The injury to David Beckham has got the media speculating as to who might replace him in the England squad.
The suggested replacements have all been wide players. Adam Johnson of Manchester City has been mentioned, while Martin O’Neill has made a case for Aston Villa’s Stewart Downing and Ashley Young.
Yet this ignores the fact that it was extremely unlikely that Beckham would actually play for England as some sort of winger. Fabio Capello has generally fielded teams where the right sided player has a lot of pace, with the likes of Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips being employed in the role.
Beckham’s role has been as a late substitute. If you’re winning you can bring him on to play deep and help England control possession, while if you’re losing, there’s no one better at whipping in a free kick or corner.
That doesn’t really sound like Johnson, Downing or Young to me. In the last England squad, Capello picked Beckham as well as Walcott and Wright-Phillips. It seems likely to me that if everyone was fit for the World Cup, he would have picked Beckham, Lennon and then either Walcott or Wright-Phillips.
With Milner and Gerrard also able to play down the right, we’re hardly lacking for options on this flank, so why is everyone plucking the name of every English winger out of midair? I tend to think that Beckham’s absence might create a gap for a central midfielder.
The squad against Egypt featured Lampard, Barry, Milner, Gerrard, Beckham and Milner as the six players capable of playing central midfield. Capello always plays with two central midfielders who are expected to hold their position. Lampard has had to curb his attacking instincts to win this role and there’s a question as to whether Gerrard or to a lesser extent, Milner would be able to do that.
So if we’re looking for someone who has the discipline to hold a deep position in midfield and has the passing ability to allow England to control possession and see out tight games, does that sound like anyone to you? ‘Tom Huddlestone’ is the name that springs to my mind and if you throw in the fact that he can’t run, then you have to agree that he’s even more like Beckham.
Huddlestone’s lack of mobility has always been the argument against him at club level, but on the slower-paced international stage, I don’t see it being a problem. England have always lacked the ability to retain possession and therefore end up getting absolutely exhausted as they run around like headless chickens. If there’s one thing that everyone must agree that Huddlestone can do, it’s pass a football.
So with his new five year contract stuffed in him pocket, there’s every chance that Huddlestone will be in the mix for the World Cup, despite having only won one cap. First though, he needs to get fit for Spurs.
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