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England: Too many superstars?

September 6, 2009

Having witnessed England scrape past a very mediocre Slovenia side on Saturday, I couldn’t help but ponder England’s trials and tribulations over the past few years. They’re a team who continue to be surrounded by question marks, and I can’t see that changing in the near future, no matter how hard Capello works.

Can Lampard and Gerrard play together? Which formation should we be playing? Why is Gerrard playing left wing? Why does Heskey constantly get a start? These are all questions that have been asked in the recent past, and as of today, are yet to be answered by anyone. Despite the Slovenia match being no more than ‘preparation’ for Wednesday’s much more important clash with Croatia, Capello still fielded a full-strength side, with the odd exception. Jermain Defoe probably should have started instead of Heskey. Nevertheless, on paper England should have hammered Slovenia, who only had 2 players British fans would have recognised. Bostjan Cesar and Robert Koren have both had spells with West Bromwich Albion. Instead, it was a flat, cautious performance from a side ranked 7th in the World. That’s 47 places above Slovenia.

The visitors failed to show any kind of attacking intent or ability for the whole of the 90 minutes, yet somehow managed to score through substitute Ljubijankic. Although this was only a friendly, had England been as cautious in attack in a game that mattered, the final outcome may have been different.

The question I want to ask is do too many cooks spoil the broth? England’s makeup is one of mainly ‘superstars’. Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and David Beckham are all amongst the top earners in World Football, but when it comes down to it, they seldom click for England as a unit. To this day I’m yet to see Lampard play as well for his country as he does for Chelsea, with or without Gerrard playing alongside him. It also continues to stagger me how Ashley Cole gets into the side, let alone being the most expensive left-back in Football. The simple fact is, all these players are picked on reputation. Some of them can back that up, and I’m not denying that. Rooney is a World-class talent, and he often performs admirably for England. Gerrard also, generally plays very well with the three Lions on his shirt, and Terry is a genuine winner, but as a team, I’m yet to be convinced.

6 or 7 ‘superstars’ out of a team of 11 aren’t necessarily going to win you silverware. The best International sides in the World are made up of one or two, three at the most, players who can genuinly be called superstars. Brazil have Kaka, Robinho, and Ronaldinho. Spain have Torres, Fabregas, and Villa. The rest of their sides are made up of proven performers who don’t always steel the limelight. They work well as a unit, and there’s never just one person who stands out. England, however, seem to be the opposite.

All the aforementioned players are classed as World stars. They’re players you’d put in your World XI, or Fantasy sides. You forget about the players who have proved to everyone that they are very very good players in the Premier League, the best League in the World. If you take Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, and Rooney out of the side you can easily replace them with Carrick, Huddlestone, Baines, and Defoe. These are not World class glamour-boys but they’re players whom you know will do the business. So why aren’t they in the regular starting XI at Wembley? If the so-called stars can’t work together as a team, why not give the players that you can rely on to do just that a chance?

England has a massive pool of players. Definitely one of the biggest in the World, possibly the biggest. The problem with the English way is that we’re afraid to change. We have the attitude that the same players will put it right in the end, but that’s not the case. If you look at the England team of 4 years ago, it’s very similar to that of today and we’ve still won nothing. But if you take the Italian team of 4 years ago, a lot of players have gone, whether dropped, retired or what have you. The point is, change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes reputations are built and they’re built for a reason, but having a reputation for being one of the most expensive players in the World isn’t the done deal. In International Football it’s the team that counts.

You may think that my argument is unjustified considering that England have won 100% of their World Cup qualifiers under Capello, but it’s all very well beating teams like Belarus and Andorra at a capacity Wembley, but when it comes down to the World Cup quarter-final next year against Brazil, Argentina, Italy, I very much doubt we’ll come out on top, especially based on performances like the Slovenia game and certainly based on previous performaces in major competitions. Capello will obviously be very reluctant to make any wholesale changes in the build up to South Africa 2010, but after that I’d like to see some change. If I was England manager, I’d get rid of Lampard, in my opinion the most over-rated player on the planet, I’d get rid of Ashley Cole, and David Beckham, and I’d draft in young, homegrown talent who have proved in the Premier League for their clubs, that part of a well-functioning, performing team unit, that they can cut it.

I’ll give you a little flavour of what I think the England team should be, right now.

GK – Robert Green
RB – Glen Johnson
LB – Leighton Baines
CB – John Terry (c)
CB – Matthew Upson
RM – James Milner
LM – Ashley Young
CM – Steven Gerrard
CM – Tom Huddlestone
CF – Wayne Rooney
CF – Jermain Defoe

Sub – Ben Foster
Sub – Ryan Shawcross
Sub – Joleon Lescott
Sub – Michael Carrick
Sub – Shaun Wright-Phillips
Sub – Joe Cole
Sub – Carlton Cole

There we have pure talent, and players who have consistently performed well for their clubs over the last few seasons. I may have missed a couple of players off their whom should perhaps be there, but I think you get the idea.

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. manu fan permalink
    September 6, 2009 6:22 pm

    Hey, yup do agree with your views. Capello is pretty much held ransomed by the group of superstars in his team as well as the press. Afterall, in my honest opinion, any self-respecting manager would like to craft a team out of his own choice, but because of the bunch of superstars he has, that are superceded by their reputation more then their skills, hes forced to throw the same old misfiring formula on the field each time.

  2. September 6, 2009 6:38 pm

    Spurs fan I may be, but you’re being rather generous with Huddlestone. He does a houdini every now and then. My current England XI (when fit!) would look something like this.

    GK – Ben Foster
    RB – Glen Johnson
    LB – Ashley Cole
    CB – John Terry
    CB – Rio Ferdinand
    RM – Aaron Lennon
    LM – Ashley Young
    CM – Steven Gerrard
    CM – Gareth Barry
    FW – Wayne Rooney
    FW – Jermain Defoe

    Sub – Michael Carrick
    Sub – Micah Richards
    Sub – Carlton Cole
    Sub – David Beckham
    Sub – Gabriel Agbonlahor
    Sub – Jolean Lescott
    Sub – Robert Green

    Agreed on Lamps being overrated. Questions may be raised about my selection of Golden Balls, but I honestly believe he gives the sort of positive impact required when the team needs it. You can consider this a sub for ‘aura’ purposes =)

    Not a fan of Cashley’s off field antics at the hairdressers or salary, but attacking wise, he gives England more options on the left with Young ahead of him.

  3. September 6, 2009 9:05 pm

    I’m very surprised that you guys took Lampard out of your ideal England team. And I’d do the same. I also think he’s very overrated (I’d probably sit him on the bench though).

    I’ll answer some questions like Galician people do, i.e. with another question:

    Can Gerrard and Lampard play together? -> Can Gerrard play alone with no Lampard “disturbing”?

    If the so-called stars can’t work together as a team, why not give the players that you can rely on to do just that a chance? -> Can Wayne Rooney carry this team on his shoulders as he should do? He’s the English superstar this team needs. His performances should me much better than what we’ve been seeing from him lately.

    I’ve always thought England usually has one of the best starting elevens. Then, you realize that in the 2nd half Defoe gets in the pitch, while Fabregas does the same for Spain, or Agüero for Argentina. There’s a level difference there.

    My team would be:

    A. Cole


    J. Cole
    C. Cole

    (23 players like if we were in the World Cup).

  4. Barney permalink
    September 7, 2009 12:33 am

    I would agree with a lot of the above: that is, Lampard out and Beckham too i think. Certainly it’s time he was discarded. Rio Ferdinand is overrated too – his performance against the Dutch was hardly convincing, and those mistakes were not his first. I’m a fan of Aaron Lennon and he is more consistent than the very hot and cold Shaun Wright-Philips and out of form Ashley Young.

    By the way i was impressed with Slovenia’s neat and tidy passing even if it was impotent when they reached the defence. For me their passing at times showed up england’s flat and tempo-less play.

  5. September 7, 2009 8:34 am

    Huddlestone? Seriously? Good call on Milner and Young – both put out consistent performances, but in all reality I’d have Lennon on the right – he’s been on fire so far.

    Baines as left-back? He’s not good enough. Granted, he’s probably the only other decent left-back aside from Cole so perhaps that answers your pondering on why he gets selected?

    Rooney and Dafoe up front look like a decent enough pairing, but Upson at starting centre-back? I’d rather have Curtis Davies or someone.

  6. September 7, 2009 9:03 am

    Good article George but i have to pull you up on a few points

    The national side has to be picked on the basis that “said” player is the best in his position. (the whole superstar BS is created by the press so should be ignored) Therefore Ashley Cole gets picked ahead of Baines on the simple premis that he is better…alot better! Now i know Cashley is an abhorrent human being, but he is a class full back. Frank Lampard has scored 20 goals a season domestically for the last whatever seasons…when picking a side Capello cannot ignore this fact. Again, i dont like Fatboy Frank, but he is a starter for me

    The biggest culprit of not reproducing club form for me is Steven Gerrard. For Liverpool he runs thro brick walls..i have NEVER seen him do that for England. For that reason alone, i would start Barry and Lampard as the central two for the Croatia game. However, Gerrard is a world class performer so he has to start, even if he doesnt play centrally. Im happy to see him start in a wider role or behind a soletry striker.

    I dont think the Capello is held to ransom by anyone..he picks what he thinks is the best squad and team. We all have opinions about the England side and that wont change. But it is crazy to think we should put our national side in the hands of Tom Huddlestone, Leighton Baines and Ryan Shawcross when you have better players. And not picking Rio Ferdinand?? Madness..he is still one of the best centre backs in the world, but we wouldnt pick him because of an error in the last game? As i said “pick your best players” that is the rule. Steve McClaren tried to tinker and look what happened

    I think we think we have a divine right to win every game 5-0..thrashing most teams in the world. In the 70s we had some of the best players in the world and still didnt qualify for a world cup in that happens. There is no divine right. The game on saturday was a one should be playing like a madman at 100%. England have a perfect record in qualifying so far and now were close..we should be happy with that. In fact we are probaby the only nation in the world that would still be complaining with a record like that!

    my team would be:

    Green, Johnson, Terry, Upson, A.Cole,
    Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Lennon
    Rooney, Defoe

  7. September 7, 2009 9:49 am

    brown ferdinand terry cole
    lennon gerrard carrick young
    rooney defoe

    • September 7, 2009 11:17 am

      Brown and Carrick? Must be a Utd fan, eh? Carrick is in shocking form at the moment and Brown hasn’t been right since the injury.

      • September 7, 2009 12:54 pm

        as a utd fan i will say hand on heart no to Wes at the moment…but he may challenge Johnson if the Lpool lad carries on defending as he is, no matter how good he is going forward

        Carrick is a squad player at best at the mo…he is not playing well for us

        If we can get Hargreaves fit it will be a massive boost for club and country

      • arsenalparker permalink
        September 7, 2009 11:44 pm

        love this article – its somthing i’ve been thinking but haven’t been able to get it across to anyone. personally i think, lamps should go too, along with becks, johnson i genuinally believe is one of the shytist players in the premierleague – fair play he can sometimes attack, but put a decent winger against him and he is simply not able to cope. terry is good, needs get some more speed,if he is to compete with world class strikrs on the pitch. maybe england could play 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 with ferdinand and upson at the back. as for a goal keeper, no one sticks out in my mind in the premier league – maybe capello should look in the championship, i bet theres plenty of english keepers there, all far more consistant than those in the premiership. gerrard lennon are 2 great players that would get my vote to play. however, one thing i really can’t get my head around is that barry starts every game. personally i think he is useless, isn’t a player that grabs the game and gives it everything he has, much like carrick, who i also view as useless. it pains me to say this cos he’s a utd player, but england need a player like darren fletcher, not a ‘celebrity’ but rather a good physical player that gets stuck in and can play well consistantly. ashley young is a good talent, hopefully he will begin to get some goals and more confidence, as he looks good on the left. up front is simple for me, rooney, who is among the best 5 strikers in the workd in my eyes and partnered by defoe. no owen, he is never gunna be the same again. also, heskey is a waste of space, crouch is good as a sub, nothing else.

        once again, good article!

  8. September 7, 2009 11:16 am

    Rob, I don’t even think Lennon can play on the left wing! If he does, he won’t be nearly as effective as if he played on the right!

  9. George permalink
    September 7, 2009 11:46 am

    Rob, I can see where you’re coming from on the Cole/Baines situation. We’re not blessed with left backs in this country, but my point was that I don’t think Cole deserves a place in the England team based on his recent form for club and country. You may disagree, but from what I’ve seen of him, I’m yet to be convinced that he’s a world class player.

    I disagree with your comments about Gerrard however. If he was given the chance to play central midfield, or just behind the striker for England, we’d see the best of him. But Capello’s constant willingness to play him on the left side of midfield, which clearly isn’t his best position, means he’s not reproducing his Liverpool form. Playing alongside a guy like Gareth Barry in the centre of midfield would be a brilliant combo.

    As for everyone saying Huddlestone isn’t good enough – WHAT? He passes a ball as good as a anyone in the Premier League, if not better, and does a great job infront of the back 4 with Palacios. Not seen him have a really bad game for Spurs, and I think he’d be a great foil for Gerrard, and Rooney playing the attacking roles.

    • September 7, 2009 12:51 pm

      Well i have seen Tom Huddlesstone have bad games and he is shocking..he is a promising young player but is nowhere near mobile enough for my liking. He wouldnt even get on the bench as far as im concerned..not yet.

      speaking of talking about his whole england career. He has never consistently cut it for me…id like to know why. With him it is about attitude..for liverpool he is a dynamo..for england it looks like he doesnt give a toss…body language tells alot.

      Oh, Cristiano Ronaldo says the best full back he has ever played against is Ashley Cole..thats good enough for me. And the fact that he plays week in week out for one of the best teams in the world..horrible human being as i said, but i care not about that.

      my alternative england team

      3-5-2 when everyones fit


      Ferdinand Terry Upson

      Johnson Barry A Cole
      Hargreaves Lampard



  10. Matt permalink
    September 7, 2009 2:10 pm

    My current England XI would be:

    GK: Foster

    RB: Johnson
    LB: A.Cole
    CB: Terry
    CB: Ferdinand

    RM: Lennon
    LM: A.Young
    CM: Lampard
    CM: Barry

    FW: Gerrard
    FW: Rooney

    Sub: Green
    Sub: Richards
    Sub: Lescott
    Sub: Carrick
    Sub: Barry
    Sub: Crouch
    Sub: Defoe

    I think we would finally see the best of Gerrard playing in behind Rooney.

  11. Hush permalink
    September 7, 2009 2:32 pm

    No place for a fit Theo Walcott in anybodies lineup?


    Johnson Terry Ferdinand Cole

    Barry Hargreaves

    Walcott Gerrard Milner


    • September 7, 2009 4:31 pm

      Oh yeah, I was sure I was forgetting about someone.

  12. September 7, 2009 2:35 pm


    • September 7, 2009 5:37 pm

      if Hargreaves gets fit, he is Englands best defensive midfielder..makes Gareth Barry look like a big girl

      • September 7, 2009 6:31 pm

        I’d swap my predictions on LW (Young) for Joe Cole if he was fit. Not a pure winger per se, but he does pull defences towards him and as such, leaves a gaping hole in the opponents defence for the likes of Rooney and Gerrard to capitalise.

      • September 7, 2009 8:27 pm

        For all you know he’s the best defensive midfielder – nobody’s seen him play for the better part of two years!

  13. George permalink
    September 7, 2009 7:02 pm

    In Football it’s not about the individual, it’s about the team. As Alf Ramsey said, “I don’t pick the best individuals, I pick the best team”, hence why he left out Jimmy Greaves, the best striker in the world at the time. That’s why Huddlestone, playing alongside someone similar to Gerrard, or Modric for Spurs, is a brilliant player. Gerrard and Modric are the flair players who get forward and create chances. Huddlestone wins the ball, and gives it. Yes, he may be a little on the chubby side, perhaps overweight, but the guy can play Football.

    I disagree with Ben Foster being in the side. He’s not good enough yet to be England’s number 1. As for Hargreaves, in my opinion he’s a much improved player, but unfortunately he’s seldom fully fit. Get him fit, and he’ll be in and around the side.

    • September 7, 2009 8:27 pm

      I agree. Foster isn’t good enough.

    • September 7, 2009 10:44 pm

      ha! i like the way youve tried to link Ramsey leaving Greaves out (who was injured in the main) to including Huddlestone, who you admit to being overweight. Yes lets have an overweight central midfielder in there. Brilliant.

      Huddlestone wins the ball??? Seriously have you ever seen him play. He is NOT a ball winner

      • Hush permalink
        September 8, 2009 7:50 am

        Lee Cattermole is a better ball winner than husky Huddlestone

      • September 8, 2009 8:20 am

        I agree Cattermole is better at winning the ball than Huddlestone and, in my mind, better than Huddlestone over all.

      • September 8, 2009 10:29 am

        im with mr banter. I rate Cattermole higher than fatboy Tom.

  14. manutd08 permalink
    September 7, 2009 9:06 pm

    We all agree united are better than England…..

    United> England

  15. George permalink
    September 8, 2009 11:18 am

    Lee Cattermole? Pahahaha, okay. Lets put Lee Bowyer back in the team then.

    My point about Greaves is that Ramsey left him out because he didn’t fit in with the team dimensions. What I mean is, having Lampard and Gerrard playing alonside each other doesn’t work, therefore you need to compliment one of the two with someone who can hold and spray the ball around.

  16. maserati4200 permalink
    September 8, 2009 4:06 pm

    I agree with George.

    Greaves played in the early part of the ’66 tournament, got injured and then was fit for the semi and final.

    During Greaves’ absence, Ramsey realised that the Hurst/Hunt axis worked better from the team perspective (both inferior talents to Greaves, who was world class). Ramsey, therefore, decided that the team had a better collective composition with Hurst and Hunt in attack.

    Similarly, John Connelly was a brilliant winger. He was fast, two footed, could play on either wing and scored goals – 35 in 113 for Man Utd from the wing – but didn’t even play a game in the World Cup ’66 finals. Why not? Because Ramsey decided to dispense with out and out wing-play and keep a narrow formation.

    The upshot is that any manager should select the best team, not necessarily the best indivduals. I think Capello has demonstrated that he understands this basic concept.

  17. maserati4200 permalink
    September 8, 2009 4:53 pm


    Should have said…

    “Capello has not demonstrated…”

  18. Hush permalink
    September 8, 2009 4:53 pm

    In some cases a team formed of superstars can be sucessful, if all egos are kept in check. The Spanish side that won Euro 2008 consisted of mainly superstars: Torres, Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Fabregas, Silva, Ramos, Puyol, Casillas (minus Capdevila and Marchena).

    With England there seems to be no direction or team ethic, the players have a better idea of how they fit in with their club sides than they do with their country.

    However, if there is anyone that can drill that sort of philosophy into England then it’s gotta be Mr. Capello.

  19. maserati4200 permalink
    September 8, 2009 5:05 pm

    I agree Hush.

    Capello represents our best chance since Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson.

    I’m just concerned that he’s trying to fit too many square pegs into too many round holes.

    Horses for courses – a clapped out old cliche – but a truism, nevertheless.

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