James Lawton: The King question: To pick England's best 11 individuals - or the best team?

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Charlton said: "Alf, I often wonder why at the age of 31 I've been picked to play alongside great players like Bobby Moore and my brother Bobby?" Ramsey, stone-faced, said: "Jack, you must understand, my job is not to always pick the best players. It is to pick the best team." Another of Ramsey's World Cup winners, George Cohen, was reminded vividly of that exchange this week by the form of unheralded Ledley King in England's 2-1 victory over Poland.

If this wasn't quite the downpayment on the trophy on offer in Germany next summer that Eriksson seemed to believe, it was an extremely welcome sign of life and purpose in a squad that are heralded - at least in England - as potential world champions. Cohen said: "Jack was probably looking for a pat on the back rather than a slap in the face, but in that sentence Alf went right to the point about what he was trying to achieve ... a real unit, rather than a mixture of ill-assorted stars.

"That, surely, was the best thing about England this week. King hasn't had much experience at international level, but he looked at home because there was a real point to his work. Frank Lampard had one of his better, if not his best, games for England and a big reason for this was King fitted so well into midfield. On quite a number of occasions it was clear that King was actually reading Lampard's game, seeing his runs, picking up on his intentions. I thought, blimey, this is something I haven't really seen before in an Eriksson side, certainly not between Lampard and Gerrard. This is how a team develops.

"Of course, this doesn't obscure the fact that England's greatest chance of success in Germany lies with Wayne Rooney. Not so long ago I thought the kid, for all his talent, was shaping up as a disgrace to the game, that if Eriksson and Alex Ferguson didn't get hold of him in a big way he was going to lose it all.

"However, he was stunning last night, as he was at Fulham the other day. An old pro couldn't have been more impressed. He did something at Fulham that I'm still dazzled by. He finished up winning the ball in the left-back position before sending a 45-yard, driven chip right to the feet of Van Nistelrooy.

"Given that quality in the team and a more effective midfield, and with the kind of width and pace and crossing provided by Shaun Wright-Phillips, yes, you could see England making a bit of splash in Germany. But I have to be honest ... you have to wonder if Eriksson will act on what we saw last night.

"When Beckham and Gerrard are available again, will we be back where we started? If we are, I don't fancy our chances at all - even with Rooney firing on all cylinders. Eriksson is so worrying because he does things like replacing Wright-Phillips with Peter Crouch ... that's swapping someone who supplies centres with a guy who is supposed to head them."

The chemistry of Wednesday's night performance was new and encouraging but it didn't obliterate the fact that old habits crept back in the second half before Lampard struck the late winner and that, as Cohen said: "Poland are obviously very much a second-tier team, they had two or three extremely bad players and no one in their right minds would dream of talking about them as World Cup-winning candidates. So we have to keep our feet on the ground. The trick for us is to maximise talents like Rooney and Wright-Phillips and give them a proper framework in which to play.

"It may be that if Eriksson cannot sort Gerrard and Lampard out, if he cannot get them to effectively inter-change in the course of the game - and we've seen absolutely no evidence of it so far - a wild card like King might well prove the missing link."

Dinosaur reflections? Only if you believe that winning football is no longer about the effective blending of radically different types of players. Some argued that Nobby Stiles, the grit rather than the pearl in the oyster of Manchester United, was out of place among the boys of '66. They would have preferred, say, a George Eastham, but then Ramsey already had Bobby Charlton, a player beyond duplication, and, once he believed his wingers weren't good enough, the power running and intuition of Alan Ball and the ghostly interventions of Martin Peters.

Stiles, as, who knows, Ledley King might emerge to be, was the winner of the ball, the superlative marker - Cohen thought the FA should have made an instructional film of his mastery of the great Eusebio in the World Cup semi-final - and whenever he won the ball his first instinct was to pass to Bobby Charlton. By making the cornerstone decision to play Stiles before more elegant contenders, and fighting ferociously to keep him under pressure from his FA bosses, Ramsey made one statement.

Even more dramatically, he made another one when he retained the workhorse capacity of Roger Hunt as the nation waited for Jimmy Greaves, a legend of stealth and killing marksmanship, to return for the World Cup final.

Will Eriksson show similar pragmatism when David Beckham and Steven Gerrard report for duty against Argentina in the friendly in Geneva?

Here would be an occasion, perhaps, to make a statement to the world, rather as Ramsey did when his World Cup prototype was unveiled in Madrid against a powerful Spanish team - and produced a crushing victory.

All he needs to do is to tell Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ledley King, as Ramsey told Jack Charlton, that they may be not be the best players but they might just be part of the best team. It is not as if it would be radical departure, or that it in the past it didn't produce quite a nifty result.

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