Sam Wallace comment: Jack Wilshere and Kyle Walker should NOT be included in England World Cup squad
The England squad will be announced at 2pm on Monday
Among some of the more striking statistics in Greg Dyke’s Commission report into the ailing state of the English footballer is the comparison with elite players from other leading European countries. An elite player is defined as one who plays 50 per cent of the minutes for a top six club in one of the five top European leagues (Premier League, Spain’s Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1) and the bald truth is Roy Hodgson does not have many of them.
In the past year there have been 45 players who fall into this category eligible to play for France; 42 for Spain and Germany, but only 18 for England, the lowest of those countries with a top five league. In terms of nationality of players in this season’s Champions League group stages, England was the eighth best represented nation, with fewer Englishmen playing in those games than there were Argentinians.
Over to you, Roy. The Commission report will not tell Hodgson much he does not already know when it comes to selecting the 23 players, the names of whom he will announce on Monday at the Vauxhall head office in Luton. He is not exactly spoiled for choice. It is why he admitted two weeks ago that he has known the squad for some time and is attending games in the hope of seeing his choices confirmed.
If that sounds conservative it is because that is precisely what Hodgson is at heart. Nevertheless, a few recent injuries to Andros Townsend and Phil Jones may well force a rethink, and there are still the longer term, difficult issues around Jack Wilshere and Kyle Walker.
My money would be on Hodgson taking Wilshere, even though he only played the last half hour for Arsenal against Norwich on Sunday. Walker is a closer call. My preference would be to leave them both behind. Wilshere’s previous game was on 5 March in the England friendly against Denmark. Walker limped off in Tottenham’s Europa League defeat to Benfica eight days later and was not even on the bench against Aston Villa. This is a chance for Hodgson to make a statement: pick the fit and the in-form, not the infirm.
He may yet pick only one specialist right-back and use Jones and Chris Smalling as cover. My preference would be a call-up for the uncapped Jon Flanagan, Glen Johnson’s understudy at Liverpool who has in recent times moved over to play left-back. England are rich in left-backs, but poor on the right flank, especially with the injury to Jones.
Leaving Wilshere behind is a tough call because the player promised so much when he first broke through into the England side in the 2010-2011 season and sustained his ankle injury in his match-rescuing performance against Switzerland in June 2011. But before he cracked a navicular bone in March, his performances this season were not enough to warrant taking him half-fit to Brazil in the hope he would pull through.
There are alternatives to Wilshere in midfield. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley would be my central midfield selections. Lampard will be the most contentious – he usually is – but he has fulfilled an important role for Jose Mourinho this season and Hodgson has stressed the need for good tourists. In a relatively young squad, his experience would be a good counter-balance.
Andros Townsend would have been in my squad, even in spite of his deployment chiefly as a substitute by Tim Sherwood at Spurs, until his injury against Stoke City last month. My original suggestion was to take nine midfielders and three strikers but in Townsend’s absence the adjustment would be to give Rickie Lambert a place as the fourth striker and reduce the midfield count to eight.
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As wide players/attackers my selection would be Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This is the squad’s most inexperienced area, with 64 caps between them (45 belonging to Milner) and the added risk that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s groin problems have caused him to miss the last three weeks. He would be my one concession to injury, given that his lay-off has not been too extreme.
The form of Sterling and Lallana makes them obvious choices. Although he gets so little of the credit I would say the same of Milner too. His driving runs down the right against Aston Villa on Wednesday were one of Manchester City’s better features and he was unlucky to be substituted. Milner is an excellent option to have and it would be inconceivable that Hodgson would leave the player behind.
In defence the centre-halves – Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Smalling and Jones – are straightforward choices. With Ashley Cole no longer in Hodgson's plans, Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw will be the left-backs.
The strikers, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Lambert, are a worryingly easy selection although it does nag away that Lambert could be chronically under-used. Had he been fit, my preference would have been Jay Rodriguez. Would the place be better given to a more interesting, younger player? The worrying truth is that there is no one out there. Wilfried Zaha has faded away in the Premier League; Ravel Morrison has gone down to the Championship on loan.
As for Team Stand-By, the call no one wants, it is a pretty unhappy departure lounge. Four of my predictions, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Jermain Defoe and Michael Dawson have all been to tournaments before. Adam Johnson was on the stand-by for the Euro 2012 squad. That is going to be one grumpy camp of players.
If the news is bad on Jones; if Hodgson decides that Walker and Wilshere are not fit enough then the England manager is going to find himself going deeper and deeper into that shallow talent pool. His counterparts Didier Deschamps, Vicente del Bosque and Joachim Löw are more concerned with the talent they are leaving out rather than the misgivings about those they may have to include.
As Hodgson reveals the men in his squad on Monday he will do so against the backdrop of one of the FA’s more ill-conceived plans to improve the quality of players coming into the national squad. Yet none of that really matters much for the English manager of the day. He knows he simply must perform well enough at the next tournament to ensure that he does not return to a country that has decided it is he, rather than the lack of players, who is the problem.
Sam Wallace’s England squad
Joe Hart, Ben Foster, John Ruddy
Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Leighton Baines, Luke Shaw
Adam Lallana, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling
Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Rickie Lambert
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