England Camp Focus – Carroll and Bothroyd the latest names in Capello’s striker search

Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll is set to make his England debut tonight against France as one of a number of new faces in Fabio Capello’s chosen XI. The controversial forward will join Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson in gaining a first international cap, while Arsenal full-back Kieran Gibbs makes his first start for the Three Lions and Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd could make his national team bow from the substitutes’ bench.

It is the inclusion of Carroll and Bothroyd in the England squad that has generated most debate – Carroll for concerns surrounding his much-publicised off-the-field problems, Bothroyd for plying his trade in the Championship. Both players are the latest to come under Capello’s microscope as he searches for more options at centre-forward, a situation that has become more pressing given Wayne Rooney’s own non-football tribulations, poor form and continued injury recovery, three factors that have conspired to rob Capello of arguably his only proven international-class striker, although the performances the Manchester United player offered during the World Cup and beyond would call that in to question. But with Rooney absent, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe injured and Emile Heskey retired from international football Capello has been forced to cast his net further.

Kevin Davies was the last uncapped striker chosen by Capello, but the Bolton Wanderers captain has apparently been jettisoned after barely 20 minutes of action on the international stage, in favour of Carroll and Bothroyd. Davies – who, at 33, was only ever a short-term solution – received his brief chance not in a friendly, where experimentation is not only common but encouraged, but in a competitive fixture, the 0-0 draw with Montenegro. If the selection of Davies was a trial to see what the combative front man had to offer on the international scene, Capello’s decision to experiment in a match where vital qualifying points were at stake is puzzling at best. Similarly, if the cap handed out to Davies was not a one-off but rather the first of many over the qualification campaign and the tournament itself, ignoring the Bolton skipper for this friendly is equally perplexing.

Capello admitted he left Carroll out of the previous international squad because of the Newcastle star’s legal issues, and it may be that Davies received his international debut because of Carroll’s unavailability. But while Carroll has been one of the Premier League’s revelations of the early season, and thoroughly deserving of his England place, Davies’ own form has only improved since his short sojourn into international territory, most notably in a sterling all-round performance as Bolton beat Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month. But the addition of Carlton Cole to the party after Gabriel Agbonlahor withdrew hints at Davies slipping behind even the mis-firing West Ham striker, who has managed just a single goal this season to Davies’ four and Carroll’s seven. An impressive performance from Carroll and a quick return to fitness for Defoe, Bent and Rooney could see Davies’ England career over after less than half an hour’s play.

It appears Carroll will be given full opportunity to shine on his full international debut, starting from the off, although the make-up of the full XI is not yet known. A Carroll-Theo Walcott partnership would on paper be enough to worry any defence, offering the requisite mix of Carroll’s brawn and Walcott’s speed, or Capello may task Steven Gerrard to support Carroll as a lone striker in much the same way as Kevin Nolan domestically earlier in the season. Carroll has shown his aptitude for playing that lonely role but also working in tandem with another striker – for his club, Shola Ameobi – but regardless of the players around him, it seems unlikely Carroll plays the full 90 minutes after a groin injury threatened to prevent any involvement as recently as Monday. Should Carroll need to be replaced either at half time or later, Cardiff’s Bothroyd could be the man to get the call.

The 28-year-old former Arsenal player is enjoying an excellent start to the 2010/11 season with Cardiff, bagging 15 goals from 16 games across all competitions, two more than his highest ever tally for a full season achieved last year. Much was made of Capello selecting a striker who has never succeeded in the Premier League, and one who, before settling in South Wales went through eight clubs in eight years, but it stands to reason that as the top flight sides continue to attract foreign talent to these shores, able English players who would previously have filled those positions are forced to drop down a division. Bothroyd has proven his ability, and now his maturity, and the selection of he and Carroll could prove a masterstroke by Capello.

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