Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, let me make it clear that I fully intend on supporting the Three Lions all summer long. Furthermore, Michael Carrick and Ledley King rank quite high on my list of favorite players. After yesterday’s announcement of England’s World Cup squad, however, I couldn’t help but have a bitter taste in my mouth.
When Fabio Capello took over the England hotseat, he made it clear that he’d pick players based on form. The Italian made it a point that he’d select the players that were at the peak of their powers on the club scene, prompting players like David Beckham to forgo their summer vacations simply to prove their worthiness to Capello.
In the end, Capello picked the 23 men that he initially had in mind (a fact that even he admitted). The fact that Jamie Carragher was even asked to reverse his international retirement proves that Capello had his sights set on certain players from day one – regardless of how slow they are as they reach the end of their careers and regardless of how poorly they performed for their clubs this season (remember, Carragher’s Liverpool containing the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and Pepe Reina couldn’t even qualify for the Champions League).
In addition to Carragher, the inclusion of Matthew Upson proves that club form was no determining factor. Upson was included at the expense of one of the Premier League’s most consistent top performers: Michael Dawson. Dawson, even more so than the often-injured Ledley King, was instrumental in Tottenham’s historic run into the top four.
Even in midfield, it was all about names and not about form. The biggest surprise was that Fabio Capello sent two of his trickiest and fastest wingers packing: Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott. Who remained in their place? None other than Manchester City benchwarmer – and Adam Johnson’s club backup – Shaun Wright-Phillips. The wee man couldn’t hold down a spot at the club level, but Fabio Capello opted for him over two stars just entering the brightest years of their careers.
Up top, the most heinous crime committed by Capello is his decision to leave Darren Bent at home this summer. The Sunderland striker was by far the most in form striker all season long (taking Wayne Rooney’s late season injury problems into account), and has been banging in the Premier League goals for a few seasons in a row now – all while playing for a mediocre Sunderland side. Bent deserves his place in South Africa undoubtedly, but Capello oddly enough opted for yet another player who doesn’t even start at the club level: Emile Heskey of Aston Villa. Far too many Villa fans have even pondered how their slow and aging striker found his name on the final 23.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d be absolutely delighted if England win the World Cup. Like many other fans of the Three Lions, I wasn’t even alive in 1966 to watch Sir Bobby Charlton and company take the world by storm. In fact, the effects of that England team will be felt for many years to come, and when I met Sir Bobby outside of Old Trafford two years ago you could just feel his legend status.
Fabio Capello and his team of 23 now have a chance to cement their own spots in English folklore, and while I disagree with some of the squad choices, I fully intend on throwing all of my support behind the heroes representing England this summer. England needs more than a prayer and a little bit of luck – they need their millions of fans worldwide to provide continued unwavering support.