The winners and losers of Pearce’s week at the helm

In a week where England Under 21’s boss Stuart Pearce was asked to fill the Fabio Capello sized hole as the full international side’s caretaker boss, England have been defeated by one of the stand-out favourite’s to win the European Championships.

It has been a big week for Pearce and several England hopefuls

No surprises to be had then really… England were fairly soundly beaten by a top-class, experienced and much fancied side when their own team are in a period of managerial transition and were also hampered by several key absences.

In truth, this friendly match was less about seeing how a settled England side could compete with top-class opposition but more a chance for some less experienced players to continue their education as international footballers and for the squad to try dealing with adversity.

Due to the nature and circumstances of last night’s game I have decided not to look too in-depth at the performance as a whole but rather pick out a few significant events and performances in Pearce’s week of stepping into the breach. My picks for the winners and losers of ‘Psycho’ ‘s week of charge are as follows…

The Winners:

Stuart Pearce:

He may not have got the result he was hoping for on his first outing as Manager of the full international side but his team did show some spirit and resolve and ultimately won’t be too disappointed with the outcome.

It was win-win really for Pearce as he has stated that he doesn’t think he is ready for the job full-time, but he will have learnt from the experience and it will certainly have helped any long-term ambitions he may harbour of eventually taking the role on a permanent basis.

Scott Parker:

His international stock continues to rise and after last night’s characteristically brave and battling performance he will not only have secured his place in England’s starting line-up for the Euro’s but he has also made himself favourite to lead the team out in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

John Terry:

He may be injured and his public and footballing image may be left tarnished by recent events but last night England’s defence looked bereft of the grit and experience which Terry possesses by the barrel-load. England’s defensive backbone needs a John Terry-esque figure and there seems to be little in the way of alternative options.

Rio Ferdinand:

He may have spent a fair period in the international wilderness now but, like John Terry, it is hard to deny the experience and quality that he possesses and that could yet earn him a call-up to the Euro’s squad if he is fit for duty.

It is yet to be seen whether he would be happy to part of a squad including his long-term central defensive parter John Terry though, given the offence taken by Ferdinand to Terry’s alleged racial abuse of his brother. For me, the England squad will be stronger if they can put aside their differences and regain the necessary fitness and form to earn their call-ups as I think they are probably still our best central defensive partnership.

Micah Richards:

He was overlooked consistently throughout Capello’s reign but he returned to the side last night and looked every bit an international footballer. He does look a little indisciplined in defence at times but his strength and determination in the challenge and when breaking forward provides something different for England at the back. He would definitely make my England squad for the Euro’s.

Daniel Sturridge:

Came off the bench early on for the injured Steven Gerrard and played a part in most of England’s good attacking play. He may have even done enough to jump Danny Wellbeck in the race to start up top for England in the absence of Rooney for the first two games at the Euro’s and Darren Bent’s potential absence for the whole tournament with injury.

Ashley Young:

Four goals in his last five international appearances now for Young and he is beginning to look comfortable at this level. He may have been fairly quiet throughout last night but his goal was sweetly taken and his set-piece was a constant threat. He now seems the most likely of England’s wingers to make the starting line-up come June.

Holland (obviously):

Winners in a literal sense on the night but also in terms of the threat and killer instinct which they seem to possess going into a big summer of international football. Not many teams in world football could come back from throwing away a two-nil lead in the last five minutes of normal time away from home  and against strong opposition to producing a winning goal in additional time. They demonstrated great self-belief in coming back to win the game late on after enduring a few late minutes of defensive indecision themselves and they impressed with their play throughout the ninety-odd minutes at Wembley last night. It was the sort of performance and result which serves to underline their reputation as one of Spain’s strongest challengers this summer.

The Losers:

Manchester United and Chris Smalling:

With Chris Smalling picking up a pretty gruesome head injury, Manchester United’s never-ending defensive injury crisis seems set to continue.

Aside from Patrice Evra and David De Gea, pretty much every member of United’s defensive unit have spent considerable stints on the sidelines this season, Smalling included, and now he is set for another spell out of the game. Incidents like this do warrant sympathy for the players themselves and for their club managers and I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson will be bemoaning his luck with a huge game against Spurs lying in wait at the weekend. Hopefully for his and United’s benefit, the injury picked up by Smalling will not be as bad as it looked and he will make a speedy return to action.

Steven Gerrard:

Most people were expecting a swift return to the England captaincy for ‘Stevie G’ but it wasn’t to be as Scott Parker was picked for the job.

Not only will Gerrard be disappointed by this but he will also be irked by his short stay on the field after being named in England’s starting line-up. His stay of action lasted barely 20 minutes and was hardly what he was hoping for having barely played any international football over the past year due to injury.

It seems likely that Gerrard will be picked if fit and available but the brevity of his contributions last night certainly won’t work in his favour when it comes to squad and first XI selection at the Euro’s.


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.

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