England Captain – Wilshere? Parker? Terry? Gerrard? Rooney? Or Barry?
The recent allegations made against Chelsea and England captain John Terry have once again brought up the seemingly endless question about who should wear the national team’s armband. With Terry’s credibility and the fitness of Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand in doubt, England may go to Euro 2012 without any of the usual suspects to lead them onto the pitch.
Of course, if Terry is cleared of making racist comments towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, or if Gerrard or Ferdinand get a clean bill of health and hit some form after Christmas, then Fabio Capello will most likely stick with the safe choice these highly-experienced players provide. But in the event that none are available, what options does the Italian have open to him?
Starting at the front, one obvious candidate has almost definitely talked (or kicked) his way out of contention. As the team’s talisman and greatest attacking threat, Wayne Rooney would be guaranteed a place in the starting line-up. A veteran of three international tournaments and a player who likes to drop deep to get involved in play, Rooney may have been seen as potential captain material.
However, his brainless red card for kicking Miodrag Dzudovic in England’s final qualifier against Montenegro has ruled him out of the entire group stage, casting doubt over his place in the squad and making it impossible for him to be designated captain. In any case, the act itself makes one question whether the Manchester United forward has the right mentality to lead a team, especially at international level.
At the other end of the pitch is a much safer pair of hands (sorry) in Joe Hart. The Manchester City shot stopper is almost totally without competition for his place between England’s posts, due to a combination of his own talents and the paucity of English goalkeeping options. Paul Robinson and Ben Foster have both declared themselves unavailable, while Robert Green, Frank Fielding and David Stockdale are all plying their trade in the Championship. With Bursaspor’s Scott Carson the only other option, it is clear that injury alone can prevent him from lining up in Polkraine. In terms of the captaincy though, his lack of tournament experience may count against him. Capello may also consider it too fast a development for a player who was third choice at last year’s World Cup.
In front of Hart, the defence contains few candidates to replace Terry were the current skipper unavailable. Gary Cahill is neither established nor experienced enough to take on the role, as would be the case for his potential partners at centre-back. The right-back slot is currently up for grabs, and none of the candidates are captain material in any case. At left-back Ashley Cole has many of the qualities required of such a role, experience and skill being chief among them. He was also England’s Player of the Year for the admittedly dismal 2010. However, at the age of 30 he has never been club or national captain, most likely because he lacks any sort of leadership qualities. His selection would also be an unpopular choice amongst fans and the media alike, given the public perception that he embodies everything that makes the modern footballer unlikable.
The midfield poses some interesting questions for Capello from a selection point of view, but does it help him out in that of the captaincy? The likes of Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and England’s other wingers do not look capable of filling the role, but the central players are a different matter altogether. Jack Wilshere is far too young to have the responsibility thrust on him, but Gareth Barry, Scott Parker and Frank Lampard all have experience at every level along with the necessary leadership qualities.
Of the three, Lampard has the most caps (89) but he is unlikely to feature in the first-team barring injuries to Wilshere or Young. Parker would be a leftfield choice given his lack of matches at this level, but his inspirational performances as West Ham captain last season and fantastic start for Tottenham this term may convince the England manager that he could drive the team on to avoid the insipid performances we have become used to. It would also be a popular move with the press, who voted him their Player of the Year for last season. Finally, former Aston Villa captain Barry has enjoyed a good start to the season at Man City, and his half-century of caps and position in the thick of the action give his candidacy authority. If he plays a key role at the base of a trophy-winning side this season, it may also gain some momentum with the public.
The best option for Capello could in fact be to utilise several players as ‘captains’, with one man leading the team on the pitch and experienced players like Lampard guiding them off it. This will be especially important given the lack of tournament experience; many players likely to be feature prominently – Cahill, Wilshere, Young, Bent – have yet to play a game at that level. Lampard knows what has worked in his two World Cups and one European Championship, and hopefully has a pretty good idea about what ultimately went wrong on those occasions.
The position of captain is sometimes given too much importance. In the grand scheme of things, there are other factors that require more attention than who wears an armband. But with England looking short of the quality that Spain and the Netherlands possess, this could be the perfect opportunity for a previously unsung hero to draw the new generation together. After years of failing to live up to expectation, wouldn’t it be a nice change to see someone new push the side on to be more than the sum of their parts?
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