Tuesday, June 1, 2010

World Cup 2010: The Only Question Left for Fabio Capello: Shaun Wright Phillips vs. Theo Walcott

Perhaps the biggest decision awaiting Fabio Capello is which right-sided midfielders he will bring to South Africa. He has at least four to choose from: James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Theo Walcott - or maybe even Joe Cole?

One must figure that the three players who played no part in either of the friendlies will not travel to South Africa. Meaning that Michael Dawon, Scott Parker, and Stephen Warnock, will drop out of contention from the initial 30-man squad. 27 left and counting...
Tom Huddlestone and Adam Johnson did very little in the game time they were given over the two friendlies against Japan and Mexico, so one must also suspect that they will miss out also leaving the group with 25.
Sunderland's Darren Bent was given the chance to shine against Japan, and unsurprisingly did not take it, so he too should miss out, 24...
Leaving the battle for right-midfield as the only real question left for Fabio Capello.
Milner is obviously in the driving seat. Capello is a huge fan of the Aston Villa star and over the last year he has progressed significantly under Martin O'Neill's stewardship to the extent where he is now linked with moves to clubs like Manchester United.
It seems strange that Milner is only 24 because it seems like he has been around forever, and when you look back through his stats you realise he almost has been.
He broke into Dave O'Leary's Leeds United team in 2002 as a 16-year-old and has since established himself as one of the most consistent performers in the league.
The ace that he holds over everyone else to make Capello's final 23 in his versatility. He is more than comfortable across the entire midfield and has played in both full-back positions to a high degree too.
He is also a player that Capello rates highly and who he has turned to in the past when things were not going well, think back to England's defeat to Ukraine when Steven Gerrard was sacrificed so Milner could give the midfield more shape.
In short, he is guaranteed to go.
Whether Milner is brought as one of Fabio's right sided players or not remains a mystery at this stage but it leaves the door open for who will join him.
Cole is the wildcard of the bunch. He really only forced himself into contention after a season spent mainly on the bench for double-winning Chelsea but the manner of his performances over the last month made certain Capello had to take notice.
Like Milner, the ex-West Ham player is highly flexible, and can play in numerous advanced positions. However, he looks more like a player that Capello will spring from the bench if games are tight than someone who is guaranteed to start.
With Cole in the squad, Capello has more options tactics and formations wise and he would certainly be one of the names on the list to play behind Rooney if Gerrard, is as expected, deployed in a more central role as Frank Lampard's partner.
Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon is a player who was guaranteed to be in the squad at Christmas but a groin injury in January kept the ex-Leeds flyer out until Spurs' run in.
With that being said, Lennon is without doubt the best out and out right sided player Capello has to choose from. Like his Leeds old-boy compatriot Milner, his game has moved onto another level over the last 12 months.
Under Harry Redknapp's guidance he has become one of the most fearsome sights in football and was demolishing left-backs for fun before his injury threatened to ruin both his and Tottenham's season.
However, his speed, work-rate, and versatility will guarantee him a ticket on the plane.
Leaving the fight for the last two positions between Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Theo Walcott.
Of the threesome, only Cole can offer something a little different and that is what really sets him apart. He is a better player, both on and off the ball, than his rivals, is more creative, and is probably better suited to international football than his technically deficient wingers. Cole should also get a ticket.
Shaun Wright-Phillips vs. Theo Walcott...
Looking back across the season neither player has really done anything to stand out, although the Manchester City man has been slightly more consistant.
Both are out and out right sided wingers and could not be trusted to play in any other position, both are blinkered and make very similar type runs, and both are incredibly quick.
Walcott should be in the driving seat as a player with history for England and has at least shown that he is willing to learn from his many past mistakes.
The highlight of last season for the Arsenal player (30 appearances 4 goals 3 assists) was his role in the Gunners clawing back a two goal deficit against Barcelona at the Emirates. The negative being Wenger's lack of faith in him in the really big matches where he often leaves him on the bench, which says a lot about his big game mentality.
Crucially, Walcott has featured for England 11 times, where they have won every single game.
Although Wright-Phillips (31 appearances 4 goals 8 assists this season) did better against Japan than his Arsenal rival, he has yet to really do "it" for either club or country.
At 28 he is more or less set in his ways and is unlikely to learn new tricks to his trade at this stage, whereas Walcott is 21 and has been playing at a higher and better level than the Manchester City man for the last four years. There really isn't much to choose between the duo and both are only really distant back-up.
In the end it will be heartbreak for ex-Arsenal legend Ian Wright, either his son will miss out or a player from his old club that he rates highly will miss out.
The Manchester City player should feel extremely hard done by to miss out, especially to Walcott, and in reality the final decision is only split by fractions. For all of the Arsenal man's past he is no better than Wright-Phillips and is the next player in most danger of missing out.
Back in August Wright Phillips had started the season on fire under Mark Hughes but the change in leadership and tactics at the club could have cost him a ticket to South Africa.
It will pain him to watch the action from back home and might pain him further to go back to pre-season training knowing that his manager is likely to replace him sooner rather than later.
The next two years are crucial for both wingers. They have all the tools needed to break into the England squad, they just needs to find a consistent way to use them, if they do...both be in England's Euro 2012 squad.
Back to the here and now.
England will travel to South Africaknowing they have the first XI to trouble anybody; the problem is what will Capello do if key players get suspended or injured. Will the likes of  Walcott or Wright-Phillips, Heskey, Baines, Upson, and Carrick, be good enough?
We'll wait and see.