In his first article for BackPageFootball, Jamie Smith discusses England’s full back options as they go into their friendly against Brazil without Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole.
You would think that having led England to their simplest qualification for a major tournament in decades that Fabio Capello would be having a nice sit down and a cup of tea as he mulls over his World Cup squad for South Africa next year.
But instead this week England travel to Doha to face Brazil in a friendly match designed to test out some of the players on the fringes of the squad.
And injuries to both of Capello’s first choice full-backs highlights an alarming lack of cover across the back line. Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson miss the Brazil game and in their absence, Aston Villa’s Luke Young turned down the chance to stake his claim for a seat on the plane.
That leaves Capello in something of a quandary. Two or three years ago it seemed certain that Micah Richards would be a full England regular by now, but he has gone backwards over the last year or so and is now struggling to get into the Manchester City team. Richards’ City team-mate Nedum Onouha has found his path blocked by big-money signings and he hasn’t made the expected progress either.
Gary Neville, the safe pair of hands that has been entrusted with the right-back berth for much of the last decade, is yet to prove his fitness this season and was sent off in a rare appearance in the Carling Cup just a couple of weeks ago. And fellow United defender Wes Brown has fallen behind John O’Shea in the pecking order at Old Trafford.
Cole’s long-term understudy Wayne Bridge is going through the worst form of his career, even drawing the pity of Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen after a terrible display in City’s 3-3 draw with Burnley at Eastlands. Bridge was at least partly responsible for all three goals conceded.
Capello has called up debutant Stephen Warnock, a dogged, attacking player currently impressing in Aston Villa’s good early-season form, but Warnock would have to have a great game against the Brazilians to give himself a chance of going to South Africa.
It seems more likely that England will take versatile cover players rather than a specialist for each position. If Owen Hargreaves can make a return to fitness he would be a great option as cover for Johnson as well as competition for Gareth Barry, while Barry himself has been known to fill in at left-back when necessary. James Milner, who is still just 23 despite being around for what seems like forever, is also being mentioned as a player that could do a job in either full-back slot if required.
The defenders that Capello takes as cover for Terry, Cole, Johnson and Rio Ferdinand will probably all be able to play in at least two positions. Phil Jagielka’s untimely knee injury seemed to rule him out of nailing down a spot, but if he can come back to fitness post-Christmas and find a good run of form for Everton it would be hard for the Italian to leave him behind. Jagielka’s former team mate Joleon Lescott, yet another out-of-form City defender, could also be asked to be left-back cover.
Despite starting regularly in Ferdinand’s continued absence of late, Matthew Upson could have to leave West Ham to give himself the best possible chance of making the squad. But he must choose his destination very carefully. It would be a disaster for him to not be playing regularly.
As for a total wildcard pick – Burnley fans have been raving about Tyrone Mears, the former Derby defender who has won penalties from right-back in each of Burnley’s last two games. Mears would be a like for like replacement for Johnson and is available to play for England as his sole cap for Jamaica – for whom he does not actually qualify – wasn’t in a competitive match.
Life would be a lot easier for Capello had Jamie Carragher not thrown his toys out of the pram at not getting to start for his country on a regular basis and made himself unavailable for international selection. As a direct replacement for John Terry, there is nobody more able than Carragher and the proud Scouser would also be useful back-up across the back line. However, Capello is a stubborn man – demonstrated by his unwillingness to recall Michael Owen – and he is unlikely to approach the Liverpool man. Carragher would have to swallow his pride and ask to be reconsidered, which seems unlikely.
Of all the questions in Capello’s mind – whether he can select Heskey if he isn’t playing for Villa, who to start in goal, whether to recall Joe Cole immediately to the team – the full-back problem might not be at the forefront. But it is definitely something the England boss needs to pay close attention to.