With less than two weeks until Roy Hodgson names his squad and only seven until the opening of the 2014 World Cup, speculation as to who is going to Rio is rife among the British media. Actually, it’s been a hot topic of discussion since January but now you’ll find it being discussed in every newspaper, sports radio programme and sports news bulletin across the country. Everyone has their opinion as to who should go and, of course, I have mine. However, I will try to restrain from saying who I think should go and suggest who I think should be considered until the very end, where I will offer my suggestion for the 23.
Starting off with goalkeepers, it looks certain that Joe Hart will be the first choice for the national squad. Despite a very well documented wobbly period at the back end of 2013, his status as England’s number 1 hasn’t really been in doubt since replacing Rob Green after the 2010 World Cup. His reaction to being dropped by Manuel Pellegrini also showed his maturity, something that he will need at his first World Cup proper.
Green has been playing regularly for QPR this season, but since ‘that howler’ against the USA four years ago he has never forced his way back into the team and doesn’t look like doing so now. The main candidates to be Hart’s understudy include West Brom’s Ben Foster, who only recently made himself available to play for his country again, Fraser Forster (Celtic), John Ruddy (Norwich) and Great Britain’s Olympic ‘keeper Jack Butland. None of them look serious contenders to challenge Hart for the jersey and, with just 9 caps between them, their lack of experience on the biggest stage is a potential worry should anything happen to the City shot-stopper.
The back four selects itself, barring injury, as Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines (both Everton) and Gary Cahill (Chelsea) have all had superb seasons for club and country. It looks as though Kyle Walker will be Johnson’s back-up for the tournament and, although he hasn’t set the world alight for Spurs this season, he certainly has a similar attacking intent to the Liverpool man and will be a like-for-like replacement.
The fight to be Baines’ understudy has been the cause of much talk in recent months. At the end of last season Ashley Cole was the first choice left-back for both Chelsea and country but a lack of game time under Mourinho and the scintillating form of Baines has meant even his place on the plane is under threat. On the other hand, Luke Shaw has enjoyed a magnificent season at Southampton and looks certain to become a household name for years to come. However, his tender age (he’s not 19 until the tournament is over) and lack of international experience could mean that Cole is preferred over him. It will be fascinating to see whether Hodgson goes for youthfulness or experience.
The most worrying position for England is centre back as, should either Cahill and Jagielka get injured, the reserve choices aren’t convincing. Manchester United’s Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are the most likely candidates to travel to Rio but neither have particularly impressed for either club or country. Other leading potential candidates include Cardiff’s Steven Caulker, who has enjoyed a good season with the struggling Cardiff; Tottenham’s Michael Dawson; Everton’s John Stones, who has deputised for the injured Jagielka wonderfully in recent weeks, and Joleon Lescott, who has barely featured for Manchester City over the last couple of years. A couple of less discussed names are Ryan Shawcross and Joel Ward of Stoke and Crystal Palace respectively. Shawcross’ resoluteness has been key to his club’s run to the top 10 this season whilst Ward has been arguably the Eagles’ best player during Tony Pulis’ remarkable few months in charge.
Captain Steven Gerrard has enjoyed a strong season as a more defensive midfielder than in previous years and Hodgson must be crossing anything in the hope that he stays fit. If Roy is looking to have two holding midfielders then it looks as though his team-mate Jordan Henderson is leading the way to join the skipper. Much criticised by fans throughout the country in the past, the former Sunderland player has turned it around this season and, in partnership with Gerrard, has provided countless platforms for Liverpool’s attacking players. Everton’s Gareth Barry has an outside shot after a fantastic season at Everton, whilst Michael Carrick and Scott Parker have vast international experience but have done little to push forward their claims recently.
One thing England do have in abundance is attacking midfielders, many of whom are fast and youthful. Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley have been Hodgson’s favourites in qualification but both have had poor seasons by their standards and their places in the squad are under huge threat. If Roy is picking on form then he has to be looking at Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling – whilst the former isn’t as quick, his skill on the ball is exceptional and he is an extremely talented footballer. Sterling, on the other hand, is a bundle of energy and between them they have scored or provided 33 Premier League goals this season. Other options here include Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whilst James Milner and Frank Lampard have vast experience should Hodgson choose to go down that route.
Finally, England’s ever-present lack of strikers seems to have disappeared. Indeed, there are more than four potential candidates to choose from and the decision could have been even harder if Theo Walcott and Jay Rodriguez hadn’t succumbed to nasty injuries. Wayne Rooney, of course, has to be on his way and Daniel Sturridge will almost certainly join him after flourishing at Liverpool in the last year and a half. Rickie Lambert has had another solid season for Southampton and has impressed in all of his games for his country so far. The final spot seems to be between Danny Welbeck, Jermaine Defoe and Andy Carroll. The Manchester United starlet has performed well for England but his club form has been poor, although he is often played out of position. Defoe’s move to Toronto looked to have reignited his career but an injury that has kept him out for the last month could leave him short of match fitness, whilst Carroll has only shown flashes of brilliance for West Ham since returning from injury in January but he could be a big impact player off the subs bench.
So, here is my selection:
Goalkeepers – Hart; Foster; Butland
Despite his self-imposed exodus from the side, I would select Foster as Hart’s reserve as he is a quality ‘keeper and has more experience than the others. Although Ruddy has been in most of the recent squads, I would select Butland to give him some exposure at a big competition as he has the potential to replace Joe Hart in years to come.
Defenders – Johnson; Walker; Baines; Cole; Cahill; Jagielka; Jones; Smalling; Ward
I prefer Cole over Shaw purely on the fact he has the experience and, despite his limited game time this season, has been solid for Chelsea when asked. Ward deserves his place as he has been consistently good all season, whilst Jones and Smalling make it due to their versatility and experience of big games.
Midfielders – Gerrard (C); Lallana; Henderson; Milner; Sterling; Lampard; Oxlade-Chamberlain
I would go for a combination of youth and experience in midfield. Although Barkley and Wilshere could easily be in the squad, I have chosen this midfield largely based on their performances in 2013/14.
Forwards – Rooney, Sturridge, Lambert, Defoe
If he is fit, I believe Defoe should be the fourth striker on the tour because he is different from the other three – he is very quick and looks to get behind and run at defenders.