Tony Pulis this week branded England’s upcoming friendly in Amsterdam as ridiculous. Few could argue the timing is unfortunate, but the FA has to fit international friendlies in and around the domestic season and it seems someone will always be unhappy. With the Premier League season getting underway on Saturday, a midweek workout may do the players some good, even if it does disrupt their club managers’ plans.
Fabio Capello named his squad last Saturday with few surprises. Michael Owen was again left out despite numerous glowing references from new manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but the Italian refused the former Liverpool hit-man a recall on the grounds of his move alone. However, with England’s forward line distinctly short on world-class options to partner Wayne Rooney, a fit and firing Owen could surely walk back into the set-up. Plus, a productive club partnership with Rooney would benefit all parties and almost certainly see Owen on the plane to South Africa. Owen’s move to the red side of Manchester drew many raised eyebrows, but his goal-scoring is still amongst the best. With the former Madrid man now surrounded by quality, world-class players (no disrespect to former club Newcastle United), Owen is odds-on to start smashing in the goals once more.
One surprise that did come out of the England camp this week was Capello’s shock admission that Arsenal youngster Jack Wilshere is in the frame for the World Cup squad. When asked about the 17-year-old following his fine showings in the Emirates Cup, Capello explained: “He surprised me. I saw him twice in the Carling Cup last year and he has improved a lot now. We have time before we have to decide if he will go to South Africa. It will depend a lot on whether he plays for Arsenal. He’s in the squad for the Under-20s and will go with them to Egypt and that will be very important.”
Many England fans will be quick to make comparisons with Theo Walcott’s inclusion for the last World Cup when the former Southampton flier had still yet to make a Premier League appearance. However, Wilshere’s situation is slightly different as he already has Premier League and Champions League experience – albeit one appearance in each – but he produced a number of scintillating displays in last term’s Carling Cup run, in which he featured alongside a host of talented, young Gunners. No doubt his chances of a trip to South Africa next summer are at present very slim, but with Arsenal’s track record of giving youngsters their chance plus their somewhat thin squad, Wilshere may well get his chance this coming season. Although he is surely one for the future, if his pre-season form is anything to go by, he might just be knocking on the door come next summer.
England’s trip to Holland sees the Three Lions pitted against the third best country in the world – if the FIFA rankings are at all accurate. Although the result is of little significance, the team and individual performances are very important and will be vital to England’s preparations for next month’s World Cup qualifiers, against Slovenia and Croatia respectively. With first-choice keeper David James on the sidelines and Ben Foster pulling out after the Community Shield, it leaves the door open for the likes of Paul Robinson and Robert Green to stake their claim for the No 1 jersey. Green is in line to start but expect a change at half-time as Capello explores his options in case James is also unfit next month. Noises coming out of the England camp suggest Capello will start with his strongest available line-up despite various club managers having their say. The former Milan tactician was quick to stress he had a good relationship with domestic managers but also remarked he had the final say: “I will help the managers, but also the managers have to help me and the relationship will be good. It depends on the moment – they may say ‘Fabio, please, this player is tired he needs to play just 45 minutes’. Ok, no problems. But, after, I decide.”
Whatever team Capello puts out on Wednesday evening there will be countless Premier League managers crossing their fingers, toes and anything else they can, in the hope their players come through unscathed. Meanwhile, Capello and England will be hoping their side can build on the impressive run of seven straight wins with victory in Holland and announce to the world that England are well and truly back.