Sam Wallace: Roy Hodgson isn't scraping the England barrel... but he may be soon
Talking Football: There is a much more profound problem for England after 2014
In Moldova, where England play their first 2014 World Cup qualifier on Friday, they have more significant problems to grapple with than the usual preoccupations of sport, especially in a country that is consistently described by economists as Europe's poorest nation.
The Moldovans had discussed staging the game in Tiraspol but decided that it had to be in Chisinau because it would be unfair to expect England to play in the Transnistria region, a notionally independent but unrecognised region on the Ukraine border which is regarded as corrupt and lawless. As for the team, they are ranked 137th in the world by Fifa, one place behind Tahiti, and 47th out of 53 in Europe.
There are, on paper, harder international opponents in Europe than Moldova, but not many of them. Only Malta, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, Andorra and San Marino are ranked lower. Since the start of 2008, Moldova have won eight out of the 42 games they have played and five of those victories have been against Kazakhstan, San Marino and Andorra.
Arguably the two best results of Moldova's recent past have been losing only 1-0 home and away to the Netherlands in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. This week is, at worst, an awkward trip for England and politeness has obliged Roy Hodgson to trot out the usual diplomacy last week about approaching the game as if the opponents were Brazil. But leave all the niceties at the door for a moment and anything but a win would be an embarrassment.
A collision of the players of the richest league in the world with the poorest country in Europe is where it starts in earnest for Hodgson. He inherited Euro 2012, and all the problems that accompanied it. The 2014 World Cup is his baby, from the pre-selection of the prospective training ground and hotel in Brazil to the 13-month qualification trail across five countries.
Last week, and not for the first time, Hodgson said in his briefing with Sunday newspapers that he was now in a position where he has to consider players for his team who are not first choice at their clubs. Under Fabio Capello there was an informal rule that a player had to be in his club side to be considered. "I intend to be more pragmatic," Hodgson said. "I'm not prepared to have a hard-and-fast rule."
It has become the issue du jour, but it is wildly overstated. Of the 24 players Hodgson selected on Thursday, only five did not start for their club in the Premier League games this weekend and Chelsea's Super Cup final game against Atletico Madrid on Friday. Of those five, John Terry was suspended, while Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge and James Milner all came on as substitutes for their clubs. Only Theo Walcott did not play a minute.
In Hodgson's defence, he only continues to talk about picking players who do not get selected for their club sides because he keeps getting asked the question. The facts, however, would suggest he does not have to worry about it yet.
Disregarding current injuries, Hodgson has a critical mass of potential first XI players who have that first-choice status at their clubs: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker, Terry, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, Joleon Lescott, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. Since their transfer window moves, also add Andy Carroll and Adam Johnson to the list.
Beyond those, Ashley Young, currently injured, and Milner and Walcott play a respectable proportion of their respective clubs' games. Even those left out at present, such as Darren Bent and Peter Crouch, are cast-iron starters for their clubs. The notion that the England manager is forced to pick players who cannot get into their club sides does not hold water – for now, at least.
There is a much more profound problem beyond 2014. Will the player who one day replaces Gerrard at Liverpool be English? Will Lampard and Terry's Chelsea successors be English? The so-called golden generation may not have won a trophy but they were established players at the country's leading clubs, something that the next generation are, in many cases, yet to achieve.
In that respect it is now or never for players like Ryan Bertrand, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Sturridge, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jack Butland, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Jack Wilshere, although in the latter's case it is more a question of proving his fitness than his obvious ability.
They are the bridge to the next England team and – if successful – they should form a significant part of the 2014 World Cup squad and then the core of Euro 2016 qualification, for which Hodgson is contracted. A promising young English player is fast-tracked into the England squad much more quickly than he would have been 20 years ago, but then 20 years ago the England team was not winning tournaments either.
There have been warnings for England about the increasingly shallow pool of players from which the national team draws its players. Such as the selection for England of David Nugent in 2007 and then Jay Bothroyd three years later while both of them were still Championship players. They were not good enough then and neither of them has proved to be good enough for the Premier League since, never mind England.
Butland is a fine talent who will one day be a first-choice Premier League player, but the reality that there are so few English goalkeepers of a requisite standard above a 19-year-old who has had no experience beyond League Two – as was the case when he made his debut – was a strong hint that there are also problems in that department.
Come Friday night in Chisinau, the England manager will not be scraping the barrel, he has plenty of Premier League regulars and they should have no excuses when it comes to beating a Moldova team down there with some of the weakest sides England have played in recent years. Rather his decision to scrap the rule that a player has to be in his club's first XI to play for England is a nod to possible problems ahead.
Does AVB have the clout to tackle Levy over transfers?
There is always a persuasive logic in the transfer business of Daniel Levy. His rule that senior players cannot drift into the last two years of their contracts has protected Tottenham against losing value on players in the way Arsenal have. He sells high when he can and had he got £9m for Michael Dawson, who missed much of last season with injury, it would have made sense financially.
However, the injury to Younes Kaboul shortly before the end of the window demonstrated just how few certainties there are. Had Dawson left by then Spurs would have been in trouble. Levy has always worked best when a strong manager has been able to season his accountancy with demands of his own that balance the squad. You have to wonder if Andre Villas-Boas has that influence over him.
The Super Cup is little more than a burden
The empty seats in the Chelsea end in Monaco for Friday's Super Cup final against Atletico Madrid told their own story. Chelsea do not have the critical mass in terms of travelling support enjoyed by some English clubs and those that do had an expensive, albeit enjoyable, time of it in the Champions League last season.
From next season it will be played in Prague, Cardiff and Tbilisi although for some bizarre reason the Champions League draw will still be in Monte Carlo. The thought that occurred on Friday evening was: why play the game at all? It is not a meaningful cup by which we measure success. Now that the August international friendly is going in 2014, the Super Cup looks like an unnecessary burden too.
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