Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 4

England Vs. Italy:

The last of the quarter-finals at the Euros pits England against an Italian side that have been trying their utmost to gain the upper hand in the psychological battle going into Sunday night’s game with their suggestions that ‘England are the new Italy’.

Rooney Pirlo

In a game which is set to be a battle of two organised outfits, Rooney and Pirlo will carry the heavy burden of being the ‘difference makers’

These remarks and suggestions of copycat tactics on one hand send out the message that the Italians are flattered by England’s ‘aspirations’ to take on board their style of play and that to have ‘followers’ of their methods is empowering and on the other hand attempts to belittle England by suggesting that they needed to copy the Italians in order to further themselves.

There is certainly more than a hint of a dig in the messages coming out of the Italian camp about England but when it comes down to it they will know that they are up against a team who are not merely an organised unit but rather a team on the up, a team that are as settled and as happy as they have been in quite some time and ultimately a team that can carry a significant threat.

England are unlikely to have taken too much heed of the Italian’s efforts to ruffle their feathers given their recent run of results and they too will go into this quarter-final match with real hope as well as a great deal of respect for their opponents.

Respect aside though, England will realise that this Italian side isn’t the strongest that they have ever brought into a major tournament and that they have nothing to fear going into the match, plenty to take care of and much to plan for but ultimately this Italian squad don’t possess the defensive qualities or midfield tenacity of many of their previous squads for major tournaments and England should go into this match believing that they can hurt the Italians.

If you look at each individual position across the field, in all honesty it would be hard to identify many Italian players that would make it into England’s starting line-up and this in itself should motivate England to prove they aren’t the ‘new Italy’ but perhaps that they can be a better version.

To pick between Gianluigi Buffon or Joe Hart in goal would be a tough call, you would probably have to find a place in England’s line-up for Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio would have a chance of making it in but the only other player who would almost certainly make it into England’s team is Mario Balotelli who would get the nod ahead of Danny Welbeck.

So, England should go into this match confident that they can get a result and I have a feeling that they will whether it be by hook or by crook. I think that the game will end 1-1 after ninety minutes and that England will take the game either in extra time or in a penalty shoot-out and if this were to happen then England would face-off against Germany in what would be an epic semi-final clash that would stir memories of England’s shoot-out heartbreak from Euro 96 at Wembley.

Euro 2012 Group D: How will Roy’s boys fare in their testing group?

England:

The past five years have been very tough for the English national side in the wake of their failure to qualify for the Euros in 2008 and their dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup when handed a very favourable looking group draw but with a new man at the helm England will be hoping for greater success, stability and continuity.

Hodgson and Gerrard England

New manager Hodgson and new captain Steven Gerrard are hoping to lead by example

Given the disappointments of recent times, their performances and results throughout the qualification for Euro 2012 must have gone some way towards restoring some lost confidence and were deserving of a fair amount of credit. It was of course Fabio Capello who lead England throughout this process but perhaps his departure was for the best for England and for Capello himself as the English public, media and even some of the national team players never really warmed to the Italian.

In charge of England now is Roy Hodgson who has already been the target of some pretty unfair criticism just for being appointed as boss but the fact of the matter is that Hodgson is a wily old fox and will have been prepared for the glare of the media and some of the negative criticism that has come his way. Roy is a man who lives and breathes football and being a proud Englishman will realise that English fans are amongst the most passionate in the world and that sometimes this passion will spill into the realms of harshness and irrationality.

In spite of Hodgson’s critics and the slightly stand-off-ish nature of their two performances under his guidance to date, England have won both of their games since Hodgson took charge of the side and Roy will head into the Euros pleased with the fact that he has a 100% record as England manager. Probably the major concern for Hodgson heading into the tournament is the late losses of the experienced Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard and the talented Gary Cahill to injury, all of whom had a genuine chance of making Roy’s starting line-up against France next week.

One to watch… Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Since Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger opted to give ‘The Ox’ a run in their first team the winger-come-attacking-central-midfielder has developed at a frightening pace. The really impressive thing about him as a young player taking his first major steps into top level professional football is that he seems not only to be un-phased by the big occasion but that he appears inspired by such scenarios. If given the chance to impress I could see him having a similar impact to Wayne Rooney in Euro 2004.

Euros nostalgia: In 1996 England hosted the European Championships and they were denied a place in the final and quite possibly their first major tournament victory since 1966 by Germany who out-witted and out-nerved them in a penalty shoot-out. Gareth Southgate’s failed attempt to score from the spot will live painfully long in the memory for all England fans. Cue the following classic Pizza Hut advert…

Tournament prospects: Given the difficulty of their group some might argue that England would do well to make it into the last eight. If they were to progress through the group via a second placed finish then an intimidating tie against Spain could lie in wait in the quarters…

France:

The past fifteen or so years have seen the French become arguably one of the most maverick and most frustrating sides in international football game. Having won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000 France looked set for an era of dominance but since then their major tournament success has been horribly inconsistent.

Benzema and Ribery

Benzema and Ribery are both magnificent players but have both struggled with inconsistency

In 2002 France made an embarrassing first-round exit when defending the World Cup, in 2004 they lost out in the quarter-finals when defending their European crown, in 2006 they defied most people’s expectations of them in reaching the final only to lose out on penalties, in 2008 they were again left embarrassed as they failed to get out of their group and worst of all in 2010 they collapsed into a state of mutiny and were again eliminated in the group stage.

This time around though some peace seems to have been brought to proceedings in the French camp and their squad is packed full of young and precocious talents and it is in attack where they look most exciting. They are likely to opt for Karim Benzema up front with the likes of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez and Hatem Ben Arfa likely to provide the support on the flanks. Each of the aforementioned players have on occasion failed to live up to the hype that has preceded them in both domestic and international football and each of them will be keen to prove their doubters wrong.

One to watch… Frank Ribery: There are several very exciting players in the French squad going into the Euros including many players in their infancy as international footballers but my ‘one to watch’ is Ribery who is arguably their greatest example of a player who has struggled to live up to his own billing on the biggest stages in world football. At times Ribery can look like the most threatening and technically able wide-man in world football but up until now he has too often had his threat negated by teams who have put thought into how to stop him and he, his club sides and the French national side have paid the price.

Euros nostalgia: France have twice won the tournament, their first triumph was in 1984 where UEFA President Michel Platini was their captain and then their second European Championship win came in 2000 courtesy of an extra-time winner from David Trezeguet.

Tournament prospects: As ever it is almost impossible to know how this tournament will go for the French. If their inexperienced players grasp their opportunities and adapt quickly to the requirements of major international football then they could well be set for a long run this summer but if not then another embarrassment could be on the cards. I think they will at very least get through the group and progress to the knock-out stages.

Sweden:

Sweden may not appear to have quite as good a squad as England or France heading into the Euros but it does contain some very experienced players. One of these veterans is Zlatan Ibrahimovic who as well as providing leadership and inspiration will also try and provide the flair, imagination and world-class conviction needed to mount a challenge towards progression from the group stages.

Ibrahimovic Sweden

Zlatan has become well renowned for epitomising the term ‘mercurial talent’

Other players who could have a big impact for Sweden this summer include Kim Kallstrom of Lyon, Sebastien Larsson of Sunderland, Johan Elmander of Galatasaray and Ola Toivonen of PSV each of whom have impressed in some of Europe’s top domestic leagues over the past few seasons whilst having featured regularly with the national side.

It isn’t only in the experience department where Sweden are looking strong either as they have named the likes of Rasmus Elm and Emir Bajrami in their squad, both of whom have impressed in the infancy of their club and international careers.

One to watch… Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Ibrahimovic is one of football’s more interesting characters as well as being one of the most talented players on the planet. He has enjoyed great success throughout his club career but he continues to be thought of by many as being overrated. The only way for him to prove his doubters wrong is for him to perform in a huge tournament in which the whole world will see him and appreciate him and the Euros provides him with a great opportunity to do so.

Euros nostalgia: Sweden’s best performance in the Euros came when they were the host nation in 1992. They performed strongly in the group stages on home turf and went through to the last four as group winners only to be knocked out by Germany at this stage. Their fellow Scandinavians, Denmark, were the surprise winners of the competition that year.

Tournament prospects: If France and England both perform to their potential then it is hard to see Sweden progressing, particularly as co-hosts Ukraine make up the group. However, both France and England have underachieved at times over the past decade so the Swede’s certainly do have a hope of making it through and into the knock-out stages.

Ukraine:

Co-hosts Ukraine look the weakest side in group D on paper but they will be banking on home advantage to help them spring a surprise and make it through to the last eight of the competition.

 Tymoschuk

The co-hosts will rely heavily on their experienced stalwarts like Tymoschuk

The vast majority of Ukraine’s squad play their football on home soil and as a result they will go into the competition as something of an unknown quantity as most people, including myself, are fairly ill-informed about the Ukranian leagues.

Though much of their squad will be relatively unknown to many, there are a few very familiar names present including legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko, former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin and Bayern Munich’s hugely experienced holding-midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk.

One would assume that Shevchenko in particular could bow out of international football after this tournament on home soil and how he would love to sign off in style with a reminder of the old magic that once made him one of world football’s most celebrated front-men.

One to watch… Andriy Yarmolenko: The young Dynamo Kyiv prospect has already shown great versatility in his fledgling career as he has demonstrated an ability to switch seamlessly between playing as a striker and playing in midfield for both club and country. The 22 year-old already has a very impressive international record having scored eight goals in just twenty appearances.

Euros nostalgia: Since becoming an independent nation and football side Ukraine have never qualified for the European championships so the opportunity to host the tournament has provided them with a huge opportunity given that the hosts have an automatic right to qualification.

Tournament prospects: As I’ve mentioned, Ukraine definitely appear to have the weakest squad on paper but being the host nation can sometimes inspire greatness. Even some of football’s lesser sides have prospered when given such an advantage and Ukraine will hope to join the list but in reality they are more than likely to fall at the first hurdle.

A brief summary of Group D:

If England and France play to their potential then they should both progress to the knock-out stages. However, both Ukraine and Sweden possess a decent threat and the two favourites to move forwards from the group will have to be very watchful in order to avoid an upset.

England France football

England and France look like the favourites to progress from a tricky Group D

I am finding it hard to call who I think will top the group but I will go for France with England qualifying in second place. I think both Sweden and Ukraine will pick up at least a point in the group with Sweden to finish third and co-hosts Ukraine to struggle into last place.


 

Who will step into the AVB shaped hole at Chelsea?

After a tumultuous few months of charge Andre Vilas-Boas has run out of time and Roman Abramovic has once again wielded his managerial axe. Yet another league defeat has left Chelsea sitting uncomfortably in fifth place and after Arsenal’s near-miraculous ‘smash and grab’ win over Liverpool they are fast losing ground on those competing with them to secure Champions League qualification.

Now that the pressure of poor results has finally told on Andre Vilas-Boas the focus turns to who Roman Abramovic deems worthy of stepping into the breach on a permanent basis. In the wake of AVB’s tricky tenure at the club it seems likely that he will turn his attentions towards more experienced and more high profile candidates in a move to appease the sections of the Chelsea support that hold him firmly responsible for the stuttering period of time that the club has endured since Abramovic opted for Vilas-Boas’ rather wildcard appointment last summer.

Some of the names being touted by the press and the many varied betting companies include Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez, Fabio Capello, Pep Guardiola and then some far less glamorous and high profile candidates such as Brendan Rogers and David Moyes who wouldn’t exactly fit the mould of a classical Abramovic appointment but that isn’t to say they wouldn’t do a fantastic job. Below I have taken a closer look at the favourites to land the job and have analysed key factors such as their availability and their suitability to the role.

Rafael Benitez:

Benitez is arguably the strongest contender of those being most closely linked with the job. He has a great wealth of managerial experience both in England and abroad, he has a Champions League win under his belt (something of great appeal to Mr.Abramovic) and as a result of his experience and successes he would certainly come with the sort of reputation that a certain Russian oligarch tends to take a liking to.

Availability Rating: 9/10 He is currently not managing and has barely done so since parting company with Liverpool in acrimonious fashion back in 2010. Only a very brief stint at Inter Milan has served to fill part of this absence from regular management and you would imagine that an offer from a big club like Chelsea would be very hard to turn down.

Suitability: 9/10 In spite of a a shaky time at Inter, Benitez has been a very impressive and successful club manager and with his CV boasting a Champions League victory he appears to be an ideal fit. Chelsea are undoubtedly in a spot of bother at the moment, but one would imagine that Benitez is media savvy enough to handle the tough times having spent several years in front of the media’s gaze at Liverpool in what was a tricky period off the field for the club.

Mourinho and Benitez both have great track records in English football

Jose Mourinho:

As is always the case when a big English club needs a new manager, Jose Mourinho is being linked with the role. I myself can’t see it happening given his past with the club and with the owner in particular but stranger things have happened and I would stop short of completely ruling out the possibility of the ‘Special One’ making a return to his beloved Chelsea.

Availability Rating: 7/10 It is hard to see Jose leaving Real Madrid when he is on the verge of securing a first La Liga title since joining the club but he has often shown signs of major frustration in his time in the Spanish capital. If he were to leave Madrid it would surely not be until the summer but perhaps the act of breaking Barcelona’s stay of power at the top of the Spanish footballing charts would be the perfect way for him to bow out.

Suitability Rating: 6/10 There is no doubt that the Chelsea fans would love him to return to the club and there is no doubting how brilliant a job he did for the Blues but a move back to the club while Roman Abramovic is still calling the shots might just provide the impassable stumbling block. He left the club on poor terms with the powers that be and one would think his pride and tremendous ego would convince him not to re-trace his managerial footsteps under the current conditions at Chelsea.

Roberto Di Matteo:

The man charged with taking care of the club on an interim basis has a great history with Chelsea after a successful period as a player for the club and he is certainly a popular man amongst the Chelsea faithful. Having said that though it would be hard to see Abramovic backing another very young manager in the wake of AVB’s tough few months at the helm. If things go well during his stint in charge of the team though then who knows if he can force his way into the reckoning?

Having never managed a 'big club' this opportunity might have come a little too early for Di Matteo

Availability Rating: 10/10 Already at the club formerly as a player and as Vilas-Boas’ assistant and now as the caretaker boss, he would surely love the chance to take on the job on a full-time basis.

Suitability Rating: 6/10 His place in the Chelsea fan’s hearts puts him right up there and he is the man in possession in a way but it really does seem farfetched that Abramovic would consider another young and fairly inexperienced option.

Pep Guardiola:

Guardiola fits the bill but is he remotely available and could he really be tempted?

He may be young but boy has he been successful. I guess you could have said that about Andre-Vilas Boas but he hadn’t quite produced the football or the scale of success that Guardiola has since taking charge at Barcelona.

There have been plenty of murmurings about Guardiola’s future at Barca given their recent ‘struggles’ in their pursuit of Real Madrid in La Liga but he is a proud young manager and he might find it too hard to leave the club on a bad note. He has built a dynasty at Barca and perhaps Chelsea could provide the ideal platform for his second managerial project?

Availability Rating: 5/10 There is a chance he may leave Barca at the end of the season whether they bag themselves a major trophy such as the Champions League or not but I would be surprised if he actively decided to leave the club for a team who are currently a world away from the successes that he has enjoyed over the past few years.

Suitability Rating: 9/10 He has a great pedigree for a young manager and his youth and inexperience is hardly comparable to that of AVB seeing as he has already managed a super-power of world football for several seasons and that he has taken them to Champions League glory. He now comes with great form and a reputation for building a successful dynasty at a club with great building blocks in place and this makes him an ideal candidate for the job if there was any way of convincing him to give up sunny Spain for the Royal Borough of Chelsea.

Fabio Capello:

In the wake of his tough time as England manager, the prospect of managing a big English club might not be

Would the 'Iron Sergeant' fancy his chances of proving himself in English football?

entirely tempting for Capello. He was subject to some fairly intense media pressure in his time in charge of the national side and this alone might put him off setting up base in London again.

Having said that, Capello has an absolutely fantastic reputation when it comes to club management and he would come with the right sort of experience and profile for someone of Abramovic’s particular tastes. Could Fabio honestly face such swift return to the English capital?

Availability Rating: 8/10 He is unattached having recently walked out on the national side but Capello might just fancy a little period out of the game before taking on one last big challenge in his managerial career.

Suitability Rating: 7/10 He is a proven top-class club manager and he has won the Champions League with Milan just as previous Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti had done and in truth he would make for a very similar appointment. It is only his strained relationship with the English media and his reputation for being such a stern and defiant man that defies his suitability to the role.

David Moyes:

If Abramovic is looking for a down to earth manager with a great wealth of English managing experience then he should look no further. Moyes has done a terrific job in his many years at Everton and has proven the value of sticking with a manager for a long period of time something which isn’t exactly typical of an Abramovic appointment. Could Roman be ready to change his ways though?

He wouldn’t be a type-cast new manager for Chelsea but could he be the right option? I personally think that Moyes could do a very good job at any English club given his Premier League experience and the stellar job he has done on a very limited budget in his time at Goodison Park.

Moyes would be a surprise given Abramovic's penchant for glamorous appointments

Availability Rating: 7/10 He is fairly happy at Everton in spite of the limited financial support he has received in his time at the club, but he could be tempted by a big challenge like Chelsea and Everton would be fairly powerless to stand in his way given the tremendous service he has given to the club over a long period of time.

Suitability Rating: 7/10 I don’t doubt Moyes’ ability to manage Chelsea on a week-to-week basis in the Premier League but he has little to no experience of Europe’s premiere competition, the Champions League.  This may not effect his performance in the role if he were given the opportunity but such uncertainty may effect Abramovic’s judgement when it comes to deciding upon AVB’s successor. I think Moyes could be brilliant for Chelsea but I just can’t see him tickling Roman’s fancy.

‘If I were Harry Redknapp, I wouldn’t take the England job’

If I were Harry Redknapp I wouldn’t take the England job.

Harry probably is the right man, but he has such a good thing going with Spurs...

I know this is controversial and I know this easy to say from my position of being an armchair fan and not the man who has always been touted as a ‘players-manager’ who has the skills necessary to lead the national side, but, from my objective position I honestly think that Harry should stick with Spurs. He is enormously popular with the Spurs fans and the British footballing community as a whole, he has a chairman who has backed him throughout his stay of power and he has created a team capable of challenging for serious silverware without the spending power of a team like Manchester City. In Spurs he has found his ideal fit and though the lure of the national team must be enormous for a proud Anglofile and football man I think he could be on the verge of something pretty special at Tottenham.

In his time as Spurs boss Harry Redknapp has transformed the club. He took the job with the club right at the bottom-end of the Premier League and with the strong support of his chairman he has returned Tottenham to the glamorous heights of the English top-flight, a far cry from the situation he inherited.

In the years leading up to Harry’s appointment as boss, the likes of Martin Jol had flirted with Champions League qualification and the re-establishment of Tottenham as one of English football’s major forces but, ultimately, he fell short of taking the club to the crest of the wave. Redknapp though, has taken Tottenham all the way to the Champions League and not only did he take them there but he inspired a refreshing, open and attacking Spurs side to go all the way to the last eight in their first ever attempt at the competition.

If Harry were to leave for the national job then this would be his legacy. He would leave behind him some enormously fond memories and though he may not quite have taken Tottenham right the way to the top, he has undoubtedly given them an almighty push in the right direction. He would depart the club on the very best of terms and would leave his successor in the role with some outstanding tools in place to work with. Without the mentorship of Harry Redknapp would we, for example, think so highly of players such as Gareth Bale and Luka Modric? Sure, they are extraordinary talents that would struggle not to blossom anywhere and under anyone’s guidance but could anyone have handled such precocious talents with the care and enthusiasm of Mr. Redknapp? I think not.

It is this potential legacy of Redknapp at Tottenham that would make it such a shame if he were to go. He has lifted the club off it’s knees and to the verge of a second Champions League qualification and an outside shot at a title challenge. The turnaround has been enormous in his reign of power at the club, and if their success is to continue then they would be forever indebted to his services.

Sadly though for Spurs fans, the writing does appear to be on the wall. In one extraordinary day Harry Redknapp has gone from facing up to a potential prison sentence for alleged tax evasion, to being fully cleared of any charges against his name and to being the undoubted front-runner for the job that would forever consign his reputation as merely a “wheeler-dealer” to the history books. To be offered the national job when in his sixties would mean the world to Redknapp given his lifelong passion for the game and it would provide such an affirmation of his success and public appreciation that I can’t see him turning it down.

I can, however, see him approaching his expected talks with the FA with enormous caution and with a determination to carry out negotiations on his own terms. By this, I mean that I would expect him to demand great authority and freedom as well as the luxury of being able to remain in charge of Spurs at least until the end of the season.

Harry has done too much good work over the past few years at Spurs to just leave them at the drop of the hat and just a month ago things seemed as though they would come together naturally after the season and after the Euros. Fabio Capello was set to guide England through the tournament and to leave at the end of his contract and Harry Redknapp was well set up to part with his beloved Tottenham side having secured Champions League qualification and potentially having landed some silverware. An enormous amount of water has of course passed under the bridge since then and in yesterday’s dramatic twists and turns of events a greater sense of urgency has been forced upon the situation.

I think the FA will ask Harry to take the job with immediate effect on an England-only basis but if Harry wants to stay with Spurs until May before taking the post on this basis then I think he is well positioned from a bargaining point of view to do so. The FA are in desperate need of a popular English manager and Redknapp is the very epitome of this. The FA will want Harry and though I don’t think he should, I am pretty certain that he would take the job.

Terry loses the captaincy again; Have the FA made the right call?

The breaking news this morning that John  Terry has been removed from his post as England captain for a second time will no doubt be a matter of significant debate up and down the country today, but regarding England’s and the FA’s long-term well-being I think that the right decision has been made.

Of course, everybody will have their own opinion on the matter but I think his position of leadership and huge responsibility had become entirely untenable in light of recent events.

Many will argue that ‘he shouldn’t be stripped of the captaincy unless he if proven to be guilty’ but the truth is that this decision has been made with the best interests of all parties in mind. At least in the short term this decision has moved to appease those baying for Terry’s blood and it has removed Terry from the sharpest glare of the media and the public in the build-up to the Euros.

Many will view this move from the FA as a punishment for Terry but really this decision has been made for his own good. He is a world class centre-back who has been terrific on the field for his club and country but this move to strip him of the captaincy will hopefully enable him to play his best, uninhibited football if and when called upon in the lead up to European Championships.

In spite of my belief that the FA have made the right call, I am under no illusions as to how big a risk this was from them and I’m sure that they’ll be painfully aware of the significances too. Whether they like it or not, this decision has called into question their support of Terry who has after all been captain of their country for two lengthy periods. They may not be going as far as to say they doubt him, and the decision to stand him down from the captaincy may well have been made with great integrity in order to protect him but neither does it demonstrate a huge show of faith in his innocence either.

Now the question has been answered as to whether he will remain as England captain, there remain many questions still unanswered about Terry’s future and the future of England without his leadership. Will he even be a part of England’s forthcoming squads for friendly matches and the European Championships? Who will take over the captaincy for England? Will Rio Ferdinand shake his hand when they come head-to-head in the Chelsea-United game this weekend? Will Terry’s remaining presence in the squad mean that Ferdinand will retire from international football? And, will the England players be able to function as a squad while he is present and under such intense pressure?

For now of course, we will have to wait for the answer to these huge questions to unfold but here are my brief views on the highlighted issues…

I think Terry will be taken to the Euros and in terms of his ability he more than deserves his place in the squad, however, his presence will surely ruffle a few feathers and Capello is just fortunate that there are no QPR players likely to be in his plans (bar Bobby Zamora who is only a recent recruit at Loftus Road).

I  think that Rio Ferdinand will shake his hand if he plays against Chelsea this weekend as he is, generally speaking, very professional and will go ahead with the formalities regardless of what has gone before. I do however think that Ferdinand will find it hard to play alongside Terry at international level if asked, as his only public murmurings on the subject seem to suggest that he is firmly in support of his brother and it is hard to see how such support will manifest itself in a way that will see him partner up with Terry in England’s defence again.

Regarding Capello’s next choice of England captain, I hope he opts for Scott Parker even if it is just on a short-term basis given his advancing years. Parker is a real ‘leads-by-example’ sort of skipper and has led notoriously difficult clubs such as Newcastle and West Ham with great dignity. He also seems to be a dead-cert to make England’s starting line-up this summer if fit and well so that makes him a very strong candidate.

Other contenders include experienced options like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, though I would argue that both of them are far from assured of a guaranteed place in the starting line-up, which is perhaps the most important of all the criteria needed to lead the side. Other interesting candidates include Rio Ferdinand, if he can stomach playing alongside Terry (and if he even makes the squad) and Joe Hart who like Scott Parker is relatively inexperienced on the international stage but is confident, popular and possesses great quality. If Parker doesn’t fit the bill for Fabio, then I hope Hart is given a crack at leading from the back.

Whatever does happen regarding the Terry-racism-saga over the next few months, we know it will be very interesting indeed. For what it’s worth, I commend the FA for their handling of the situation so far but this story is clearly one left ‘To Be Continued..’

Super-Scott setting the standard for England’s young guns

Amidst all the hype and excitement about England’s emerging talents there was one man that has stood head and shoulders above the rest against Spain on Saturday; Scott Parker. This week was meant to be all about the absence of big name players such as John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and how their much younger and less experienced International team mates would cope when asked to fill the void. However, Saturday’s game was well and truly taken by the scruff of the neck by Scott Parker who does indeed lack International experience, but he certainly isn’t a young prospect like Phil Jones, Danny Wellbeck or Jack Rodwell who all contributed to Saturday’s morale boosting win.

It is so rare in the modern era for someone to get their first major opportunity at International level when they are in their thirties but that is sadly the case for Parker. For years now I have been a great admirer of Parker as a player and have been at a loss when trying to explain why England manager after England manager have overlooked him as a viable option to play in the holding midfield role for the national side. For me he has been one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League over the past six or seven years and minus the early career blip that he suffered upon moving to Chelsea, he has managed to impress for every club that he’s played for. His success at several clubs is demonstrated by the fact that he has been named ‘permanent’ Captain for two different sides, Newcastle and West Ham, both of which are notoriously difficult to lead. In spite of the hard challenge posed by the Captaincy role at these two famous English clubs he has shone in the role. Parker excels as a leader and it is strange to think that such understanding of responsibility hasn’t earned him greater International opportunities earlier in his career.

His successful graduation through the “old-school” English route to the height of International football makes his long-standing lack of caps all the more odd. In classic fashion Parker ‘graduated’ from the now defunct Lilleshall School of Footballing Excellence and went on to represent his country at all levels of youth football, including several caps for the Under 21 side. This now retired procession through Lilleshall and then onto the youth ranks of the national side was once your sure-fire path to a starring role in England squads from a fairly young age, but Parker having made his full international debut in 2003 had only picked up another two caps going into the start of 2011.

In the wake of England’s horrific World Cup campaign in 2010 and his magnificent start to the 2010-11 season with West Ham, Parker was wisely gifted the opportunity to become an exception to the modern era’s unwritten rules regarding international selection. It seems that nowadays if you are in your late twenties or early thirties and you have yet to establish yourself as an English international then you are almost certain to miss out on the chance of ever impressing yourself on this stage. Parker though was called in by Fabio Cappello and has since gone from strength to strength.

For all too long a period it seemed that the England selectors had deemed Parker a solid and reliable Premier League performer but nothing exceeding this. Many managers and coaches must have been guilty of this assumption so it is unfair to direct blame at any clear targets but perhaps good old Sven was the first to play the ignorance card, which if you think about it is rather strange. We all know hom much Sven loved a solid performer don’t we? Think Emile Heskey, think Nicky Butt, think a young Owen Hargreaves. These players did all the simple things well and allowed those around them to provide the spark. For me, Parker offers everything these players did in their time as International regulars, and with the exception of Hargreaves who developed into an outstanding International performer, I believe Parker offers much more.

Thankfully, Fabio was eventually drawn to the lure of Parker as an International footballer and since making him a regular starter he has been richly rewarded with a string of typically determined and resilient performances from Spurs’ summer recruit. The latest in this string of fine performances was his almost sacrificial performance against Spain at the weekend where he firmly set the standard for the rest of his team mates in an understated but ruthlessly effective performance.

It was clear in Saturday’s win that the likes of Rooney and Gerrard were missed in terms of their attacking spark and their ability to surge forward turning defence into clinical counter-attacking football, but under Capello’s apparent guidance to swamp the Spanish playmakers and prioritise defensive responsibilities Parker stood out as the figure-head of England’s defiance. If England are looking for a new Captain in the wake of John Terry’s latest flirtation with controversy, and I accept that that they probably aren’t, then they should look no further than ‘Super Scott’ whose handling of over-the-top fans expectations at Newcastle and West Ham was always respectful and dedicated.

Fabio Capello: ‘Iron Sergeant’ or ‘Corporal Calamity’

The past couple of weeks have yet again done nothing to advertise the poisoned chalice that is the England managers job. However, I can’t help but feel that poor old Fabio the ‘Iron Sergeant’ Capello has brought this one upon himself.

Lost the plot?

It has been another tumultuous little period for the England boss, accused of going behind captain Rio Ferdinand’s back in handing the captaincy back to the much maligned John Terry. Capello of course is the manager and is entitled to make such decisions but his judgement is rightfully coming under question yet again.

Think back to pretty much all major moments in his tenure and there is one beacon of hope there for all to see. Ex and now reinstated skipper John Terry was caught out for his immensely disruptive off-field antics and was relieved of his duties. This decision to highlight and make an example of poor behaviour was met with a very positive media and public backing. Well done Fabio, brave decisions require brave men to implement them.

How ironic it is that the famed ‘Iron Sergeant’ has now reversed this decision then. Football management tends to be a pretty fickle business, but this is an incident which again has been met pretty unanimously by the media and the public. Moral panic is rife regarding the manor in which Rio Ferdinand has had the Captaincy stripped from him.

Will this decision see the end of a world-class defensive partnership?

Sure Ferdinand has injured pretty much ever since taking on the role, but if he is no longer your chosen leader then at least have the respect to let him know in adult fashion. Ferdinand himself has sailed too close to the wind on occasions in his career but has come out the other side a greater player and a better role model, a captain’s captain, a player who demands respect. It must then have come as a major disappointment to realise he was no longer his nation’s leader via the press. The ultimate embarrassment for a skipper who has not put a foot wrong in his brief time in charge.

Popular opinion seems to be that Capello’s latest decision reeks of regret and that it demonstrates a weakening mind-state of an under-pressure manager. But it is undoubtedly the manner of it that has caused greatest concern. Affairs like this, even in such a media-heavy country, should be carried out behind closed doors and only publicised when every one involved knows where they stand.

Capello has yet again been provided a chance to demonstrate authority and innovation. It is OK to have concerns over the welfare of the team when captain Ferdinand was such an liability in terms of fitness. But to hand the captaincy back to Terry after just “a year of punishment” when initially it was described as an “irreversible” decision appears an example of great frailty. Capello like so many England managers before him has not showered himself in glory thus far in his stint and to make such a misguided decision in such a misguided fashion will certainly not have aided public perception of his capabilities. When there are options such as Steven Gerrard available why would you turn to a controversial figure who is bound to divide opinion?

Why has Gerrard been overlooked?

My personal choice would be Scott Parker every time, but I am fully accepting that you can’t name a player captain if they aren’t an established member of the side. Personal agendas aside though Gerrard would appear by far the most popular and sensible decision. He has a proven record as captain of his club, he is passionate and he has captained England.

Terry may possess many skills that make him a very good on-field captain. But how Capello justifies this decision to the fans and players having gone back on his word is hard to fathom. I fear the damage is done already, and the England squad have been placed under unnecessary pressure to demonstrate what could be perceived as an artificial united front. England should and probably will beat Wales this weekend, but even if they do this has certainly been a case of great distraction at an important juncture in England’s qualification campaign.

England’s youth and fringe to the forefront

This week England battled back from an early deficit to defeat a decent Denmark side in their own backyard. A great deal of resilience was demonstrated by a seemingly thread-bare England side in the wake of the rather standard international week drop-outs.

Notable absentees were captain Rio Ferdinand, vice-captain Stephen Gerrard, Adam Johnson, Jermain Defoe and 35 million pound-man Andy Carroll. It was perhaps these absences that provided the much needed spark and motivation that was evident in England’s approach to the match.

Start of something special?

It was as is often the case in international friendly matches, a chance for the youth and fringe players to impress, and that they did. Manger Fabio Capello handed Arsenal talent Jack Wilshere his full-debut and duly praised the youngster’s contributions in his post-match addresses. Though Wilshere was rather disappointingly withdrawn at half-time his replacement Scott Parker came on and impressed.

Parker has been omitted all too often given his consistency in club colours

Parker was referred to as one of the “unluckiest England players” of the current generation by ex-England international Paul Merson on Sky Sports’ punditry based coverage of the match. I for one also find it hard to believe that a player of Parker’s character and technical ability has only made four caps for his country. He is a player I admire greatly and I think he is more than deserving of a run in the side. His performance of great commitment and control against Denmark will surely have earned him further opportunities in the role of England’s midfield linchpin.

Other fringe players and young talent also impressed having been given a run-out. None more so than Ashley Young who at half time replaced the seemingly still out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney. Young filled the void in behind Villa team-mate Darren Bent with great aplomb and  real attacking verve. His marauding runs caused the opposition serious problems all half and he was fittingly rewarded by scoring the winning goal, his first in international football.

So, was this encouraging display in a friendly the dawning of yet another era of failed promise or was it in fact the start of something a little special? We all hope that the latter  is true but the jury is certainly still out in force.

One thing certainly transpiring from the game is that England do indeed have strength-in-depth, England’s so-called ‘dead-certs’ in the line-up should no longer be considered to be so. We have young and hungry players coming through the production line in addition to more experienced and match-ready options like Scott Parker and Darren Bent, and it seems they are ready to take the step-up whenever called upon.

In summary, it was a good match, a strong performance and their was certainly some indication of a new and more committed era in English football. Let’s all cross our fingers now in unison.

My England XI: (4-2-3-1)

Joe Hart

Glen Johnson

Rio Ferdinand

John Terry

Ashley Cole

Parker

Gerrard

Walcott

Wilshere

Johnson

Rooney

Squad:

Foster, Robinson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines, Bentley, Lampard, Milner, Young, Carroll, Defoe, Bent