA to strip John Terry of the captaincy of the England team. Regardless of what you think of the decision or why it was made, it seems to have been the catalyst for Capello’s resignation – presumably because he thought he was the only authority who could remove the honour from Terry. It looked likely that the former captain would travel to the Euros in some capacity (although probably not in the seat next to Rio Ferdinand), but following today’s news that the Chelsea defender will be out for two months it looks as if Terry might miss what looks increasingly like his international swansong: he’ll be 32 in December.

It seems unlikely, but with Capello gone, Terry a possible doubt and Rooney missing the first two games this summer due to that bloody stupid red card he picked up in Macedonia, fan expectations could be more realistic for this tournament than they have been for previous ones. England are currently fourth favourites behind Spain, Germany and Holland which looks about right – until you remember that the previous winners have never successfully defended the trophy and neither ourselves nor the Dutch have ever won it.

So if ‘Arry is as canny as most people seem to think he is, I’d not be surprised if the following scenario occurs:

He stays at Spurs until the end of the season, with a big Cockney farewell knees up at White Hart Lane (the last game of the season is against Fulham). Harry then goes straight into the England job and manages to get through the group stages before the customary knock out by the eventual winners – at which point he’s largely absolved for any blame because he’s hardly had any time in the position. So his first real task will be qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil: Redknapp may be secretly hoping that John Terry may have announced his international retirement at that point.

We’ll see…

Capello Resigns

by on February 8, 2012
in Fabio Capello

More to follow (probably tomorrow at this rate), but following a meeting with David Bernstein et al, Fabio Capello has resigned as England manager.

Hardly a surprise given some of the recent nonsense that’s surrounding the England team but resigning four months before a major tournament is…well, I know what I think. And if you stay tuned, when I’ve calmed down then you’ll be able to read it.

Capello’s Striker Dilemma Ahead Of Euro 2012

by on February 8, 2012
in Euro 2012, Fabio Capello

If you’ve come here looking for our take on whether or not John Terry should have been stripped of the England captaincy or not or whether Fabio Capello should leave the England job now, then you might be a bit disappointed. All I’m going to say is that France have a terrific group of young strikers and to be honest,  right now (a freezing cold afternoon in February) it doesn’t matter who the manager is.

Although we’re at the end of the Capello years, he’s still getting paid a decent wage and he’s got some thinking to do before the summer. Guest blogger Richard Smith takes a look at both the Terry issue and an area that always seems to be problematic for the team before major competitions.

As Euro 2012 approaches the England problems seem just on the verge of emerging. Firstly the Wayne Rooney ban which has cost England his services in for the opening two fixtures has been followed by the crass FA decision to remove the captaincy from John Terry.

In some respects, England are lucky that Rooney’s ban was not the original three matches but nonetheless, the absence of the Man Utd striker for two games is bad enough and makes life very difficult to replace him.

As far as the Terry situation is concerned, then the FA have done him nor the national team any favours by going above Fabio Capello’s head and removing him as team captain, due presumably to his impending court case where he has been accused of racism towards Anton Ferdinand. That case is not due to be heard until after Euro 2012 and whilst the full and due process of law is running its course, Terry remains innocent until proven guilty. This is of course unless you are the FA who clearly sees the case as a cut and dry affair and that Terry must be guilty as charged. It is a position that is seen as outrageous by most in football and one that proves if nothing else that the FA are no friends of the individual footballer nor respecters of the England fans nor it seems the due process of law as their action has made Terry look guilty even though he is pleading the opposite.

At least it seems that Terry will be able to wear the Three Lions shirt in Poland and the Ukraine which will be very important for team continuity albeit if you believe what you read in the papers this may not be the case! It is almost a prerequisite that the England preparations prior to a major tournament are disrupted and with five months before the tournament kicks off, it would appear the pantomime has already begun.

Back to team matters, there is already much debate as to who Capello should select as the four for Euro 2012 and with Rooney a definite pick, the other three places are up for grabs.

Darren Bent of Aston Villa is probably the man who holds sway at the moment but his good form of last season has not been so evident this term as his Villa team struggle in mid-division of the Premier League. Bent has scored nine times in the Premier League and managed three England goals during Euro 2012 Qualification.

Jermaine Defoe has been a regular squad member for the last few seasons, but he is struggling to establish himself in the first team at Spurs this season and hasn’t been on the scoresheet for England since his hat trick against Bulgaria in September 2010.

Emerging talent comes in the form of Danny Welbeck of Manchester United and Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea but neither have had a long enough run in the national team to establish themselves and may be considered by Capello as too inexperienced to take. Bent’s team mate at Aston Villa, Gabi Agbonlahor is another player who is just falling short of international recognition and now at the age of 25 one feels his best chances are gone despite him being one of the very quickest players around. Bobby Zamora now of QPR has been given a couple of chances but he is a player who would be more of a last resort than a certainty and at 31 he has seen better days too.

This does not leave Capello very much left to choose from, Andy Carroll of Liverpool showed signs under Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool that he is beginning to mature but is facing mounting criticism for his lack of goals. If the £35m man can continue in that vein as well as find the net a few times before the season ends, then he could make a late run for the squad but as it stands currently, the four strikers would almost certainly comprise of Rooney, Bent, Defoe and Sturridge but with Rooney out for the first two games, it’s safe to say none of the England contingent will be in the reckoning for the Euro 2012 Golden Boot and who starts upfront against France on Monday 11th June is still very much anyone’s guess.

We should have a better idea when England take on the Netherlands at Wembley on 29thFebruary when it will make a refreshing change for football to dominate the back page, let’s just hope it’s positive column inches!

Capello on Hand To See Swans Fly

Easily the best footballing side in the Championship last season, it’s hardly a surprise that Swansea have been attracting a lot of positive attention due to their performances in the Premier League. Thomas Rooney thinks a couple of Swans should be given a chance in the England squad and if the widely predicted changes happen after Euro 2012, Thomas has a point!

While The F.A were busy announcing an upcoming friendly fixtures against Holland, it was Swansea that were evoking memories of the Dutch pass masters of years gone by as they sauntered past Arsenal while Fabio Capello watched on from the rocking Liberty Stadium stands.

Those studying mobile free bets note how Brendan Rodgers’ side have become the feel-good story of the season, and the fairy-tale ending, or at least the pinnacle of their achievements this season, likely came as Danny Graham slotted home the winner against Arsenal recently. Although Capello may have come to cast his eye over Theo Walcott, who despite getting on the scoresheet continues to be an enigma when it comes to producing consistently decent performances.

Although Walcott may have been in Capello’s thoughts before the game it was the Welsh outfit’s band of Englishmen that would have occupied his drive home to the capital after the game.

Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham have all proved themselves wonderfully capable of adapting to life in the Premier League, and soon they will be joined by another precocious talent, Chelsea’s Josh McEachran who completed his loan move from the capital earlier this week.

Graham in particular has thrust himself into the limelight ever since his move from Watford over the summer with his clinical and powerful finishing.

Dyer and Sinclair have long been talents that have been marked for bright futures – few would have envisaged however that they would find a home and room to flourish with a newly promoted side given little chance of survival by the experts. These three fit seamlessly into a side that contains no less than seven men who would be available to Capello, and it is their style of play along with their results that have won them praise this season.

Occupying a large point of the Italian’s mind ever since the draw took place, is of course Euro 2012, and he will already have in his mind an almost fully formed picture of the squad he will take with him into battle once more.

It is unlikely any player wearing the white of Swansea will make it into his final squad. It is their effervescence as a unit that appeals most about Swansea, their philosophy under Rodgers that brings them together and allows them to out-pass the finest English passing side of the last twenty years, Arsenal.

But while they may miss out on Capello’s final squad, perhaps due to the lateness of their charge or even the fact they come from a distinctly unfashionable club, there are few who would begrudge Swansea their success. Keep your eye open for a few of them in Rio in 2014, at least a few of them will be there, at the World Cup.

Who Will Be England’s Player Of The Year?

by on December 22, 2011
in Previews, Reviews

Thomas Rooney takes us through some of the candidates – and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect.

The FA have begun their annual search to find out who England fans rate as their player of the year for 2011. With the disappointment of 2010 well behind us, 2011 has certainly been a much brighter year for the national team, with renewed optimism about their hopes for Euro 2012.

Indeed, 2011 has been an unbeaten year for England – a year when they played the likes of Spain, among other tricky opponents, it has been the year that they scored their 2000th goal, and above all, it was the year that they qualified for the European Championships. But who has been the star player among all that?

Surprisingly, the top scorer is not Rooney, Bent or indeed any striker, but rather Ashley Young, a midfielder. For him it has been a memorable year, for both club and country. Aside from getting his big move to Manchester United in the summer, he has notched four times for the national team, and has become one of the stars of Fabio Capello’s side.

Frank Lampard is another player who has been in amongst the England goals. He has three for the year – two of which were from the penalty spot – but has played an important role for the national team. There is no writing him off just yet.

Joe Hart has now established himself as England’s first choice goalkeeper, and has put in a number of impressive displays, including keeping a clean sheet against World Champions, Spain. He will certainly consider himself a contender.

Another player to consider would be Phil Jones. The youngster has made his international breakthrough, and looks likely to be one of the stars of the future for his country. In the games he has played, he has shown great composure for a man of his experience, and is certainly showing all the signs of potential that England fans like to see.

In total, however, there are 32 candidates running for the award, and it would be impossible to make a case for all of them. For me however, the honour surely has to go to Young. Not only has he outscored all the strikers, but has been an essential cog in the works of the England midfield.

He is a player who is confident of his own abilities, and absolutely appears to have it all. He can shoot, he can pass, he can beat a man. He can play down the right, down the left, or in behind the strikers. Add to that a fantastic work rate, and you have a top player.

So take your time, play poker games and make your decision on England’s player of the year!

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Euro 2012 Draw

by on December 2, 2011
in Euro 2012

We’re in Group D with Ukraine, France and Sweden.

Games:

Monday June 12th v France (6:00pm)

Friday June 15th v Sweden (6:00pm)

Tuesday June 19th v Ukraine (8:45pm)

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Gary Speed 1969-2011

by on November 28, 2011
in Obituaries

If you’re reading this, you’ll be familiar with the story that broke yesterday morning.

This is one of those posts I’d have preferred not have written: it’s an unfathomable tragedy that any 42 year old family man should apparently chose to end his life in such a devastating manner. I didn’t know Gary Speed, but I knew about him: he was one of the best Welsh players of his generation and looked as if he was about to oversee a long overdue revival of the fortunes of the Welsh national team.

The strange thing about Speed’s death is that it comes within two weeks of German referee Babak Rafati attempting to commit suicide before the game between Mainz and Koln in the Bundesliga; last weekend Belgian linesman Chris Schelstraete apparently tried to emulate Herr Rafati. It’s also just over two years since I wrote about German goalkeeper Robert Enke: this article – written by the Daily Telegraph’s Sarah Crompton at the end of September is almost uncannily prescient about what happened this weekend and deserves to be read by a wider audience.

No doubt in the weeks and months to come we may find out more about the inner turmoil that Gary Speed went through on Saturday evening: but at the moment it’s a sad ending to a life that was far too short. Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends: he will be missed.

Gorwedd Mewn Hedd, Gary Speed.

Results Show England Can Become European Champions – Even Without Rooney!

by on November 14, 2011
in Friendlies

Well, I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t expecting England to beat Spain – earlier on today my brother in law sent me a text saying ‘Xabi Alonso 132 passes, Scott Parker 37 passes’ which made me laugh but before I replied with ‘Frank Lampard 1, Spain 0’ I decided to be a bit more magnanimous.

The Spanish press seemed to think we’d turned into the Italians (if that’s the case, it’s taken Fab nearly four years to complete his mission) which considering the Italian record over the last four decades isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Although the win came in a friendly, it’s the first time that we’ve beaten Spain at Wembley for years and is definitely a morale booster even though it’s hard to assess what victory might mean in the long term.

One of the more positive things that has been overlooked in the aftermath of the win over the reigning world champions is that we seem to have worked out how to keep clean sheets again – both Spain and Gary Speed’s resurgent Wales side failed to score at Wembley (thanks to Rob Earnshaw there) – and it’ll be a positive note to end the year on if we can stop Sweden scoring. It’s unlikely, but I’ll come to why that might be the case in a minute.

Sweden are a different kettle of herrings to Spain: the last time we beat them in England was in May 1968 (a month after we last beat Spain at Wembley and a week before Manchester United beat Benfica in the European Cup Final) and since then we’ve drawn all four games played here. So although it’s probably fair to say that we won’t lose, a win isn’t exactly a foregone conclusion. Our all time home record against Sweden is 2-4-1 which means another stalemate is a real possibility: that outcome looks even more likely when you remember that we’ve not managed to keep three clean sheets at home for four years and tomorrow’s opponents have scored in five of their seven visits to England.

Additionally, it’s not that hard to see why we’ve had so much trouble beating them over the years – Sweden has produced some outstanding players who have had success in the UK over the last two decades, although for every Anders Limpar, Freddy Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson there’s a Thomas Brolin. Four of the current squad are playing in Britain, although only Jonas Olsson of West Brom and Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland played in Friday’s 2-0 defeat in Denmark: Olaf Mellberg and Johan Elmander will also be familiar to most fans. And then there’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic: another reason why a clean sheet might be a challenge.

Sweden’s qualification record for major tournaments is eerily similar to ours – they’ve qualified for five of the last six European Championships and three of the last five World Cups; they’ve also reached the final of the World Cup that they hosted, although they lost to Brazil. Sweden avoided the Euro 2012 playoffs having qualified for the Euros as best ‘runners up’; they also ended the Dutch record of having been unbeaten in 17 qualifiers for both the World Cup and European Championships. However, the overall the impression is that although the Swedes are formidable at home, they aren’t as impressive on the road: having won all their home qualifiers, they were thrashed 4-1 in Holland and were beaten by a last minute goal in Budapest – which also shows how much the Hungarians have improved recently.

On to the first legs of the Euro play offs and barring unprecedented and monumental disasters for Croatia and Ireland then it looks as if they’ll be joining us in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.

Croatia were a goal up within five minutes on Friday night and had beaten Turkey by half time; having suffered World Cup playoff heartache a couple of years ago, things couldn’t have gone any better for Ireland in Tallinn: two red cards for Estonia, four goals for Ireland and one foot in Poland or the Ukraine next summer. Tomas Sivok’s injury time goal for the Czech Republic looks as if it ended any chance of Montenegro qualifying for the finals and although Portugal drew in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cristiano Ronaldo and company are favourites to qualify.

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