England may have lost the 100% record Fabio Capello so wanted to take into next summer’s World Cup but what still remains intact are the World Cup hopes of the vast majority of the squad. The defeat in Ukraine may not have been a sterling performance and some desperate defending from Rio Ferdinand has certainly not gone unnoticed but it must be said that much of the squad can be fairly certain concerning their chances – injury permitting – of making the plane, Ferdinand included. One position, however, where there is still everything to play for is in goal. The subject of who should be England’s No 1 for the tournament in South Africa is one very much open for debate, on this site as much as any.
The defeat in Ukraine this weekend hasn’t so much cleared up the debate but rather kept it wide open. Robert Green only lasted 13 minutes of the encounter before he was given his marching orders to be replaced by the impressive – in this encounter – David James. Green will thus be suspended for the next match against Belarus leaving James, Paul Robinson and the newly drafted Ben Foster the candidates for the jersey. It is anyone’s pick who will get the nod.
There is an argument that England does in fact have an embarrassment of riches in the goalkeeping department. The fact that they can choose from no less than five Premier League goalkeepers who have already been capped by the full national side, one in the Championship who has been capped by the full side and one promising Under-21 would suggest just that. Never before has England had such back up for this key position – not in the days of Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton or David Seaman. In this writer’s opinion this argument simply does not carry any weight as the problem with the current state of play is that England does not have a first choice No 1 in the mould of the three aforementioned names and the only reason that so many have been capped is that it has been so difficult to settle on one not because of their collective talent but because of their collective shortcomings. The solution needs to be found.
Currently the state of play in world football is that we have two real class sides in the shape of Spain and Brazil followed by some potentially great sides which are not quite there yet. England are certainly in the second category as are the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Ghana – they have the potential to do some great things in South Africa but you may not want to put a serious bet on them going all the way. The first two in that list undoubtedly have something which the others do not – a really first class keeper. Iker Casillas for Spain and Julio Cesar for Brazil. What the others in the same group as England possess is not a goalkeeper who may be a household name or even really top draw but they do have consistency in who is played. An example of this is the Netherlands who have Maarten Stekelenburg between the sticks. He is certainly not a household name but following the retirement of their most famous keeper Edwin van der Sar, he has played consistently. In this country we are all very busy analysing why our keepers are not necessarily up to the job and currently we are loathe to question Capello and his impressive qualifying campaign but ultimately the goalkeeping issue rests firmly with the manager.
Capello has been steadfast in his selection of his outfield players. This weekend was a prime example – with qualification already secured the Italian tactician elected to start with his strongest team meaning players like Ferdinand – who has been struggling with injury for his club – were asked to play the full 90 minutes. This will not have pleased his club manager but the tactic must be applauded as it enables the first-choice back-four to get yet another game under their belt together. This has to be maintained throughout the starting XI – goalkeeper included. We are by no means pointing the finger at a manager who has done so much for the national side in his short spell at the helm but how far England will progress next summer is in no small part down to the manager.
To be fair to Capello he is unlucky with the sending off of Green forcing his hand for the next match as he did seem to be sticking with the West Ham man in recent matches. James will be hoping that if he gets the nod on Wednesday he will be able to force his way back in the side as he was seemingly Capello’s first choice during the vast majority of the qualifying campaign before injury allowed Green in. The fact James didn’t come back into the side after his lay-off speaks volumes for Capello’s uncertainty on the issue. Many think that Capello was secretly hoping that Foster was going to be capable of holding down the position – so much so that he broke his rule of not picking players who are not playing regularly for their club. However, Foster’s recent performances for Manchester United when playing regularly suggest that he may struggle to even be third choice. This has meant that the waters are still very murky for the former Milan boss on this issue.
The waters may be murky but the team needs them to be clear. Even as mistakes are made loyalty needs to be shown. Take the example of Ferdinand. He is no doubt a top draw defender who is struggling for form for both club and country but the England boss is sticking by him to enable the partnership with John Terry to continue to blossom. Whomever Capello chooses needs to be given time to develop an understanding with Ferdinand and Terry, most importantly, and the rest of the back-line whether they are playing in the bottom half of the Premier League or not. Most defensive errors in football are caused by uncertainty between players in the same side. A moment’s hesitation can be costly so eradicating these mistakes is paramount, before a major tournament representing your country.
There is no doubt it is a position the national set-up is struggling with and serious questions need to be studied as to why we struggle to produce genuine talent in this area. The modern day football fan cares about the intrinsic problems as much as the Coach, but they want immediate success too. What Capello has to do to try and bring as immediate success as possible to a long-unsolved problem and provide a solution as to how best serve the nation’s football hopes. Capello can delay selecting most of the squad, but the last line of defence needs to be built on the most solid of foundations. With four or five possible games left before the team embarks to South Africa, a No 1 needs to be selected as soon as possible, built up and believed in.