Shortly after England’s dour borefest on Tuesday night, Fabio Capello announced that he would be ringing the changes for November’s friendly against France, putting faith in youngsters to see exactly what they could show against quality, if recently farcical, opposition (Fabio didn’t actually say that last bit).
So, as OTP tends to do on far too regular a basis, we scratched our heads and scratched them some more, eventually deciding on our preferred eleven, which rather has the looks of an Olympic side, with just three players over 23.
Joe Hart – aged 23
Aside from almost being beaten by Jovanovic’s wonderful volley, Hart had little to do against Montenegro. Hart is 23 years of age, and is likely to be England’s keeper for ten years. It therefore seems unnecessary to change the status quo for this game. The alternatives are error prone and often unreliable, this much we already know.
Micah Richards – aged 22
It has been an odd couple of years for Micah. After bursting onto the international scene he has lost his place at both national level and at City, where he is now tussling with new signings for a regular starting place. However, there are two words that are in the right-backs favour: Glen Johnson. So ineffective has he been recently for England that we may be forced to find an alternative option.
Currently, and partly by default, Richards is this alternative.
Phil Jones – aged 18
That Jones is still 18 is frightening. He has 16 Premier League appearances under his belt, and already looks like captain material. Man of the match against Chelsea on his league debut, the 6ft defender has since made five appearances for England under-21s.
Clearly it would be a big step up to the senior national team, but there is nothing so far to suggest that Jones will be found out, especially if he is paired with an experienced colleague.
Rio Ferdinand – aged 31
Rio would be in this team for two reasons. Firstly, the Montenegro game demonstrated that he is still very much Fabio’s number one captain. Now I am in no way Merked Ferdinand’s biggest fan, but Capello’s decision was a firm one. With the amount of football Rio has missed, it seems folly to leave him out after only one game back.
Secondly, with the aforementioned Jones on debut, it would be naïve to place two inexperienced central defenders together. Instead, Ferdinand can guide the young apprentice through his first tentative moments on the Wembley turf.
Kieran Gibbs – aged 21
In my opinion, second only to Adam Johnson in the ‘bright young thing’ category of English youngsters.
Being schooled at Arsenal helps such qualities, but Gibbs has pace, touch and poise above his years. The Ashley Cole School of Defending teaches an occasional weakness defensively, but Cole is the best left-back in the world bar none, and Gibbs is evidently the apprentice to the master.
Has the added advantage that he has already impressed at Wembley against Hungary in August.
Adam Johnson – aged 23
As almost everyone who has ever met me knows, two days before Johnson was sold by Middlesbrough in January, I put a bet of £20 quid at 30/1 on him going to the World Cup. If Capello is assassinated, I would be a suspect.
At least attempting to forget the misery, the reason for the bet was sheer admiration. Johnson is cultured, quick, and (perhaps most refreshingly) he scores goals. Strikes against Bulgaria and Switzerland mean that Johnson is likely to be considered for the foreseeable future.
The only negative (apart from my bank balance) is the slightly concerning haphazard nature of Robert Mancini’s selection policy. Johnson needs to be starting every week if he is to blossom into a potentially world-class performer.
James Milner – aged 24
As his competition drops off quicker than yours truly after a few whiskies (see Young, Cole, Stewart Downing, SWP, Lennon), Milner has done little to dampen his international ambitions. Without necessarily setting Wembley alight, the Yorkshire lad has maintained a steady consistency when in an England shirt.
Also, even at only 24, Milner has a frightening amount of experience, having made over 300 domestic games.
Finally, provides a degree of defensive cover for Kieran Gibbs, who will overlap whenever feasible.
Jack Wilshere – aged 18
There is an argument that it is not healthy for little Jack to subject himself to the rigours of international football, especially when we suffer a media and public that lambasts players for every hair and pass out of place.
However, whether or not Wilshere needs the fuss of England, England needs the fuss of Wilshere. We have the chance to bed in one of the stars of the future of European football, and friendly games are the perfect opportunity.
Tom Huddlestone – aged 23
Along with females, Jersey Shore, and the Liverpool saga, nothing baffles me more than why ‘Hudds’ has not had more of a chance at international level.
Consistently one of the best inventive passers in the Premier League, only 23 but with shedloads of domestic experience, and the sort of shot that keeps the makers name steady until the net is broken. Get him in.
Theo Walcott – aged 21
Nothing really to say about Theo that isn’t already clear. A frightening talent but with the potential to frustrate beyond belief, nothing sums up his club more than Theo.
Clearly he paid the price for living off his Croatia hat trick for a period of two years, but there is the chance that his omission from the World Cup squad was exactly what he needed. No more resting on laurels for Master Walcott.
However, would be interesting to see him playing as a striker for England. We have had glimpses of this, but all too frequently he has been used as a right-wing option. The emergence of Adam Johnson may worry Walcott, but could be a blessing in disguise.
Michael Owen – aged 30
I know, I know, at the top it says young side, and Owen will soon hit the wrong side of 30. But when Kevin Davies appeared on Tuesday and proceeded to blunder around in very much the same fashion as Peter Crouch had for the first 75 minutes (43% pass completion rate), it was crying out for a spark.
It is a sad state of affairs that Rooney and Crouch are off form and Walcott, Defoe, Bent, and Zamora injured, and yet Owen wasn’t even considered. Does no one remember the Reebok a few weeks ago. United needed a goal, Owen instinctively got it. That is all.
Picking a team such as this is always likely to attract criticism from the comments below, but feel free to provide some extra names and shoot me down! But there we have it. Take out Rio and Owen and you are left with a vibrant, energetic and flexible line up with an average age of 21. Who says the future is bleak?