A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?

 

 

The FA’s Captain Crisis: Should Terry be removed and if so then who should replace him?

As the John Terry race-row continues to simmer away the FA have one heck of a dilemma to resolve.

Terry has now been charged and given a court summons that means he will have to defend himself in a legal capacity, but in the mean time his professional situation hangs in the balance. The FA are still in the process of carrying out their enquiries into the alleged events at Loftus Road and they are still yet to have formally punished the England Captain.

If John Terry is found guilty in court come the beginning of February it will make his position as England Captain untenable, and it will even bring into question whether he should be playing football for club and country. To be found guilty by a court of law of having performed racially abusive actions would arguably take Terry’s career and societal standing beyond the point of return.

His current stance of committed denial and his quest to “fight tooth and nail” to prove his innocence would on the surface suggest that he has nothing to hide. However, if he is on the wrong end of the verdict both in court and from the FA then his defiance will simply add to the torrent of abuse that he will be subjected to.

With events rumbling on but still yet to have fully transpired it is unclear exactly what the outcome will be, but it seems increasingly feasible that the FA will have to look into choosing a replacement as the national side’s Captain with just 6 months to go until Euro 2012. Below I will suggest a few different options and their likelihood of landing the role if Terry is deposed.

Leading Candidates:

Steven Gerrard – The Liverpool man makes for the obvious replacement if a short term choice is seen as the responsible move looking ahead to Euro 2012, but there are huge question marks over his fitness. Having returned to action against Manchester United earlier this season after a six month absence, he managed only a couple of appearances before again succumbing to injury and it is unclear just when he will return again and whether this return will be less short-lived.

Scott Parker – Having Captained Newcastle and West Ham in the past, Parker is more than used to leading sides and fighting fires on and off field. Having almost guaranteed his place in England’s starting line-up for the Euro’s after a very successful and very overdue run in the side he seems to be a very strong contender. He would be my choice as a potential replacement.

Frank Lampard – A very willing leader on and off the field, Lampard stands out as a decent choice to take the reigns as a short term option. Whether or not he could be given the role might well be dictated by whether he can even get in England’s first XI. In recent times ‘Super Frank’ has struggled to hold down a place in the starting line up of either his club or national sides, but if he is going to be a crucial member of Capello’s side then I’m sure he would be immensely proud to be at the forefront of it’s leadership.

Long Shots:

Wayne Rooney – Anyone with as many caps as him should be taken into account, but his fiery temperament may put pay to any aspirations he might have of leading the national side. If he was to be chosen then it would have to be viewed as a long term option, as in the short term how could you choose a replacement that is unable to lead the two games most immediate in England’s competitive future?

Phil Jones – Young, passionate, committed; he might not be a bad option you know… However, it would be an enormous shock if the FA or Capello would consider a 19 year old to lead the national side into a major tournament. His long term hopes of one day being Captain look very strong though, time is definitely on his side in that respect.

Jack Wilshere – If he’s fit and he’s playing well towards the end of the Premier League season then Arsenal’s young gun could feasibly be considered. Though on the face of it he would be less shocking a selection than Phil Jones when considering their age and experience it is still unlikely that he would get the nod. The fact that he has been injured and unavailable all the way through this season certainly doesn’t help his cause in terms of being a realistic option.

Rio Ferdinand – The forgotten man of English football. At present it seems Rio would be doing well to even make the squad for the Euro’s given his recent omissions from England squads, but a a recent run of game time will have brought him back into Capello’s thoughts. If he were to be considered for a return to the Captaincy then it would of couse only be short term move as he is reaching the closing years of his career. It is  even possible that he would decline the role if offered it in the wake of Capello’s controversial handling of the United defender in the past.

Joe Hart – Is there anybody more assured of their place in England’s starting line up than Hart? The answer is ‘probably not’. He is also renowned for his strong character and his likability which could further any hopes he might have of one day landing the job. Other goalkeepers such as Oliver Kahn have led their national side’s effectively in the past so maybe Hart would be worth a shot?

 

The encouraging thing for the FA amidst the current turmoil is that if they have to retire Terry from the Captaincy that they have plenty of willing options. Not only are there many people who could be in the running, but there are also many different types of option, ranging form long to short term potential replacements and this is demonstrative of the mixture of youth and experience in the England side at present. We await the outcome of the John Terry saga with a mixture of sadness, optimism and great anticipation…

 

 

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