Remembering the England managers: Kevin Keegan

It’s hard to believe it now but in 1999 Kevin Keegan’s appointment as England manager was a cause for national jubilation (not just in Newcastle). English Football had finally appointed its greatest hero to its biggest job. After the fractious ending of Glenn Hoddle’s reign here was the man to bring the nation together.

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It wasn’t just the cult of King Kev’ that got fans excited, Keegan’s management record to that point was outstanding. He’d taken Newcastle from the bottom of the second division to a whisker away from a Premier League title, more recently he’d turned Fulham around in both cases bringing a style of football rarely seen at either St James Park or Craven Cottage.

Almost everyone believed he could do it with England particularly given the quality of young players he had to work with; David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Emile Heskey and Lee Bowyer. Keegan had always been a strong advocate of his ex England manager Don Revie, often stating England’s problems in the 70s were simply down to a lack of quality players, here there seemed evidence England might finally have the talent to succeed.

But those expecting a youthful reinvention of England were soon disappointed. It became clear very quickly Keegan favoured veterans. He retained Alan Shearer as captain having previously broken the World transfer record to sign him for Newcastle. The problem was by 1999 Shearer had lost a yard of pace and was embroiled in a difficult relationship with new Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit. Keegan also retained the spine of the Euro ’96 team- Davis Seaman, Tony Adams & Paul Ince all by now on the down slide of their careers. The youth of the side was again provided by Manchester United; right sided pair Gary Neville & Beckham continued their right wing/back partnership from club level in a 4-4-2 with right footed Phil Neville at left back and Paul Scholes playing attacking midfield.

The qualifying situation Keegan inherited was worrying. England had taken a poultry 4 points from their opening three Euro 2000 qualifiers. The group was headed by Sweden who’d beaten England in Stockholm and held a 2 point lead in the table with a game in hand, but Keegan projected his usual air of self confidence and insisted England would qualify.

In March 1999 Keegan strode out to the Wembley dugout chest puffed out for his first game as manager, ready to face England’s most familiar qualifying opponents; Poland. Scholes slid onto a through ball to put England 1 up after 12 minutes, 10 minutes later he headed home a Beckham cross and England were in charge. The Poles pulled a goal back before half time but England bossed the second half and Scholes completed his only England hat trick on 70 minutes to finish off the Poles in a 3-1 win.

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Keegan had to wait another 3 months for the biggest qualifier- a chance for revenge at home against Sweden. The Swedes arrived at Wembley holding a 100 percent record in the group.  Injuries dictated team selection and Keegan made the bizarre decision to include Tim Sherwood in his starting 11.

It was a turgid ill tempered match with Scholes making a predictably poor tackle and being sent off early in the second half. It ended 0-0 with England’s chances of winning the group disappearing down the Wembley tunnel with Scholes. It was now about finishing second and winning a play off.

Even finishing second started to look difficult when England drew their next qualifier later that week in Bulgaria.  When September came around England needed maximum points from their remaining 2 qualifiers. The first was easy- Luxembourg at home, the open goal was duly accepted and England won 6-0, leading to the regular event of an England qualifying campaign ending with the need to ‘get a result in Poland.’

The teams were level on points but crucially Poland had one more game to play whilst England’s campaign would end that night in Warsaw. Keegan went with tried and trusted a 4-4-2 with Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler partnering Shearer in attack and Fowler’s old pal Steve McManaman on the left. Poland played for the draw, England huffed and puffed but Fowler and Shearer weren’t a natural pairing and England struggled to create anything of note. In the 84th minute David Batty was red carded and Poland got more interested in winning but England held out for a 0-0.

England’s qualification rested on Poland losing their last game away to Sweden (who’d already qualified) and then getting it right in the playoffs, most fans consigned the campaign to failure and started thinking about the 2002 World Cup.

But it was at this point fate slipped Kevin Keegan an ace; Poland crashed 2-0 in Sweden, with Celtic’s Henrik Larsson injury time goal guaranteeing  England a place in the play off draw. At UEFA HQ the draw was made, the first team drawn from the pot of 8 was Scotland and there was something in inevitable about who was drawn to play them. It was an Auld Enemy clash to decide a place at Euro 2000 and all talk of 2002 was on hold, England suddenly expected.

The first leg would be held in Scotland, as an icon of English football Keegan made for a convenient target for the Scots as match day approached and Keegan seemed to revel in the atmosphere, for the first time he looked truly comfortable as England manager and it had the effect of taking the pressure away from his players.

Come the game Keegan made another odd selection decision- picking Sol Campbell at right back in the absence of Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp in the troublesome leftwing position.

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50,000 Scots crammed into Hampden Park baying for blood like an Alex Salmond wet dream. But Scottish hopes for a Braveheart inspired pitch battle were quickly muted.  A rangey cross from Campbell found Scholes who nipped in front of Colin Hendry and put England 1 up after 21 minutes. Despite their imbalanced looking side England outclassed Scotland, with the second goal arriving before half time; One Beckham cross, One Scholes header 2-0. England controlled the second half and rode off to Wembley with what looked like an unassailable 2 goal cushion.

Wembley was a sell out for the return match 4 days later, most went to Wembley in party spirits with the Scots already beaten for Keegan’s coronation as England’s saviour. Keegan made only 1 team change with Gareth Southgate replacing Martin Keown, the gamble of Campbell at righback had paid off and Keegan stayed with the winning formula from Hampden.

But Scotland hand’t read the script, they produced a stirring fightback and after Barry Ferguson had missed a gaping early chance, a Neil McCann cross found Don Hutchison and Scotland were back in it 2-1 (on aggregate) after 39 minutes. In the second half the Scots pushed for an equaliser, England looked rigid and unable to find a response sat further and further back, they almost paid for it- A close range Christian Dailly header ws brilliantly saved by Seaman and England just hung on for an aggregate win but a loss at Wembley to Scotland. It was an odd sobering night for England fans, qualification which looked lost a year earlier had been achieved but it had been a constant struggle

In truth the campaign had been awful with England only managing 3 wins in the group (2 against Luxembourg) 4 draws and that opening loss in Stockholm, indeed England finished 9 points adrift of Sweden. They’d only made the playoffs because Poland had blown it and when drawn against an unfancied Scotland they’d done it by the skin of their teeth.

It wasn’t neccasrily Keegan’s fault, Hoddle had dropped him in it with a lousy start, his options had been hugely debilitated by injuries and ill discipline, but there was little to suggest England would play the champagne football Keegan had previously brought to Newcastle.

But the most obvious deficiency Keegan had to wrestle with was the shocking lack of left sided options available to him. In the era before Ashley Cole but after Stuart Pearce (not that being 37 stopped Keegan calling him up!) England couldn’t produce a single left footed defender and few natural left wingers. Keegan often played Phil Neville at left back arguing he’s played their successfully for Manchester United, true but at United Neville had the marauding Ryan Giggs in front of him, he had no need to run the left corner and cross, with England he always had a right footed midfielder ahead of him meaning England leaned to the right more than a Donald Trump rally.

Keegan now had some respite through friendlies and time to prepare his team for the finals ahead, he also had a draw ceremony to attend. Given how England had sneaked into the tournament the seeding in the draw was low and fears were raised of a tough group, but again fortune favoured Keegan and England drew Germany, Romania & Portugal. Germany were a fading force whilst the Portuguese had a talented side but one with a reputation for under achievement, Romania had beaten England at the previous World Cup but were seen as an ageing side.

The friendly results were middling, Keegan chopped and changed without finding the combination to unlock the kind of football his club sides had often played. In the final friendly he opted to give youngsters Steven Gerrard & Gareth Barry their debuts. Gerrard impressed but more importantly the left footed Barry offered a possible solution to the left side issue, left footed and able to play at left back or left midfield Barry could have been the missing piece Keegan needed to complete his jigsaw.

Gerrard & Barry made the squad as did the recalled Steve McManaman (fresh from scoring in the Champions League final) and fit again Michael Owen. Owen had been the star of the previous World Cup campaign but often injured during the Euro qualification campaign. England were ready to roll.

England would start against Portugal or to give them their official title of the era Luis Figo’s Portugal.  Keegan again opted for Phil Neville at left back with McManaman on the left wing, alongside Scholes, Beckham, Owen & Shearer this was a very attack minded side with Seaman, Adams & Campbell & the Neville brothers only screened by the ageing Ince.

England got off to a perfect start, a 3rd minute Beckham cross was headed home by Scholes 1-0. Beckham was the best player on the pitch and 15 minutes later he crossed again for McManaman to volley home. 20 minutes gone 2-0 up what do you do? If you’re managed by Keegan you push men forward for a third. But with England in the ascendancy the ball broke to Figo who ran unchallenged through England’s half and blasted home from 25 yards, 2-1. From then on Portugal had the upper hand playing in a flexible 4-3-3 England were simply out numbered in midfield, on 37 minutes a fine team move saw Rui Costa float a perfect cross for Joao Pinto to head home 2-2 at half time.

During the break Keegan sent Peter Beardsley of his coaching staff out for the interview who gave the insightful soundbite “2-0 is often a dangerous lead to have.”  The second half saw England unable to regain their mojo and Portugal got the winner on 59 minutes when Nuno Gomes slid home 2-3. England had blown it, they were too open too cavalier and got caught out whilst on top and Keegan faced a storm of criticism.

Next up were Germany, the game was hugely hyped and the fixture inevitably was the one England fans had circled. But this was not the Germany of old or more specifically it was an Old Germany. Incredibly Lothar Matthaus was captain aged 39, elsewhere they had Liverpool pair Christian Ziege & Didi Hamann, the dour midfield duo Jens Jeremies & Mehmet Scholl, giant striker Carstan Janker who had a turning circle bigger than an oil tanker and the deceptively slow Ulf Kirsten.

Keegan made 2 team changes dropping McManaman for the more workmanlike Dennis Wise and replacing the injured Adams with club mate Martin Keown. The first half was tepid, England went close when Owen headed a Phil Neville cross from the edge of the box but little else of note happened.

On 53 minutes a Beckham free kick found Shearer on the left of the box who headed a low effort past Oliver Kahn 1-0. Germany fought back and Keegan perhaps learning from his mistake against Portugal dug his side in replacing Owen with Gerrard who marked the occasion with crunching tackle that left Hamann “screaming like a girl.’ Germany had little cutting edge and England had done it!

1728275_w2Germany were beaten and a draw from the Romania game would see them into the quarter finals. Keegan again had a change forced on him- Seaman got injured before the game and Nigel Martyn played in goal. Romania made a fast start and Christian Chivu headed home from close range after 22 minutes. England laboured but won a penalty which Shearer despatched on 41 minutes, then on the verge of halftime a break through the centre saw Owen burst forward and tap home a second 2-1 at the break.

England had looked ragged, struggling with their passing and lacking the fluency of the Romanians. They needed an improved performance in the second half but got a poor start when a weak Martyn clearance fell to Dorinel Muntaneu who lashed in an equaliser. Romania swept forward, England repelled with Martyn partly atoning for his error with a series of fine saves. There was little tactical advice from the sideline with Keegan instead encouraging his players to stand tall, it was a disjointed performance but the result was enough so long as nobody did something silly at the death, enter Phil Neville. The young fullback committed a clumsy tackle in the box and the referee pointed to the spot Ionel Ganea put away the penalty and England were out.

article-2028286-002B588500000258-365_634x411The knives were out and England’s poor tournament was ridiculed, Keegan took the brickbats and prepared for the new season. Shearer retired from international duty that summer depriving Keegan of his captain, he was replaced with Adams.

Preparing for England’s first game of the new campaign (a friendly against France) Keegan gave an interview saying he’d needed time after the Euros to lick his wounds and then gave an odd analogy to his current predicament saying “Sometimes a boxer gets off the canvas to fightback and land the knockout blow, I want to be that boxer’. The unfortunate thing with that analogy is of course more often than not a floored boxer gets up just to stumble around in a trance, take more punishment and fall flat on the canvas as the referee decides he’s had enough. And here were Germany rocking up at Wembley to start World Cup qualifying.

Despite a credible 1-1 draw with newly crowned World & European Champions France hopes for Keegan’s side heading into qualifying weren’t high. On the eve of the game Keegan made yet another surprise selection- picking defender Gareth Southgate as a defensive midfielder, Southgate had only played that position briefly in his early career at Crystal Palace but had spent the last 5 years as a centre half at Aston Villa.

Wembley was sold out as usual but this was more than a qualifier, it was Germany and it was the old ground’s final England game. The German’s were little changed from the summer encounter but did have a new coach in Rudi Voller and the sides kicked off in a light London drizzle.

Germany won a free kick 30 yards from goal, Hamann stepped up and lashed a low shot that skidded around the wet surface, was fluffed by Seaman and squirmed into the England net 0-1.

England responded with chances falling to Andy Cole & Captain Adams before half time but to no avail. In the second half Keegan brought on Barry and changed shape to nearer a 3-5-2 but the second half was a turgid affair with England pushing, Germany hanging in and occasionally breaking forward, a couple of long range efforts from Beckham were as close as England got, the game ended 0-1 and as Keegan trudged down the Wembley tunnel he was heckled by a small group of fans, he looked up clearly hurt by it and disappeared into the dressing room. Soon after FA chief Adam Crozier was called in and after short delay Keegan faced the press declaring he’d resigned as manager.

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In his resignation speech Keegan gave a heartfelt thanks to the FA & his players for their support and effort but also declared he felt he just wasn’t quite good enough for international management. It was a staggeringly honest assessment of his reign and one few managers would dare admit but he was probably correct in what he said.

I like most were relieved it was over and that’s the saddest thing about Keegan’s time with England. Most respected his brutal honesty and accepted England should move on without him although there was criticism that he was leaving 4 days ahead of England’s second qualifier in Finland. The most surprised person at Wembley that day was probably Howard Wilkinson who arrived Under 21s Manager and left in temporary charge of the senior side.

Soon after Crozier crossed the Rubicon (quite literally) in appointing Lazio boss Sven-Goran Eriksson as England’s first overseas manager. England would go on to qualify for the World Cup, beating Germany 5-1 in Munich 11 months later. Keegan resurfaced the following year at Manchester City, a great name of English football fallen on hard times, a typical Keegan project. He took them to promotion and into their new Stadium but crucially left before the Abu Dhabi billions rolled in. His most recent management stint was an ill advised return to Newcastle in 2008 where he fell out with Mike Ashley.

Looking back on Keegan’s time with England the biggest problem seemed to be his pushing square pegs into round holes; Campbell at right back, Neville & Redknapp on the left, Southgate in midfield to name a few.

But also there was a lack of a defined team shape, like a lot of England managers he correctly identified the best 11 players and simple put them out on the pitch. In Michael Cox’s recent book ‘The Mixer’ Cox reviewed Keegan’s time at Newcastle pointing out their problem in that title near miss of 1996 was the team lacked a defined shape and scheme and Keegan simply fitted it around the best 11 players, a particular problem when they signed Batty & ‘tino Asprilla. You could certainly see a similar pattern in his England tenure.

There were also problems with his coaching staff, Keegan wanted Arthur Cox as assistant  but the FA refused on the grounds of Cox’s age. Notably after Keegan left Crozier recruited top coaches Brian Kidd & Sammy Lee to work with the as yet unnamed new England Manager. A similar policy when Keegan was in charge would have helped, I can’t help thinking had he had a top line coach to help with his own short comings (Kidd or Ray Harford say) things might have been different.

In a recent interview Keegan gave some interesting insight into his management at Newcastle. On taking the job he noticed the training ground was run down and decrepit so he immediately persuaded Sir John Hall to invest £40k in having the dressing rooms retiled, cleaned and out dated equipment replaced over the weekend. It had the desired effect lifting spirits amongst the squad and Keegan used such incentives to motivate his players as he rebuilt the club.

It was a great trick at a run down Newcastle but not the sort of thing that works with top level players at Wembley (where I”m sure the floors have a nice polish). And of course at international level he didn’t have the fantasy football chequebook of Sir John to back him up. Whilst his shortcomings in tactics and team shape came into far sharper focus at international level.

Kevin Keegan the England player is a legend, arguably the best his country as ever produced, as a manager he said it himself he just wasn’t quite up to it. He did however achieve England’s only tournament victory over Germany since 1966 and for one night only We Loved it when we beat them! LOVED IT!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scouting England’s winners & losers- Premier League Week 1

It’s a World Cup season so which England hopefuls caught the eye this weekend and who wishes they hadn’t.

Winners
Jamie Vardy

After a poor 2016/17 campaign Vardy looked to be slipping out of England contention whilst Leicester signed Iannacho and retained Slimmani. But against Arsenal Craig Shakespeare opted for the old money of Vardy & Okazaki- they repaid him with 3 goals. Vardy torched Arsenal’s shaky back 3 with his searing pace and deadly finishing. Only 13 PL goals last season suddenly feels a long time ago.

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Wayne Rooney

This was always going to happen, Rooney does love a debut goal and from his number 10 role Rooney not only scored, he produced his best all round display for well over a year at Goodison Park. It’s too early to talk about a recall but Rooney remains in contention, it’ll be fascinating to see how he gets on at the Etihad next week.

Premier League - Everton vs Stoke City

Kyle Walker

Man of the match on debut, Walker couldn’t have asked for much more. Far tougher defensive tests await but Walker confirmed what we already knew- he’s the best right back in the country.

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Kyle Walker-Peters

The under 20 World Cup fullback was one of only 2 members of that squad who started this week. He gave an assured debut display for Spurs at Newcastle.  Maybe worth checking if there’s a Kyle Walker III in the Tottenham academy.

Jay Rodriguez

After 3 horrendous injury ravaged years Rodriguez gave a fine, energetic performance on his West Brom debut. Didn’t notch a goal but an encouraging display none the less.

Marcus Rashford

Playing as a left forward rather than central striker, Rashford terrorised West Ham’s backline with his pace and direct running, Lukaku rightly grabbed the headlines but Rashford was sensational.

 

Losers
Rob Holding

Ok playing in a back 3 with 2 leftbacks (1 on debut the other Monreal) always looked like a hiding to nothing, but Holding was rotten. He looked caught in no mans land between Mark Albrighton (who he failed to close down for Leicester’s second goal) and the front 2, he gave away possession looked uncertain throughout and was subbed after 66 minutes. What on earth was Callum Chambers thinking sat in his suit on the Arsenal bench, ‘where’s my agent?!b*$tard must have died’ at a guess.

Demarai Gray

Reports of Riyad Mahrez’s demise appear greatly exaggerated. Gray needs minutes but he won’t get them sat behind Mahrez.

Jermain Defoe

Needs to score 15 goals this season to get one last shot at a World Cup, not easy to do if you’re sat on the bench, can he play in tandem with Josh King? Eddie Howe appears to have his doubts, worrying.

Gary Cahill

Red carded 14 minutes into his club captaincy, at least there’s no danger of him being injured when Southgate announces his first squad.

Jonjo Shelvey

Utter fool! Shelvey has always been prone to a meltdown but his straight red for standing on Dele Alli was barmy. No danger of those 2 playing together for England anytime soon.

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England Playing Stat

Number of player available to England starting PL games this week- 70 (32%)

England internationals currently unavailable: 5- Clyne, Trippier, Rose, Shaw, Lallana, 

 

 

 

England’s fullback options

Probably the strongest unit England have at present there should be strong competition for places between now and the World Cup:

Leftbacks– One player is nailed on, but there’s a lot of competition behind him.
1. Danny Rose– Developed beyond anyones expectations last season with Tottenham, looks the best left back in the Premier League and unassailable for England. Will miss the September internationals but will be guaranteed the start on his return.

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2. Ryan Bertrand- Solid and dependable at club level, Bertrand has looked at ease with international football and remains England’s best left back going back towards his own goal. Not great with set pieces though.

3. Luke Shaw- Since being hailed as Ashley Cole’s heir apparent Shaw has endured a rotten time at Man United through poor form, horrific injury and worst of all the wrath of Jose Mourinho. Will miss the start of the season with injury but will be favourite for the left back slot at Old Trafford following a softening of his manager’s stance. If this season doesn’t work out a January transfer wouldn’t be a shock.

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4. Joe Gomez- Another young player who’s suffered with long term injuries, the difference being Gomez has the confidence and support of Jurgen Klopp. With only the more attack minded Andy Robertson as a direct rival Gomez should get plenty of starts this season, a first cap might not be far behind.

5. Aaron Cresswell- The good news is he finally got a game against France, the bad news is Southgate didn’t trust him with anything more than a cameo. At 27 it’s hard to see him improving much and the defensive concerns are not likely to go away. Has 2 caps though!

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6. Leighton Baines- Great going forward, useful with a dead ball, flawed in defence, only an injury crisis would see him recalled.
7. Ben Chilwell- Had a good tournament with the Under 21s this summer. Chilwell has a good chance of dislodging the wonderfully named Christian Fuchs at Leicester this season. Defensive work needs improvement but a fine crosser of the ball, more likely to stay in the Under 21s for now.

8. Ryan Sessegnon– The 17 year old was England’s star man in the Under 19s summer triumph. Sessegnon is a special talent but the World Cup will probably come too soon. Either through promotion or transfer Sessegnon will be a premier league starter in a years time, by which time he’ll have 70+ senior game behind him. A starter for England at Euro 2020.

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Right backs– in truth this looks like 2 from the top 3, but there’s plenty of young talent coming through the ranks.
1. Kyle Walker-  He’s worth £50 million! In reality he isn’t but he has developed into a top class right back. Walker will start at City and with England, has power and pace although does suffer the odd brain fart. A World Cup certainty.Kyle+Walker+England+v+Netherlands+International+7lnMl2Kgwiol
2. Nathaniel Clyne- Needs to improve after an underwhelming year at Liverpool. His last good game I remember was against Slovakia at the Euros! Currently injured and may have to fend off Joe Gomez to regain his Liverpool place. On uncertain ground.

3. Kieran Trippier– impressed on debut and usurped Walker at Spurs toward the end of last season. Has Superior crossing ability to Walker & Clyne but defensive concerns continue, will be under the microscope this season.

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4. Mason Holgate- Underwhelmed with his crossing at the Euro Under 21s but retains a strong chance of a regular start at Everton. Will stay with the Under 21s for now.
5. Jonjoe Kenny- Had a great summer with the Under 20s but yet to make a first team impression at Everton. May need a loan move to the Championship this season but looks a future star.

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6. Carl Jenkinson- Desperately needs a move having failed to make an impression at Arsenal, perhaps he moved up the leagues too soon, but there is a good player there for someone. Has been sat on a solitary cap for 5 years.

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7. Ainsley Maitland-Niles– It’s way too soon to be in line for a senior call up but could be a breakout player this season. His talent is clear to see but for now it’ll be Europa League group games and the league cup.

 

7 Premier League Rule Changes that should happen

The new season is almost here, but all is not necessarily well in the beautiful game so I’ve come up with 5 rule changes that should happen;

  1. Loan players can play against their parent club. This is bloody obvious! whilst it’ll be fascinating to see how Chelsea’s young loanees get on this season the fact they won’t be allowed to play against Chelsea is going bring them an unfair advantage in the title race. Thus far Crystal Palace, Stoke, Huddersfield, Brighton & Swansea have Chelsea players on loan (that’s 10 games) in which Chelsea will face weakened opponents in the league. Of course others are loaning around the division too, notably Man City. I like the loan system and think those young players on loan will benefit from the experience but I don’t buy they have conflict of interest argument  of them playing their parent club, if anything wouldn’t they be more motivated to play well against a team they’re trying to break into?1004070fd5fe7631dc09855ab0c97288
  2. Restrictions on age of loan players. Whilst young players going on loan is an essential part of their development veterans being loaned out is daft. What’s the point of Joe Hart going on loan? Maybe it’s understandable going on loan to foreign leagues, but ultimately West Ham will learn nothing from loaning Hart they don’t already know, that should be a permanent deal. I propose limiting loans between premier league clubs to Under 23s.
  3. The transfer window closes at the start of the season. This is a no brainer, the summer window should close at midday the day before the season kicks off. The days of blockbuster deadline day deals seem over so why keep it open for 3 weeks after the season starts? Worse still this season it closes on an international week causing yet more disruption. 25 man squads should be finalised before the season starts and then the whole business stops until January.
  4. Winter Break. That old chestnut- people often say the lack of a winter break is just an excuse for England to fail in the summer, fine remove the excuse! There are plenty of ways to accommodate a 2 week break in January, most obviously play the League Cup Final before Christmas, keeping the competition clear of the January- May half of the season. Removing the March International friendly fixture in tournament years would be another (see point 7 for more on that). It would also reduce the Africa Cup of Nations issue every other year in the Premier League. Given the way English sides have generally performed in the later rounds of the Champions League it’s hard to argue clubs wouldn’t also benefit from the break. Of course it would need to be policed by the Premier League to ensure nobody uses it as an excuse to go on a money making tour. Oh and if we haven’t got time for a Winter Break why have we got time for a post season tour by every big club each May. Bonkers!
  5. Friday night PL games for European participants. Most other European participants play their game preceding a Champions League encounter on the Friday night before the Tuesday night CL match. In England this never happens with teams often playing on the Sunday before the Tuesday night game. It’s daft and only happens for TV ratings, but surely in a league where Middlesborough or Burnley seemed to be on every Monday Night we can find another 2 games on Sunday and televise a Friday night match for a CL team?
  6. Post match referee interviews. The manager, the players, even the fans give a post match reaction and the refereeing decisions are usually a talking point- so why aren’t the referees ever interviewed?
  7. Midseason international friendlies abolished. As an England fan I find the friendlies ever more tedious, made worse by the fact once prestigious fixtures are now a regular occurrence- England have now played Germany & France in back to back seasons, we also play friendlies against Italy & Holland with tedious regularity. I would propose scrapping the mid season friendlies concentrating mid season internationals on qualifying and on current Friendly designated match days simply have England squad training and get together sessions- as pioneered by Terry Venables in the Euro ’96 build up. Then play friendlies in the summer in either a friendly tournament as previously seen with the Rous & Umbro Cups or major tournament build up matches. Of course 2018 will see the UEFA League of Nations kick off- we’ll have to see if that works better, could it be worse than friendlies?

Ten England hopefuls who need a transfer

As we enter the last month of the transfer window some players know they need a transfer to get games and keep their World Cup dreams alive. There will be this still hopeful of playing only to find by the third week of August they din;t fit with their manager and need a deadline day deal, here are 10 England hopefuls who need a move now.

  1. Daniel Sturridge – Sturridge has overcome his injury problems but his explosive pace has diminished and Jurgen Klopp doesn’t seem to rate him. Worse still Klopp insists he doesn’t want to sell Sturridge due to the high cost of replacing him- in the current overheated transfer window that problem won’t go away anytime soon. On 1st September he will be at…LiverpoolEngland v Portugal - International Friendly
  2. Ross Barkley- Unlike Sturbridge Barkley has been given the green light to leave Everton. The problem is with only a year left on his contract few want to gamble on paying a fee for a player they can have for free next summer. By that time of course Barkley’s World Cup hopes will be over so he needs to move now, Tottenham have been linked on and off elsewhere rumours have been surprisingly few. On 1st September he will be at…Tottenham (but expect this to run until deadline day)
  3. Fabian Delph- It just hasn’t worked for Delph in Manchester, when you get injured 10 minutes into your debut and miss the rest of pre-season you probably should take it as a sign. Rumours of a move to Newcastle came to nothing whilst the idea of going back to first club Leeds went up in smoke when they missed out on promotion. Stoke are supposedly negotiating a deal for Delph, with City needing to recoup some cash after their summer spree it looks a decent fit. On 1st September he will be at…Stoke City Fabian_Delph
  4. Chris Smalling- He’s gone backwards since Louis Van Gaal was sacked 14 months ago. Smalling just doesn’t seem to fit with Jose Mourinho and having spent over £60 million in 2 summer windows on Eric Bailly & Victor Lindelof it doesn’t look promising for him. Smalling’s only chance of being a first choice player is in a three man backline but even there is probably behind Daley Blind & (when fit) Marcus Rojo and there’s always Phil Jones. Surprisingly few clubs have shown an interest in Smalling, West Ham were mentioned but only briefly whilst Arsenal seem keen to give Rob Holding more time in the first team, it’s not looking good. On 1st September he will be at…Manchester United (at least until January)228815
  5. Jack Wilshere- It looks like Arsene Wenger has finally given up on Wilshere and it’s  great shame his career has been so badly blighted by injury, a loan at Bournemouth saw him get games but not find his best form. Wilshere needs to move on and start a fresh and with only a year on his contract Wenger will probably cut his losses and recoup what he can. Rumours of moves Turkey and Italy have done the rounds but it looks like everyone is waiting for Arsenal to cave and lower the asking price (so that’d be the last few days in August then)  On 1st September he will be at…Sampdoria (or another middling Serie A club)
  6. Calum Chambers- Had a great summer with the Under 21s and a good season on loan at Middlesborough but Chambers looks set to leave Arsenal this summer. He’s at the point in his career where he must play and although the chance could be there at Arsenal it seems Wenger prefers Rob Holding (although Aidy Boothroyd clearly didn’t) and 2 inexperienced centre backs in the back 3 won’t work. Crystal Palace are pursuing a move for Chambers but the stumbling block appears to be the fee. On 1st September he will be at…Crystal Palace
  7. Ben Gibson- An unusual one, Gibson is guaranteed first team football and probably the club captaincy at Middlesborough, but the Championship is not the place to pursue a World Cup dream. Gibson’s dilemma is does he try for a move and risk sitting on the bench or play the longer game and stay with ‘Boro postponing his England ambitions for another year. It’s a decision made simpler by your uncle being the club chairman. On 1st September he will be at…Middlesborough (with Uncle Steve)skysports-ben-gibson-england-training-wembley-stadium-england-v-lithuania_3918292
  8. Jaden Sancho– In truth Sancho has little to no chance of getting picked for England this season. However his refusal to sign a long term deal with Manchester City due to his concerns over the pathway to the first team (or lack of one) will provide an interesting test case for the next generation of English based talent. Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham are all ready to pounce; for considerably less than the £30k a week City are offering. This will be one to watch. On 1st September he will be at…Dortmund
  9. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain- Always on the verge of a regular start for Arsenal, The Ox reignited his England career with his late season surge at the Emirates last season. Despite uncertainty over his importance to the Arsenal first team 2 Champions League sides (Chelsea & Liverpool) continue to be linked with him, expect the Liverpool rumours to get louder now they’ve given up on Keita & Coutinho could be heading out the door. With a year left on his deal his future is inevitably connected to that of Alexis Sanchez- Arsenal cannot let both got for free next season and Chamberlian seems more likely to put a shift in whilst running his contract down. On 1st September he will be at…Arsenal (but negotiating a move to Liverpool in January)
  10. Danny Ings- You have to feel for Ings, he makes his England debut, then gets injured at the exact time the new manager arrives at Liverpool, guaranteeing a move to the back of an increasingly large queue for the Liverpool forward line. Inge needs games to rediscover his touch and confidence and you don’t get that from playing in the League Cup. A loan deal seems best for all parties here, there won’t be a shortage of takers in the Championship; Leeds, ‘Boro & Sheffield Wednesday look good fits, but if the World Cup is a realistic aim for Ings he’ll need to be playing higher up the football pyramid. Inge could do worse than sound out the man who brought him to Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers complained after Celtic’s 0-0 draw in the CL qualifiers  about a lack of firepower, could a reunion with Ings be on the cards?  On 1st September he will be…In the Championship on a 1 year loan danny-ings-england-debut-lithuania_3363247

England’s attacking midfield options

The key department in the England squad, right now England’s senior team doesn’t have a central midfield unit to match the craft and guile of France, Spain or Germany. But the advanced midfielders and wingers provide a threat to worry the best with pace and skill.

  1. Dele Alli- A world class number 10 in the making although he’s yet to truly show his best at international level. If only England’s number 9 was on his wavelength like a club partnership, oh wait…England v Turkey - International Friendly
  2. Adam Lallana- far and away England’s most creative player, Lallana had evolved into a high tempo midfielder under Jurgen Klopp whilst England play him slightly further forward depending more on his creativity to unlock defences. Nailed on starter next summer.thumb_22527_default_news_size_5
  3. Raheem Sterling- Enjoyed a much improved second season at Manchester City (possibly because he had a manager who actually did done coaching!) Sterling faces challenges for his place at club level (more so if the buy Alexis Sanchez) whilst the likes of Gray and Redmond will be snapping at his heels for England. Must be mindful to keep his place.
  4. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain- Had a good run-in last season with Arsenal but still not guaranteed a place in the team after 6 years at the Emirates, where he’s scored a total of 9 League goals! For England the Ox is a great option off the bench when played as a direct attacking winger- evidenced by his goal against Scotland and that memorable strike in the Maracana) but clearly not a central midfielder as evidenced in the Stade de France.Englands-Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain-celebrates-scoring-their-first-goal
  5. Jesse Lingard- A hard working winger with the happy knack of scoring in cup finals, Lingard has been schooled in the Alex Ferguson academy of ‘do a job’ players (previous graduates include Danny Welbeck, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Brian McClair). Hopefully he has a role beyond patrolling the flank for the final 20 minutes of a big game, but yet to show he can do more than that for England. The imminent arrival of Ivan Perisic at Old Trafford may push him further down the pecking order.
  6. Wayne Rooney– Is there anything left to say here? Southgate has handled Rooney well and the days of him being shoehorned into the England team look to be over. Should do well at Everton but their opening Europa League game suggested his rejuvenation has limits. In top form he may just get back in.
  7. Ross Barkley- Needs to move, now! Barkley is clearly done at Everton but where next remains unclear, would he get a regular start at a team better than Everton? Probably not. There is a great talent in there but needs a lot of coaching- if a move to Spurs is a realistic option he should camp outside Mauricio Pochettino’s porch.Ross+Barkley+England+v+Netherlands+International+M1JG7iZ-E3Gl
  8. Demarai Gray- Wonderful to watch in full flow, Gray is a player I’d like to see make the cut; tricky, quick and with a potent shot he could be the player to challenge Sterling for a place in the first 11. But first he needs to be in the first 11 at Leicester and that means unseating Riyad Mahrez. Craig Shakespeare has promised Gray more chances next season but I suspect he’s one of the players whose club future will be decided by the ripple effect of Neymar’s possible move to PSG (see also Coutinho, Mahrez, Sanchez & Lemar to name a few).
  9. Nathan Redmond- A Southgate favourite from the Under 21’s don’t be surprised to see him get a second cap this autumn, I suspect Redmond is a bit too one dimensional for international football but a strong season at Southampton and he could build a strong case for inclusion.England-U21-Nathan-Redmond-640x400
  10. Michael Antonio- How depressed will he have been at Big Sam’s England demise! Antonio has been in the squad, warn the tracksuit, not got a cap. Antonio’s strength and pace may yet get him a look in, may be better suited to playing on the right of midfield in a 3-4-3. Either way needs a good season at West Ham.
  11. Theo Walcott- It’s almost 9 years since his brilliant hat trick in Zagreb. Since then Walcott has scored 5 international goals and played at 1 major tournament (Euro 2012). Walcott’s disappointing England career provides an acute metaphor of England’s disappointing decade of 2006-2016, Southgate picked him for his first 2 internationals and has since rightly looked elsewhere. But a 20 goal season at Arsenal and…
  12. Ademola Lookman- A £7.5 million transfer and a World Cup win, it’s been quite a 2017 for the ex Charlton youngster. Has a club manager who’ll trust in youth and facing a long season (should they make it to the Europa League group stages). Lookman should get plenty of chances to shine, but the Under 21s look the most likely route for now.
  13. Josh Onomah- Could just copy and paste Lookman’s situation for Onomah, may find early opportunities this season at Spurs with both Erik Lamela & Son Heung-min injured, again this World Cup is probably a bit too soon for him.josh-onomah-england-12072016_19zrcqmej44qx1kpogipvm66g3
  14. Phil Foden- Amazing what a brilliant pre season appearance can do for a player. Foden is hugely gifted and may eventually replace David Silva, but the star of England’s Under 17s may have to wait for the League Cup to make a first team case at Citeh.
  15. Andros Townsend- We should finally be able to close the door on him as an England winger. Townsend made a great start to his England career in those final 2014 World Cup qualifiers but his club career has rarely measured up to that standard. Townsend has been a great Youtube player for England in 3 minute highlight reels due to his direct play and willingness to have a go from distance. But almost all his England appearances have been as an impact sub (brilliantly against Italy) or to make way for one after an ineffective 65 minutes. 13 caps & 3 goals is decent going but it probably ends there.

 

Ranking England’s centre midfield options

England’s biggest problem position going into a World Cup year is central midfield. Whether playing the default 4-2-3-1 or Plan B 3-4-3 the 2 in the middle remains a problem. We have plenty of options in the wide areas and a potentially great number 10 in Dele Alli, but holding and linking midfield roles are wide open, here are the runners and riders to solve the new riddle in the middle;

  1. Eric Dier– There are still concerns about Dier’s distribution when closed down and his two summer internationals were poor. But Dier remains England’s best defensive midfielder since Owen Hargreaves. Nailed on for next summer.4808794
  2. Jordan Henderson– An injury hit season raises questions about Hendo’s reliability. But he remains England’s best link-man between defence and attack. Needs a big season at Liverpool but in the squad at the very least.
  3. Jack Wilshere– When fit and firing England’s best midfielder, but Darren Anderton was fit and firing more often than Wilshere. England v Russia - Group B: UEFA Euro 2016Doesn’t look like he’s staying at Arsenal, of the potential suitors Sampdoria look the most appealing (playing in a technical slower paced league should work for him.)
  4. Jake Livermore- We can consider this season a failure for young English midfielders if Livermore is still 4th on this list in May. A solid defensive midfielder Livermore is for now in as the plan B Eric Dier, as I said-for now.
  5. James Ward-Prowse- The Southampton man had a good Under 21 championship, if he retains his place at Southampton under new boss Pellegrino he’s a shoe in for England this September, and Harry Kane will be pleased to knows he takes corners James Ward-Prowse Sweden Under-21
  6. Nathaniel Chalobah– finally plucked from the Chelsea loan farm, Chalobah picked smartly with Watford, a club with a dynamic young manager and where he’s already spent a year. Clearly on Southgate’s radar a good start to the new season should see a first cap.
  7. Tom Davies– Had a great breakout season last term, tellingly Everton requested he didn’t play for England this summer. But faces stiff competition in The Toffees new look midfield following the signing of Classen from Ajax. At 18 has time firmly on his side and may well spend next season in the Under 21s.3F0D077200000578-0-image-m-6_1491587755427
  8. Harry Winks– Tipped for a big season Winks faces tough competition in Spurs midfield but is working for the best talent developer in the game. Winks may eventually be the player that knits the England team together, but must be given time.
  9. Will Hughes– Finally getting his Premier League chance in tandem with Chalobah. Has power and a nice range of passing, having put his injury problems behind him will be one to watch.
  10. Lewis Cook- England’s World Cup winning captain (never get tired of saying that) endured a tough first season at Bournemouth mainly due to injury having previously racked up 85 first team appearances with Leeds. This season he should be more prominent, how much may determine how quickly he rises up England’s age group squads. Under 21s seems the logical step for this season but Cook may just be the most talented young midfielder England have got.
  11. Ruben Loftus-Cheek– Has enormous potential and wisely loaned out by Chelsea. At Crystal Palace he may find himself in direct competition with Jason Puncheon- so no guarantee he’ll start. Part of the problem with Loftus-Cheek is we just don’t know his best long term position, deep lying playmaker? Number 10? Or centre forward? We should get the answers this season.1368293-29359812-1600-900
  12. Fabian Delph– He was an England regular before moving to City. Delph had been unlucky with injuries and now playing for a manager who doesn’t rate him. Needs a move fast!
  13. Danny Drinkwater– Southgate doesn’t seem to rate him, needs a return to his title winning form to get back in, should be helped by the arrival of Vincente Iborra in Leicester’s midfield.drinkwater-england
  14. Michael Carrick- He’s 36 and has only accumulated 34 caps, but football’s Mr Marmite is guaranteed to get a mention every time England or Man Utd fail to pass the ball well (so pretty often last season). Surely his time has passed.
  15. Tom Cleverley- The Panda Cola Xavi is still hanging in there although his career trajectory tells it’s own story (Man Utd- Everton- Watford). But before he takes the next step in that sequence (Derby County), Cleverley will be the senior man in an intriguing Watford midfield with Hughes & Chalobah and if Marco Silva’s magic touch could work for Lazar Markovic then who knows?