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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.

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.


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.


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?

6 England subplots to the new season

The Community Shield is a week on Sunday and thus starts a new season with a World Cup to finish it next July. Here are 6 England subplots to be played out in the club season.

England Number 1 battle


After eight years as the uncontested England goalkeeper Joe Hart now faces a real battle to retain the England gloves. His move to West Ham should settle questions over his long term club future but Hart was poor during his loan spell with Torino. His shots saved percentage was notably lower than his England rivals (at 66%) and the mistakes that have dogged his recent career persisted.

Hart faces a battle on at least two fronts with Jack Butland back to fitness after his 15 month injury nightmare and £30million Jordan Pickford now playing for a rejuvenated Everton. Pickford's form last season was clearly superior to Hart and his performances in the Euro under 21's only enhanced his reputation. It's harder to judge Butland's form but his performance against France in June indicated he will be back to his best for Stoke this season.

Expect media interest in this contest to reach fever pitch in the opening weeks of the season as the date of England's qualifiers draws close. Right now I would back Butland to win.

Stepping Stones

Will John Stones improve in his second season at Manchester City? Stones was a huge disappointment last season, the mistakes piled up and then came the injuries. Meanwhile Gareth Southgate handed Michael Keane a debut and he quickly settled into the England team in the ball playing defender role.

Stones' cause will be helped be City buying an upgrade at goalkeeper , an entire personnel change at fullback and a fit Vincent Company. If Stones can't perform in that company he won't be playing in Russia next summer.


World Cup winners to make waves?

Of all England's successful youth sides it's inevitably the Under 20 World Cup winners who'll garner the most attention. Dominic Solanke wasted little time this pre-season in opening his Liverpool account and with Champions League qualifiers making it a busy start to the season expect him to get early first team chances.

Elsewhere captain Lewis Cook will be expected to start for Bournemouth with The Cherries deciding against retaining Jack Wilshere. At Tottenham (or more accurately Wembley) winger Joshua Onomah could make an early impact with Erik Lamela & Heung-Min Son both injured.

England v Netherlands: U18 International Friendly

But it will be Everton's contingent that will likely make the biggest impression. Ronald Koeman has already shown he's confident in picking youngsters and Jonjoe Kenny may well get an early shot at rightback competing with Mason Holgate in the long term absence of Seamus Coleman. Kieran Dowell will find competiton fierce in the midfield department but Ademola Lookman will likely play early in the season on the wing and Dominic Calvert-Lewin may get an early chance following the sale of Romelu Lukaku.

Inevitably a lot of the Under 20 squad will be loaned to Championship clubs (lead my Freddy Woodman) and this stage of their careers that may be a good proving ground.

Rooney Rejuvenated?

I blogged earlier about the dangers of recalling Wayne Rooney. But his form for Everton could lead to a season long controversy over whether or not England take him to the World Cup. For this to happen Rooney clearly needs to improve on last season in terms of form and number of appearances.

One thing that should be come clear pretty early is where Everton will play him, with Lukaku sold there is a vacancy in the number 9 role but rumours persist of a heavyweight signing up front meaning Rooney may go back to playing number 10. Where Rooney plays for Everton should be the position he's considered for England not the crowbar him into the team policy we saw at Euro 2016.

His preseason performances have been encouraging playing as the main striker and bagging some nice goals, but the acid test will come when the season kicks off- particularly given Everton's tough start. This one could run and run.


Foden to fly?

Despite spending a tidal wave of money the brightest preseason star for Manchester City has been England U-17 playmaker Phil Foden. Of course pre-season isn't the real thing but Foden has made enough of an impact for Pep Guadiola to make him part of his first team set up. Pep wasn't slow to give youth a chance at Barca nor Bayern and City will be itching to see a return on their £200 million academy investment.

Foden may well be a special talent but in his preferred number 10 role City currently have the brilliant David Silva occupying that position and spent £43 million on Bernardo Silva so the youngster faces an uphill battle.

I think Foden's first team chance will come in the League Cup and we'll see where he goes from there, but he might just be this season's Marcus Rashford.


Chelsea kids finally let loose

This is the year we'll finally get to see Chelsea's all conquering academy make a mark in the Premier League, but of course it won't be with Chelsea.

Dom Solanke as mentioned earlier is now at Liverpool whilst Chelsea have loaned England under 21 stars Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown and Kasey Palmer to fellow Premier League clubs.

Loftus-Cheek in particular will be of interest to England having only seen glimpses of his talent over the last 2 years at Chelsea- notably the similarly aged Dele Alli was still at MK Dons when Loftus-Cheek made his Chelsea debut, he really needs to make up for lost time.

Lewis Baker also looks like getting his Premier League chance with, shock horror Chelsea! But he will be competing with Eden Hazard and Pedro, but with the added burden of the Champions League and so many players leaving Stamford Bridge he may get significant game time.

But most surprising was Chelsea's decision to sell Nathaniel Chalobah to Watford for a bargain £5 million. Chalobah is clearly already in Southgate's sights as a future star and must now be a serious World Cup contender if he impresses for his new club. Chalobah's case is helped by Watford also buying in his old Under 21 midfield partner Will Hughes.  Expect the England manager to be a frequent visitor at Vicarage Road in the coming months.





Top 10 English players who didn’t make it with England.

A look back at the players who were sensations for their clubs but somehow never quite worked for the National Side, in no particular order here are the players who many expected to be England greats but barely figured and why.

1.Matt Le Tissier (Caps 8 Goals 0)

Le God to Southampton fans Matt Le Tissier was the most creative English forward of the 1990s. Blessed with skill, vision and a remarkable tendency to score spectacular goals Le Tissier never quite made it with England.

Le Tissier was named young PFA Young player of the year in 1990 but Bobby Robson overlooked Le Tissier for his Italia '90 squad largely on the grounds he already had one maverick young talent in the squad in Gazza and couldn't accommodate two. Sadly for Le Tissier, Robson was succeeded by Graham Taylor a man famous for direct long ball tactics and not a fan of creative strikers and in 3 years never called up Le Tissier.

Then Terry Venables rolled into Wembley, Le Tissier was in and surely this was the belated start of a great England career right, wrong! As Venables experimented to shape a more creative side he like Robson saw Le Tissier and Gascoigne couldn't work in the same team and he only had room for 1 luxury player. Le Tissier lacked Gascoigne's work rate and Venables soon hit on the stronger Teddy Sheringham in the deep lying forward role behind Alan Shearer.


When Glenn Hoddle took over after Euro '96 many again expected Le Tissier to shine, after all Hoddle the player was cut from the same cloth and also struggled to make an impact in England teams who favoured industry over art. Le Tissier started a World Cup Qualifier against Italy at Wembley in the autumn of 1997 but again was frustrated and England crashed 1-0 and calls for Le God died down. But on the brink of France '98 Le Tissier was thrown lifeline, a pre tournament call up to England B to play Russia B- this time Le Tissier delivered a sensational hat trick. And with Gazza out of shape Le Tissier looked like getting his World Cup chance, Sadly it was not to be and Hoddle didn't bring him into his provisional 30 man squad never mind the final 22.  I've always thought Le Tissier should have gone to that World Cup after Gascoigne was excluded, England looked short on artistry in the centre and whilst Le Tissier was hardly the man to bring on having gone down to 10 men against Argentina he could have played a tournament role as an impact sub.

What did for Le Tissier was his lack of pace and work rate so he will always be known as a great English player (and Goal of the month's most frequent winner) but not a great England player.

2. Steve Bruce (0 Caps)

It represents a startling fall from grace to think England never called up Bruce but in more recent years had Chris Smalling, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott starting in central defence at major tournaments. Bruce formed one half of the best central defensive partnership (with Gary Pallister) in the early years of the Premier League, winning 3 of the first 4 titles.

So why no England career? Mainly because by the time Bruce emerged as a star defender (1991) Italia '90 stalwarts Des Walker & Mark Wright had enormous credit in the bank whilst Bruce's pacier partner Pallister & Arsenal skipper Tony Adams were also in the squad, by Euro '92 Martin Keown was also in contention and at 32 Bruce was considered too old to start an international career.

Bruce not the best defender in possession wasn't helped by the outlawing of the back pass rule which favoured defenders who were good in possession, at United Bruce had Peter Schmicheal in goal who's long throws upfield and (sometimes ill advised) attempts to play the ball with his feet meant Bruce didn't need to to be good on the ball, with England it may have proved more of a problem. Plus through the early 90's England managers liked the cohesion provided by an Arsenal dominated defence (Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon).

Still a trophy laden playing career and successful twin careers in football management and literature (smirk) aren't bad compensation.

3. Malcolm MacDonald (14 caps, 6 goals)

After Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer had taken Newcastle down in 2009, I really thought 'Super Mac' might be the next Geordie Messiah handed the managers job at St James Park, after Sting but before Jimmy Nail.

MacDonald was phenomenal for Newcastle in the early '70s, a staggeringly quick forward he scored 95 goals in just 187 games for the Magpies before moving to Arsenal where he racked up another 42 in 84 games.  But for England he never quite got going, first called up by Sir Alf Ramsey in 1972 he made his debut against Wales but made little impression under Ramsey or short term successor Joe Mercer. The reason being despite a lack of talented English players in that era one place England didn't lack was upfront with Martin Chivers, Alan Clarke & Mick Channon.

When Don Revie took over Super Mac was initially left out again but Revie did bring him in during a hot streak in 1975. MacDonald repaid him with his first international goal (against World Champions West Germany!) Next up MacDonald was retained for a qualifier against Cyprus and set a post war record scoring 5 goals, woof!! But great as that sounds it was the footballing equivalent of a batsman scoring 200 against Bangladesh (Greame Hick probably did that?!) Super Mac played 5 more games for Revie without scoring and England looked elsewhere.

Perhaps MacDonald deserved better particularly early on in his career, might he have been the sub to break through the Polish wall in that infamous 1973 match? You never know.



4. Andy Cole (15 Caps, 1 goal)

The most device player of the Premier League era, some argue Cole's goal scoring statistics stack up against anyone but then there are those of us who watched him play.

For all the jokes levelled at Cole his scoring record for Newcastle was phenomenal; 55 goals in 70 games! Cole's club form earned him a call up from Terry Venables but he drew a blank and didn't make the cut for Euro '96.

But by that time Cole had moved to Manchester United where despite playing alongside Cantona, Giggs & Beckham he mustered 17 goals in his first 2 full seasons . Eventually Cole rallied to score 93 goals in his Man Utd career, but his misses were amazing most notably his barn door performance at West Ham that ultimately cost his side the 1995 League title.

His England career was acutely summed up by Glenn Hoddle who claimed he needed "6 or 7 chances to score." Predictably he never found the net for Hoddle or Kevin Keegan (for whom he'd performed so well at Newcastle) and he missed out on the '98 World Cup and Euro 2000.

Sven-Goran Eriksson offered Cole a fresh chance but predictably he missed it. Cole started in Eriksson's early World Cup qualifiers and actually scored (but it was only against Albania). By the time qualification was secured Cole was dropping down the pecking order. Finally Eriksson omitted Cole from his World Cup squad and laughably within an hour of the announcement Cole declared he was retiring from International football (only 60 minutes after Sven had thoughtfully done it for him).  Andy's record of 1 goal from 15 caps really does speak for itself, still he's got a nice medal collection though.


5. Stan Bowles (5 Caps, 1 Goals)

There aren't many true facts in the 'Damned United' but the scene where Billy Bremner asks Brian Clough the game plan against QPR and Clough replies 'Stop Stan Bowles!' is at least a true fact (not necessarily that Clough said it).

One of the trio of English footballs '70s mavericks (along side Alan Hudson & Charlie George) Bowles star burned brighter and surprisingly longer than his peers. At QPR is outrageous skill made him a legend, with England it raised suspicion.  He made is debut aged 25 in Sir Alf's final game as manager. He went on to make only 4 more appearances and scored just once.

It's a shame given his undoubted talent but a maverick on and off the pitch didn't really fit with England or Don Revie, Bowles later recalled he and Hudson broke curfew on England duty much to Revie's annoyance and it's hard to believe he had much time for the managers dossiers on opposition players. Bowles eventually played for Clough at Notts Forest but the two fell out and Bowles only played 19 times for Forest (it seems Stan was the one thing Revie & Clough did agree on).

His liking for a pint didn't do Bowles any favours with England, never the fittest player Bowles' appearance on 'Superstars' saw him lose to James Hunt- a man who had sex for breakfast and sat in a car for a living! Maybe that's not the man you need to take on Franz Beckenbauer; sad but probably true.

Bowles is currently struggling with Alzheimers disease, every football fan with a heart must wish him well.

6. Lee Bowyer (1 Cap, 0 goals)

Bowyer emerged in the late '90s as a dominant midfielder with the work rate and skill to rival Steven Gerrard. Bowyer scored an impressive 6 goals from midfield in Leeds' unlikely run the Champions League semi finals as David O'Leary's young side turned heads around Europe. At the time England had a settled first choice midfield with Beckham, Gerrard & Scholes but behind them options were thin on the ground (even Kieron Dyer was called up!) Yet Bowyer remained absent.

The reason for Bowyer's exclusion was a controversial court case where Bowyer and teammate Jonathan Woodgate stood trial for GBH. Remarkably Bowyer played whilst the trial was ongoing and produced some of his best football. Bowyer was cleared of the charges but with his reputation stained (not helped by previous incidents in Leeds & London). Whilst the case was ongoing (and it lasted almost 2 years) the FA barred Bowyer from England selection, after the trial he was finally called up.

He was picked to play a friendly against Portugal and provided the cross for Leeds teammate Alan Smith to score, it seemed Bowyer had finally arrived with England. Unfortunately it turned out he was finishing off with them; in the aftermath of the trial Bowyer fell out with Leeds over a fine and was soon shipped out to West Ham and eventually settled with Newcastle. But Bowyer couldn't rekindle the form that made him one of the best midfielders in the country and his career sank into mediocrity.

One way or another it would seem that infamous night out in Leeds cost Bowyer an England career.

7. Dave Beasant (2 Caps)

Beasant's career was real Roy of the Rovers stuff. Starting at Edgware Town he moved to 4th division Wimbledon in 1979. He would stay for the whole Crazy Gang ride from the bottom of the football pyramid to the first division and finally FA Cup winners. And it was Beasant Wimbledon had to thank- making history by saving a penalty from John Aldridge as they ran out 1-0 winners at Wembley.

Beasant developed a reputation as a great penalty stopper and was consistently amongst the top 'keepers in the first division during the late '80s. Eventually England came calling and in 1989 Beasant aged 30 made his debut against Yugoslavia. He was initially left out of the Italia '90 squad but an injury to David Seaman meant he got in as the number 3 'keeper. Beasant spent the entire tournament (even the 3rd place playoff game) on the bench, after the tournament he never represented England again.


The problem here was spending his early career in the lower divisions meant he stayed off the international radar and it took a few years in the top division before he was truly recognised as a top 'keeper rather than a lower league player got lucky. By that time Peter Shilton was unshakable as number one and Bobby Robson had Chris Woods earmarked as the long term replacement as early as 1985. It's a tough ask to break into a national side at goalkeeper and Robson was a man who rarely rotated in goal.

At the 2014 World Cup Louis Van Gaal took the odd decision to substitute his goalkeeper purely for the upcoming penalty shoot out. The move worked and Tim Krul saved a spot kick sending Holland to a World Cup semi final. I've always thought Robson should have done the same in that Italia '90 semi; Beasant might just have got to one and who knows- it couldn't have been worse than Shilton's cunning plan to wait until the German player fired his missile at the top corner before reacting!

8. Tony Cottee (7 caps, 0 goals)

Tony Cottee was hailed England's next big thing after emerging from West Ham's famed academy in the mid '80s. The problem for Cottee was his game was very similar to England's current big thing of the time; Gary Lineker.

In 1986 aged 21 Cottee was named PFA young player of the year following a prolific season at West Ham bagging 20 goals at the Hammers reached the giddy heights of 3rd place in Division 1. In the same year Lineker scored 30 for Everton who finished 2nd and reached the cup final. Lineker went to the World Cup won the Golden Boot and signed for Barcelona.

At the start of the following season Cottee made his England debut as a sub and he managed 22 strikes for West Ham in a deadly partnership with Frank McAvennie. But with Lineker almost never injured or out of form further England chances were thin on the ground.

Two years on Cottee finally left West Ham for Lineker's old gig at Goodison Park- surely his chance at the bigtime. Unfortunately he joined Everton a year too late and the Howard Kendall glory era was starting to fade. Cottee did score a respectable 72 goals in 6 seasons on Merseyside but it wasn't quite the prolific stay he needed. Cotten finally made his first England start in 1989 against Scotland at Hampden Park, but he didn't find the back of net, unfortunately for him England debutant Steve Bull did score that day and got the final forward's spot in the Italia '90 squad.

Cottee never played for England again, he did play on in the Premier League all the way until 2001 (aged 36) before dropping down the divisions and retiring. His last 3 premier league seasons were spent at Leicester City with Walkers Crisps emblazoned on his jersey, the irony.

9. Michael Bridges (0 Caps)

Some reading this will say Michael who? Bridges is on this for what he promised to be rather than what he achieved. Emerging in 1998 at then high flying  Sunderland, Bridges had the vision to play as a number 10 but the pace and finish to be a number 9 drawing early comparisons to Dennis Bergkamp.

His talent didn't go unnoticed and aged just 21 he was signed by David O'Leary's Leeds for £5 million. O'leary claimed Bridges was a long term project but after selling Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink that summer Bridges was in the first team and immediately bagged a hat trick. He finished his first season with 21 goals as Leeds made an unlikely title challenge and UEFA cup semi final.

An England call up was mooted for early next season (many of his young teammates were by now full internationals) but then disaster struck. Bridges was stretchered off in a Champions League group game in October and didn't play again that season. An endless cycle of injury and rehab began and he made only 10 appearances over the next 4 years.

After that Bridges began to drop down the divisions even faster than Leeds and was last seen playing at the beautifully named Lambton Jaffas in his native North East. For England Under 21s he played 11 times (all in those 2 seasons at Sunderland & Leeds) netting 3 times. Injury has wrecked many a career but few in such frustrating circumstances as with Bridges who showed so much in such a brief period.

There are a few other examples of young English players most notably Manchester City's Paul Lake who showed immense promising leading Citeh out of the Second Division aged just 21, hailed by some as a successor to Bryan Robson as an all action midfielder Lake suffered a anterior cruciate ligament (sounds painful), played 4 games in 6 years and Robson was succeeded with England by Carlton Palmer, something we should all mourn.

10. Wilfried Zaha (2 caps, 0 goals)

The only current player on this list Zaha first emerged at Crystal Palace aged 18 and over 3 seasons built a reputation as a dynamic winger, so much so he was given a senior England debut and a transfer to Manchester United. He turned out to be Sir Alex Ferguson's last signing at United before being loaned back to Palace.

The problem was by the time he arrived at United David Moyes had taken over and Zaha's risky exotic style no longer fit in Manchester. He was soon loaned and eventually sold back to Palace and demoted back down to the Under 21's. There he had a punch up with Ravel Morrison and showed an attitude that allegedly saw him fall out with Pearce and teammates alike.

At the start of last season Zaha's stock had fallen and few saw him as an potential England player after falling behind new young attackers Marcus Ashford & Demarai Gray but a sudden return to form had many thinking recall and then something unexpected happened, Zaha switched allegiance to the Ivory Coast.

Zaha was born in the African republic and qualified for both nations and as both of his senior caps were in friendlies FIFA approved the switch. Whether of not Zaha goes on to be a true world class player remains to be seen but he has the raw talent despite occasionally being let down by a lack of focus. It's a shame we won't get to find out with England, but at least he can entertain at the Cup of Nations.



Remembering the Managers- Graham Taylor


When Graham Taylor sadly passed away earlier this year English football paid him a heartfelt tribute. It was well deserved for a man who by all accounts was honest, decent and gave so much of himself to the game.

As a club manager Taylor achieved minor miracles taking Watford to the FA Cup final and Aston Villa to second in the league. He was one of the early champions of black English players nurturing the careers of John Barnes and Luther Blissett. But it’s hard not to think part of the reason the media praised him so much in death was their vilification of him life.

As England manager he suffered a torrent of abuse from the tabloids that went far beyond constructive criticism of his teams. But criticism of his selections and tactics were justified. He arrived as England manager in the summer of 1990 on the back of England’s most successful World Cup since 1966, initially Taylor stuck closely to Bobby Robson’s blueprint that had worked well at Italia ’90. Robson had switched to a 5-3-2 formation at the World Cup, Taylor’s first few friendlies followed the same formation and he only made minor personnel tweaks- replacing the retired Peter Shilton with Chris Woods and handing debuts to Arsenal fullbacks Lee Dixon & Nigel Winterburn.

But Taylor was a devout 4-4-2 man who’s sides usually played long ball tactics. By the time England played Ireland at Wembley in the autumn of 1990 England had riverted to type and things started to slip. Creative players most notably Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley were overlooked and in came Arsenal target man Alan Smith, one dimensional   wingers Andy Sinton &  Tony Daley and most bizarrely jobbing midfielders Dennis Wise, Gordon Cowans & Geoff Thomas.

In the 1991 FA Cup final Taylor suffered a hammer blow when man of the moment Paul Gascoigne suffered a cruciate ligament injury to the knee. Without Gascoigne Taylor’s side lacked any creative spark and England laboured through qualifying relying heavily on the predatory instincts of Gary Lineker. Eventually a Lineker goal in a 1-1 draw with Poland saw England reach the finals in Sweden.

England arrived in Sweden having lost only once under Taylor’s management but his squad selection for the finals caused dismay. Unsurprisingly he left out Beardsley and Waddle but leaving out golden boot winner Ian Wright shocked fans and critics alike. He also suffered poor luck with Gazza still injured John Barnes was also crocked together with his first three options at right back; Dixon, Paul Parker and Gary Stevens. His solution to the right back crisis was to play centre half Keith Curle in that position with no other option selected in his squad.

Curle lasted an hour of the tournament at right back, narrowly avoiding a sending off against unfenced Denmark, England drew 0-0. In the second game against France England were again solid but unspectacular- not a surprise for a team who deployed Carlton Palmer as the midfield general. A late Stuart Pearce free kick smashed the French crossbar but England again drew 0-0.

It was now all or nothing against hosts Sweden, a win and England were through anything less and Taylor was a dead man walking. It started well with England finally scoring a goal courtesy of David Platt. But a half time tactical switch from the Swedes saw England overwhelmed, in need of a response Taylor made the most infamous substitution in England’s history. He took off Gary Lineker (who was retiring at the end of the tournament) and replaced him with Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith, needless to say it didn’t work and England were beaten 2-1. The knives were out and the turnips adorned The Sun’s from page


Taylor’s response was to go more direct for the World Cup qualifying campaign, a tournament Taylor claimed he was aiming to win (not the smartest statement to make when you’ve called up Brian Deane.) If the tactics and relationship with the press were bad unbeknown to everyone Taylor had agreed to let a film crew follow his every move through qualifying.

Qualifying got off to shaky start as England were pegged back by Norway at Wembley, a similar followed in the spring of 1993 as England let slip a 2 goal lead against Holland. By this stage Stuart Pearce & Alan Shearer were out injured and England faced a tricky away double header to Poland & Norway in the summer qualifiers.

A late equaliser from Ian Wright salvaged a draw in Poland but England then lost 2-0 in Norway. What everyone remembers from these games was the darkly comic documentary footage of Taylor and his staff on the England bench “It’s made for Wrighty to come on score I say it’s…” ,”Nigel just play it as you see it” and “Gazza’s f@$ked” were the moments that entered documentary legend whilst Taylor’s England headed off for a summer tour of the US where things got even worse.

A year removed from the World Cup England played a warm up tournament against the USA, Brazil & Germany. The first game was against the unheralded US, England produced another listless performance and and went down 2-0 with even Alexi Lallas managing to score, the low point cam when the live feed was temporarily lost by ITV and back in the studio they could at least confirm for Ron Atkinson the Americans hadn’t scored a third. ‘Yanks 2 Planks Nil’ roared The Sun and so it went on. England did play better against Brazil and Germany but finished last in the tournament. By now Taylor’s Spitting Image puppet was portrayed captaining a team on ‘A Question of Sport’ having selected to play “A watering can and a packet of cereal!”

In the autumn England hinted at a comeback, in Les Ferdinand Taylor had found a striker who had the power and pace to thrive in his direct system. With Gazza back to form England crushed Poland 3-0 at Wembley. It all rested on getting a draw away to Holland, but crucially Ferdinand was injured and Gascoigne suspended. We all know what happened next; Ronald Koeman should have been sent off for hauling down David Platt but stayed on the pitch and scored the decisive free kick. Taylor wandered the touchline like a lost child and berating the fourth official, England went down 2-0 and all that remained was for Pearce to concede the quickest goal in World Cup history to San Marino and Taylor’s reign was over.


Taylor blamed the poor refereeing for the loss in Rotterdam and therefore failure to qualify. It’s true the referee was awful in that game but failure to qualify was down to England not holding onto their leads at home to Norway & Holland- win those games and the Rotterdam game would’t have been relevant.

In keeping with his high character Taylor resigned rather than waiting for the sack and a big cheque. He’d failed, he admitted it, he tried to move on. Soon after the infamous documentary aired and the phrase “Do I not like that!” entered footballing folklore.

Taylor did restore his reputation by eventually returning to Watford and helping them into the Premier League for the first time since the league was formed. He worked as a World Cup pundit for the BBC, providing some insightful analysis and picking up an OBE before retiring, his passing was marked with respect from all quarters

Looking back it’s hard to separate Graham Taylor the manager from the documentary star. Taylor came across as a nice guy out of his depth and cracking when the pressure intensified. Broadcast in the days before Sky Sports News it provided a shocking window on the relationship between managers and journalists.

Watching it again it’s striking how loutish the press appear and how little support Taylor got from his coaching staff or the FA. It’s unfair to judge the contributions of Laurie McMenemy & Phil Neal on the small amount of footage we got to see but neither seemed to offer much in the way of insight or tactical opinion. Neal in particular was lampooned for simply repeating Taylor’s instructions to the players from the dugout whilst sat beside him. The FA meanwhile seemed to consist of a set of old school blazers sat behind a highly polished board table. In the aftermath of England’s failure and the documentary they were rightly savaged by the press.

Looking back I think the worst part of Taylor’s time was Euro ’92 when he picked a starkly dull squad whilst better players were simply ignored for not fitting the system, with the right back shambles showing the often repeated mistake of England managers of placing square pegs in round holes. His selections did get better although at the time I was annoyed at the constant exclusion of Matt Le Tissier, a player who later on neither Terry Venables nor Glenn Hoddle could fit into their teams, so he was probably correct on that one. One ongoing problem I saw with his teams was an over dependance on a talisman (Lineker early on, Gascoigne later). The plan always seemed to be have a disciplined organised team and wait for Gazza to produce a moment of magic, when it didn’t happen or he was injured (as was frequently the case) England lacked a plan b.

Of the 9 permanent England managers I’ve seen come and go (and last longer than 67 days) three were clearly better than Taylor and 3 were definitely worse. What makes the Taylor era look so bad was it was sandwiched by England’s run to the semi finals of Italia ’90 and Euro ’96. Indeed many of Taylor’s players from 1993 would go on to play for England through to the end of the 1990s.

Perhaps the best way of putting it is to say Taylor was simply employed by the FA at the wrong time- his old school tactics came just at the time England were starting to employ a more progressive approach, surely they knew what kind of football Taylor would deliver, didn’t they? I’ll remember Taylor has a decent, likeable figure and a manager who gave his all but came up short, and at the time I did not like that.

New Season- England manager’s to do list


With a season to go until the World Cup Gareth Southgate has plenty to do. Here’s the key things he chronologically needs to sort out before the World Cup.

  1. Pick a captain. The importance of the captaincy is of course massively overstated, it seems to be important to some of the press and fans (expect Five Live phone-ins to be lit up with black and white cab drivers insisting it’s the biggest decision the manager will ever make) but ask any player or anyone associated with football outside of England and they’ll say it’s not important. However it’s daft to have Wayne Rooney; a player not currently in the squad listed as captain. Harry Kane appears the most likely option as the current Tottenham captain and one of only 2 players guaranteed a place in the side (the other being club mate Dele Alli). Southgate can save himself a lot of grief in the press by picking his captain before the Malta game this September.
  2. Qualify. Obvious and the absolute minimum requirement for an England manager as Steve McClaren, Graham Taylor and even Sir Alf could all testify. England’s remaining away games are against the two weakest sides in their group (Malta & Lithuania) whilst the only sides who could realistically beat England to top spot (Slovakia & Slovenia) both have to visit to Wembley. If England win both their games this September they may find themselves needing only a point from the two October games (Slovenia Lithuania) to ensure qualification. Given the issues to resolve within the team before the World Cup Southgate would benefit from using the final qualifiers as glorified friendlies. England really need to avoid the playoffs given the at least two from Italy, Spain, France, Holland & Sweden will be there with the likes of Croatia, Portugal and Ireland currently sitting second in their qualifying groups.
  3. Decide on a number one. Joe Hart’s tenure as automatic first choice goalkeeper is surely over despite Southgate public backing his man. England have two highly talented young keepers in Jordan Pickford & Jack Butland but neither has played a Champions League game (although Pickford will play in the Europa League this season) and 4 caps between them (all Butland’s). Southgate’s problem is he has to choose between these 2 players quickly in order to give one of them enough caps before the World Cup. Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton complete England’s current complement of ‘keepers, the number one will be largely decided by club form but Southgate has to get it right.
  4. Find a centre back pairing. England has struggled in central defence at their last two tournaments, Southgate needs to find the right combination for a back 4 and preferred trio when flexed to a 3-4-3 formation. At present Gary Cahill is the only guaranteed a place even in the England squad despite ongoing concerns over his international pedigree. John Stones is a hugely talented playmaker but needs a much improved second season at Manchester City whilst Michael Keane made a good start to his England career but must adapt to a new team at Everton. Chris Smalling & Phil Jones appear to be fading down the Manchester United pecking order, England under 21 trio Callum Chamber, Alfie Mawson & Rob Holding will all press their claims and Harry Maguire may come into the equation following his move to Leicester. England have plenty of options but must blood combinations that will work.
  5. Central Midfield conundrum. England’s central midfield places look wide open. Only holding midfielder Eric Dier and the often injured linkman Jordan Henderson look squad certainties. The other veteran options are Jack Wilshere (perma-crock), Fabian Delph (Man City B team), Michael Carrick (turns 37 next July), Jake Livermore & Danny Drinkwater (neither international class) whilst Southgate clearly doesn’t trust Ross Barkley. That may lead Southgate to look at his youth options: James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Cook, Will Hughes, Tom Davies & Harry Winks are all possibilities but all will need to get regular starts for their clubs and take their chances when they come. At the moment it’s anybody’s guess who will make it.
  6. Promoting Youth. Unlike 2006 or 2010 when players were more or less guaranteed places year in advance this squad will likely contain surprisesI’ve mentioned numerous young options above in England’s problem positions, however I’d estimate only 10-14 players are locked into the squad, that leaves plenty of opportunity for up and coming talents, especially with a former Under 21s manager now in charge. Kieran Trippier, Nathan Redmond, Demarai Gray, Tammy Abraham & Dominic Solanke lead a lengthy list of young players who may just breakthrough the International glass ceiling.