The presence of Etherington on the left flank and Pennant on the right has added a new dimension to the previously shot-shy Potters’ play. So far this season, the two have contributed nine assists between them in the Premier League, while last season Etherington was the runaway choice as Stoke’s player of the year, finishing 2009/10 as both the club’s top league goalscorer and provider. Where both could be an asset to Capello is in the quality of their delivery, both from open play and dead ball situations.
While the likes of Johnson, Walcott and Aaron Lennon have undeniably had an impact for England with their lightning pace and ability to go past defenders, the quality of their final ball has frustrated the England Coach. The lack of crossing ability among his wide players is surely the reason why David Beckham – still arguably the finest English deliverer of a football around – was able to command a place in the squad long after his move into effective semi-retirement in Major League Soccer.
The importance of having good crossers in the squad has been heightened by Capello’s refusal to abandon his preference for a target man in England’s attacking set up. Recent call ups for the likes of Kevin Davies and Andy Carroll – and most starkly, the rumoured attempt to coax Emile Heskey out of international retirement ahead of last month’s stalemate with Montenegro – underline the value Capello continues to attach to having a battering ram in attack to hold the ball up and create space for a smaller strike partner. It would surely make sense, therefore, to make the most of this height up front by deploying at least one expert crosser on the flanks? Carroll in particular has shown the damage he can do in the air with the right delivery from out wide, and it seems foolish not to look for ways of maximising the aerial threat of players such as the Newcastle striker and Peter Crouch.
Capello has also been frustrated by the failure of wingers like Lennon and Walcott to stick to his instructions to stick to the touchline and refrain from drifting inside, where their impact is so often constrained. In Etherington and Pennant, he would have two classic “chalk on the boots” wide men who love to sprint to the byline and whip in their cross.
It is little surprise that the England coach has bypassed unfashionable Stoke City up to now, especially given their media reputation as an “ugly”, physical, long-ball team. Yet the Montenegro stalemate – and Wednesday night’s defeat to the French – has made it clear that something is not working, and some outside-the-box thinking is required. With each squad announcement seemingly accompanied by an ever-growing injury list, Fabio Capello ignores Stoke’s flying wingers at his peril.