Euro 2012 promises to be a real cracker of a tournament, with 15 of the top 16 teams in Europe playing. Hosts Poland make the 16th team, and are in what is widely regarded as the so-called easy group, with the Czech Republic, Russia and Greece. The Group of Death has the Dutch, the Germans and Portugal and Spain won’t have it easy up against the resilient Irish and the disciplined Italians. But the group I find most pertinent and fascinating is the one featuring England, France, Ukraine and Sweden. Why? I like England. I’m a Dutch fan, but I’m also a huge admirer of the Barclays Premier League and thus, I can’t help but want to see England do well, and watch my favourite BPL players playing together as a team and winning trophies. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened for a while in major tournaments. In my opinion, the team has players who, as individuals, are good enough to shine in any top international tournament anywhere. They play for some of the world’s best club football sides. The Champions League, too, has, in my opinion, been dominated to a fair degree by English clubs in the last decade. Why is it then that it doesn’t come together for the national team?
That is not a question I will attempt to answer in this article as then it will become as negative as many of the others written following the World Cup debacle. The point of this article is to try and take a previously untried positive approach and see why England can, in fact be top contenders and live up to the hugely hyped and some would say even unrealistic expectations laid upon them. England can win the Euros. That’s what many papers said, after England beat Spain earlier this year in a friendly. Skeptics will be, well, skeptical, but the truth is this is actually possible. England CAN win the Euros. They just need to find the right team. This, however, is easier said than done for many reasons. It requires brave management, it requires superb tactical knowledge and understanding, and it requires all players to play freely and not let expectations get the better of them. To an extent, England have begun to do that. The decision to “rest” John Terry worked out rather well for Joleon Lescott and the decision to “rest” Gareth Barry worked out rather well for everyone. Scott Parker has become very quickly an indispensable (well, almost) cog in the England machinery. The team seems to be working superbly with his influence in winning the ball back and doing the rashly termed “dirty work”so that creative players like Young, Walcott, Rooney and Lampard can do what they do best. Cudos to Capello for that one. Parker in, Barry out. For a long time, hopefully.
Wilshere is injured, but he should be back in January. England need him back. If England are going to win the Euros, they need to play an in-form Jack Wilshere. Even more so now that Wayne Rooney is banned for the first two games of the group stage. Wilshere is fast, he’s intelligent, and his vision and creativity are right up there with the best in the world if you ask me. And he’s only nineteen, lest we forget. He should play in a 3 man central midfield with Scott Parker and either Gerrard or Lampard. Either is key. England’s big problem has always been trying to get both of them into the same team and this works out rather badly for one of them, who inevitably is out of position. Play one of them. In my opinion, if both are fit and at their best, play Gerrard. He compliments Wilshere well. The best part about this 3 man midfield is that all 3 are decent passers of the ball. England need to keep the ball, only way they’ll get far in any tournament is by keeping the ball for a decent spell of time. I’m not saying they need to play like Spain, but be responsible in possession. Don’t give it away cheaply.
Pick players on form, not on reputation. This is another drawback England can rather easily put behind them if they choose to. “If Wayne Rooney wasn’t fit physically, why did he play in the World Cup?” is an easy question almost everyone asked after South Africa 2010. The real question should be “Why was Heskey playing at all?” The answer to both is simple. Capello chose them because they had caps, because they had the so-called valuable experience and big reputation (well, in Rooney’s case anyway) that you need for major tournaments. Do you, really? As far as Heskey goes, it was believed that he was chosen because Wayne Rooney likes playing along-side him. Wayne Rooney doesn’t make the call. He shouldn’t make the call. The manager needs to say, “Look, I’m sorry if you like playing along-side him. I’m playing Defoe. He’s better.” He eventually did that, and England got through the group stage somehow. Isn’t that a decision that needs to be made before the tournament? Prior to a major tournament, the best teams have their starting 11 in mind already and only make changes if a player gets injured. Names should roll off Capello’s tongue when he thinks about an eleven for England, and he should feel confident about them. If a John Terry is not in form or isn’t feeling good, leave him out. That’s brave management. Play Joleon Lescott if you think he’s up to it. Leave out Lampard and even Rooney if you think they’re not fitting in your team. Have the guts to make these brave calls, if you need to. Pick players on form. Form wins tournaments. Brave management wins tournaments.
Daniel Sturridge is another lad whose made life quite difficult for Capello and company because, the way he’s playing at the moment, he can’t be left out of the team. That means either Young or Walcott misses out in that front three. So be it. If a player’s in form and he works well in the team, he plays. That’s how you pick a team. Now the obvious argument to this is, why don’t David Silva or Roberto Soldado get into the Spanish team? They’re in great form aren’t they? They are, but obviously Spain feel they don’t work in the team. Or that there are better players in the positions those guys play in. Fair play, Spain are World Champions. And you can’t really say that anyone in the Spanish starting 11 currently is out of form. Different case with England. They’re still not clear on a starting 11 and the best way to pick a starting 11 is to, well, putting it simply, pick the best 11 players. If they work as a team, great. Job well done. If they’re not working, then you need to build a team around the guys who are working.
And on that point, a fair amount has been working and working well for England of late. The back four is going to be hard to pick, which is a testament to the number of good English defenders in the world at the moment. Micah Richards can’t get into the team because of Glen Johnson’s consistency. Ashley Cole is superb at left back, arguably he’s the best in the world. So Leighton Baines can’t play. Terry and Ferdinand? Question marks here. Big question marks. They are both a little slow and they both haven’t had great seasons up to this point. Picking on form, I’d say go with Phil Jones and Joleon Lescott, but then you also need experience to win major tournaments. Capello has a tough call to make here. Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill have dropped out of favour now, or should drop out of favour, given their poor form for their clubs. Phil Jones let’s not forget can also be deployed in mid-field. So lots of options for Capello. In many ways the number of options can also sometimes be his un-doing. Whatever side he ultimately picks, he needs to have the confidence that it’s going to do the job and needs to make sure that the players he picks are in the right frame of mind mentally to get the job done. I say this, because, if England play their best, even if they play with half the team chemistry of Spain, they can beat Spain. And they did earlier this year, albeit in a friendly.
Same situation with the front 3. It’s become more difficult now, of course, with Rooney missing for 2 games. The decision on the front 3 should however not be made now. It should be made closer to the actual tournament when they have a better idea of who’s in good form. At the same time, he should have 5 or 6 in mind who he should start training together so that they don’t look all at sea on the pitch. This was what seemed to be lacking the most at the World Cup. An understanding between the England players. With each other. At this moment in time, I would pick Rooney, Walcott and Sturridge. In Rooney’s absence, Sturridge, Welbeck and Walcott. Or maybe Agbonlahor or Adam Johnson out wide. Nice balance, good skill and mobility. But that’s at this moment. Closer to the tournament different players may come good, we’ll have to wait and see.
All in all, England have a great chance of causing a major upset to the so-called top contenders and actually staking a claim for the Euro 2012 crown. They just need to get the team right. Here’s to hoping that all English media play their part and play-down expectations before the tournament, so that the players stay focused but relaxed. That’s not really happening, is it? Oh well, you work with what you’ve got. And England have got (hopefully if they pick right) a ridiculously talented squad of players.