Centre-backs smell blood in battle for England starting berth

As the old guard appear to be heading towards the twilight of the England careers against the backdrop of emerging young guns, many players are recognising their opportunity to stake their claim for a regular spot in the national team.

The much discussed Gerrard/Lampard issue may continue for a while yet, with the two established players, on paper at least, too influential to leave out. However Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere both gave impressive accounts of themselves on Saturday, and it is not just in midfield where the competition has intensified, as places in the back four would appear to be equally up for grabs.

Michael Dawson has had a fine season for Tottenham, with some eye-catching displays in the Champions League being particular highlights. Much sterner tests lie ahead than what Wales could muster, but the former Nottingham Forest man looked assured and has impressed captain John Terry to the extent that the skipper declared that Dawson “has made the position his own.” While Dawson himself refuses to get carried away, he admits that being left out from now on would be a disappointment: “I have had so many injuries and setbacks in my career, so it’s nice now to be positive, but I wouldn’t say I am now the man to play alongside John Terry. We have too many good defenders for me to assume that, but I would be disappointed to be left out now.”

While Dawson appears to have his foot in the door, behind him is a queue of defenders also eager to impress. Gary Cahill has put in some faultless displays for Bolton Wanderers, Joleon Lescott has been hovering around the fringes of the team for some time, Phil Jagielka and Ryan Shawcross have been consistent performers for Everton and Stoke City respectively, and Chris Smalling has enjoyed an impressive debut season for Manchester United.

Quite where this leaves deposed captain Rio Ferdinand is unclear. How Fabio Capello went about reappointing John Terry as captain drew widespread criticism, not least from Ferdinand, who is rumoured to be appalled that he had not been informed of the decision. The Manchester United man is unlikely to have been appeased by Steven Gerrard’s declaration yesterday that he was contacted by Capello.

Although Capello rebuffed any suggestion that he had snubbed Ferdinand, stating that he had tried to meet him during United’s clash with Marseille, he did appear to address concerns over his handling of the whole affair: “Look, it could have been done better but it is the past. I respect the players, I respect all the people and sometimes I regret what really happened.” An England spokesman played down the issue and believes that Capello will contact the 32-year-old soon: “I’m sure Fabio will pick up with Rio soon after these internationals are out of the way.”

Terry’s return to captaincy has not been a universally popular decision, but members of the England camp have been quick to back the Chelsea man and deny any rifts, while at the same time express sympathy for Ferdinand. The South Londoner has been dogged by injuries in recent times, with question marks raised over whether he will feature again this season. When fit, he still forms a formidable partnership with Nemanja Vidic at club level, but in light of recent events it remains to be seen how the relationship between player and national team manager will pan out.

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