The England winger debate: part two – the other options

As the other article contended, in recent years England have been a team lacking pace out wide. David Beckham made up for his lack of speed with a superb delivery but as he ages, his ability to play 90 minutes decreases, so England will need other options. We have looked at Capello’s young, quick options – now it’s time to speculate over which of England’s more traditional choices Fabio Capello will be pondering.

Although not a winger for his club, Steven Gerrard was an extremely successful experiment in the qualifying stages – he was one of the reasons England scored so many goals and although some have suggested that England’s proficiency in front of goal was due to the opposition, it was not England’s fault that the opposition were not able to stop them from scoring frequently. Gerrard was placed on the left wing, mainly to accommodate a partnership between Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry in the centre of midfield.

While on paper it seems like an insane tactical decision by Capello to put a world-class central midfielder out on the wing just to allow Barry to play, fans of England would have seen that it made complete sense. Lampard and Gerrard are not effective as a central midfield pairing – they have similar attacking tendencies – and Gerrard is more compatible with the wing than Lampard. Due to the fact that Gerrard is not blessed with remarkable pace, his selection on the wing would bring a different option to the England attack and should Ashley Cole be fit, he will be able to provide pace by overlapping Gerrard. Capello will also feel very safe in selecting Gerrard as his ability to be a game-changing player is unquestionable -although his influence on the national team is very tame compared to his authority at Anfield.

David Beckham is arguably the best winger England has ever produced and he has an abundance of experience. He is respected worldwide and although Capello has openly said that a player will not be picked on reputation alone (a la Michael Owen), Capello’s tendency to play Beckham towards the end of games in qualifying suggests that he will have a similar role come June when the tournament begins. Beckham’s commitment is also never ending – he has moved to Milan in order to play stay match fit and although he has not played remarkably, he has impressed for the Milanese outfit. An excellent deliverer of the ball, Beckham is potentially still a match winner for England and could be used for cameo appearances as a calming effect on the players in a pressurised situation. Capello may be wary of increasing the already buzzing media storm around the England squad by including Beckham, but by not including him, Capello would risk the wrath of a nation that adores its golden boy.

After Wayne Rooney, James Milner is England’s form player. The Aston Villa midfielder has been unrelenting this season and has been accredited with 11 assists and four goals – a particularly impressive statistic when you consider his change from a right-winger to a central midfielder. Although he is no longer a winger for club, he has the versatility to attract him towards Capello’s plans. Capello and assistant Franco Baldini are often spotted at Villa Park and will have been duly impressed by Milner. Like Beckham, he has the ability to play in several positions and is tenacious enough to not get lost in a high speed, high pressure game – Milner was Aston Villa’s star performer in the Carling Cup Final, scoring a penalty (something that has particular importance in the World Cup) and looking extremely calm in his first major final. Despite Milner lacking the pace to play as an out-and-out winger, he certainly has the nous to flit from position to position and could perhaps give more freedom to Lampard and Gerrard to attack. For this, Milner appears to be a certainty in Capello’s selection – although whether he will be primarily a winger is debatable (he has even been mentioned to fill the left-back position in Ashley Cole’s absence).

Villa team-mate Stewart Downing is also in line – he has played several games for England and has looked neat in his appearances for Villa this season. For Downing, Milner and Ashley Young, Capello has the added knowledge that they have played regularly with Emile Heskey and will therefore have a good footballing relationship on the field. Downing has the medium of a left foot, something that is not found in any other England winger, and as such, he is a different proposition for the England coach (Adam Johnson appears to have entered the fray too late but is certainly one for future tournaments). Downing’s major detractions are his lack of pace and trickery, but he does offer intelligence when passing. His signing for Villa was met with mixed murmurings as to whether he would be able to deliver the right sort of delivery at his new club, but he has impressed in both tactical nous and ability. His inclusion would be slightly surprising to an outsider as he is such an unremarkable player, but Capello and Martin O’Neill trust him enough to constantly pick him, mainly because he is such a reliable footballer with a left peg.

Tactically, Capello’s decisions will be up for discussion but two wingers seem certain to start every game – now the England coach has the unenviable task of deciphering which of these excellent options he wants to put his faith in. Whoever he picks, the nation should feel safe in the fact that there is a plethora of diverse talents available.

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