Jason Burt: Chelsea's five reflect changing complexion of England make-up

Click to follow
The Independent Football

When England took the field against Denmark last Sunday it was two days after the anniversary of setting the record for the highest number of players from one club to wear the Three Lions in the same match. That club was Arsenal, who provided seven members of the team who defeated the reigning World Cup holders Italy in a friendly at, appropriately enough, Highbury on 14 November 1934.

So although history was not made by the five Chelsea players on view for the second half at Old Trafford (Manchester United themselves have recently provided seven, with Liverpool having six in the 1970s), something pretty significant happened. The power shift in English football - towards the Stamford Bridge club - had gathered another dimension.

The presence of the quintet - Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Wayne Bridge, Glen Johnson and John Terry - also confirmed that, for all his eccentricities and linguistic ambiguities, the Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri has always made one thing clear. At a club coached by an Italian, bankrolled by a Russian and who were the first in the Premiership to field a team with no English player (under Gianluca Vialli) there is a desire to buy locally. Indeed when Ranieri signed Cole for £6.6m he restated his beliefs: "When I arrived, I said I'd like a blend of young English players and experienced players. Slowly, slowly, that is possible."

Or perhaps not so slowly. Among the £111m committed this summer since the Roman Abramovich takeover, £19.6m went on English talent to add to the £11m Ranieri had already spent on Lampard two years ago. Include Carlton Cole, currently on loan at Charlton Athletic, in the mix and it is entirely possible that Chelsea will provide more than half the England team for years to come - and that is without Abramovich opening his chequebook again. Furthermore, of the five who played in Manchester the average age is just 22 - with Lampard the oldest at 25 - and already they have 50 caps between them. Amazingly, and a measure of the pace of change, the five have started only one game together for Chelsea. That was against Birmingham City last month.

It is an astonishing statistic although it has mainly to do with the spare use of Cole, who has begun just three Premiership matches this season and did not make his full debut until that match at St Andrew's. Instead he has been restricted to 20-minute cameos - although his first England start for 18 months could not have had more impact with a goal, and for many he was the pick of Sven Goran Eriksson's players.

It was the first time England had felt the true force of his talent as he was used as the tip in a diamond formation - a set-up that Ranieri has also, intriguingly, appeared to favour of late with either Juan Sebastian Veron or Damien Duff as the cutting edge.

It is a role that Cole, 22, claims suits him best. "I've always said that playing in the hole behind the front two is my best position," he said. "I love to get forward, but sometimes at West Ham over the last few years, I have been a bit restricted in how I played. I was playing more for the team in a holding role and working hard on the defending, because that is what the team required. But following my move to Chelsea, the manager wants me to get forward and it will take time to adjust to that. Sven also wants me to play further forward, which is great because with my attributes, that is how I can affect the game in a positive way."

He added: "I will be disappointed if I'm not involved in the next match because I have complete faith in my ability and I feel I bring something different to the team." He needs that faith. An extended run would require Paul Scholes to drop out and that will only happen through injury or, implausibly, for Eriksson to change his mind about one of his favourite players.

If that did happen the shift from Manchester United to Chelsea would begin to be seismic. It is something that John Terry, the central defender benefiting from the exclusion of another United player, Rio Ferdinand of course, remarked upon. "I was saying the day before the Denmark game that it is usually Manchester United who are the ones with four, five, six players in the squad. But with the takeover having gone through in the summer at Chelsea, we've managed to get some good players in - and thankfully they are English as well.

"It is a massive change around. I remember a couple of years ago when there wasn't one English player in the Chelsea starting line-up. Then you look around at Old Trafford on Sunday and saw five of the Chelsea players in an England shirt. Five is a hell of a lot, but it's great, fantastic. It just goes to show how well we've been doing this year... Are Chelsea the new power in the land? Maybe. We will have to see but our target is to keep our places. We've got to take our opportunities in the friendlies."

True. But that target for Euro 2004 will be tough enough and, lest it is forgotten, England were beaten by Denmark - unlike the Arsenal contingent back in the 1930s, the Liverpool group in 1977 (who drew with Switzerland) or the Manchester United players in the victorious World Cup qualifier in Albania in 2001.

Comments