This time two years ago, Wes Brown was in the form of his life. Following Gary Neville’s long term injury problems throughout 2007, Brown nailed down Manchester United’ s right-back slot after a string of impressive performances. Both defensively and going forward, Brown improved immensely throughout the 2007/08 campaign, which resulted in a Premier League and Champions League double.
Unfortunately for Brown, his superb form came a little too late for England, as he was largely an unused substitute throughout Steve McClaren’s reign, before being denied his chance at a major tournament in the summer of 2008 as England failed to qualify for the European Championships. Whether Brown would have been first choice by this time is unknown, but if he was in the same form now as he was in the early part of 2008, he would certainly be in Fabio Capello’s squad for South Africa, and there would even be a case for him in the first XI. That is all hypothetical now. Brown’s injury ravaged 2008/09 campaign curtailed his good form, and he has shown few signs since of regaining such standards. For a short time it looked as if he had finally proved his top-level quality after being more of a useful squad member for both club and country for many years. Now, he looks to be back at square one.
This season has been a very poor one for Brown. For the most part, he has been on and off the treatment table and thus his performances have been largely rusty. With United suffering a succession of injuries to their back-line, Brown has been used both centrally and on the right throughout the campaign. With experienced defenders Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Gary Neville also spending spells on the sidelines, Brown was often the most experienced defender United had to call upon – especially during the middle part of the campaign. While Sir Alex Ferguson would have been looking for Brown to lead from the front, organising the less experienced Jonny Evans and Rafael and Fabio Da Silva, Brown continued to falter, looking far short of his best.
For instance, Jermaine Beckford’s famous FA Cup winner at Old Trafford in January was just one of many where Brown was caught out from long searching balls, with the pace of strikers such as Beckford constantly giving Brown problems throughout the campaign – a worrying trait for any defender. Another aspect that crept into Brown’s game was the amount of times he stood off his opponent and let them hurt his side. Such observational defending is a sign of low confidence in a defender who is wary of committing to a challenge and getting beaten by the attacker, instead of taking the responsibility to deal with the danger.
Now, Brown can only wonder what might have been. In truth, he was nowhere near a spot in the squad given his disappointing season – which came to an early end in March. He is since back to full fitness, an unused substitute in recent games, but the damage was done before the latest lay off. Unfortunately, his flexibility would have been a huge advantage for him to force his way into Capello’s plans, and his experience at this level would also have been extremely appealing to the Italian. Sadly, he simply has not been good enough in a World Cup season. There are better and more deserving candidates, and Brown, now 30, will be cursing both bad luck, and bad form as his World Cup dream appears over.