Category Archives: World Cup

Winning Ugly? Hey, It’s Still Winning

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing

In 1959, Vince Lombardi embarked on his first chief position, as Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, with these uber-competitive words as his rallying cry in the first day of training camp. 9 years, 5 national championships, and the sport’s first two Super Bowls later, the Brooklyn man needed just one year to create a record breaking winning attitude at Washington before dying a Football martyr, a sporting pioneer, a winner.

People will disagree with this post (a LOT of people). Total Football enthusiasts will puke over my beliefs. Romanticists will wince at my writing. But I must admit, I take my hat off to the Dutch.

Bert van Marwijk took the reigns of his country after the Russians prematurely ended their Euro 2008 dreams with a 3 – 1 Quarter Final defeat. Not popular with the fans, the former Feyenoord manager had my respect from the off, admitting, “Total Football is a thing of the past.

Thou shall not pass

And he couldn’t be more right. Yes, we are still treated with the mouth-watering exhibitions of a devastating Barcelona outfit, the guile of the current European and World Cup champions, and even the potential of a fantastically fluid United attack; but in 21st century football, opposition sides are conditioned, organized and more astute, and to flood men forward with careless abandon, particularly with weaker individuals, would of course uphold the integrity of pure football, but undermine the necessity of common sense.

Despite the fact that the renowned Total Football of the 70’s took place over 30 years ago, the Dutch also never actually won anything but respect for their scintillating style. On top of that, the ’74 and ’78 World Cup finalists were blessed with generation talents such as the two Johans (Cruyff and Neeskens); Wim Jansen; Rob Rensenbrink; and Johnny Rep. Today, the Netherlands nation expected the same interchangeable elegancy from Liverpool workhorse Dirk Kuyt; Real Madrid reject Wesley Sneijder; and the injured Robin van Persie. Arjen Robben is no doubt a good player; but is he really of the same calibre as the ammunition Rinus Michels had at his disposal in 1974? Even if he is, is he really so good that he can single-handedly recreate the magic of 36 and 32 years ago?

A ridiculous argument would be to suggest that if your team is not good enough, you have to simply accept this and take your beatings. However, the beauty of sport is that every player, every team and every nation begins on a literal level playing field. Some individuals, some teams, are not as good as their opponents, they are not equipped with the same artillery sometimes, but they do not roll over. Instead, they can analyse ways to wear down their counterparts, and at times, they find their Achilles heel.


So what is wrong with Holland’s dirty tricks? Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way condoning the life threatening thuggery which caused Nigel de Jong’s studs to flail into the chest of Xabi Alonso. But the rules are there to be abided by and I’m certain the Dutch manager did not excuse this sure-fire sending off offence so early in a World Cup Final. The Man City player should have seen red, but this would have been for an act outside the plans of van Marwijk, outside the laws of the game. The Netherlands are certainly guilty of gamesmanship – but all this entails is the bending of the existing rules of Football, not the breaking of such laws. They set out to rough up their opponents, cynically (yet tactically) foul and disrupt attacks, and they are happy to accept their penalties of warnings and yellow cards – but boy, can they hit teams on the break.

Maybe it’s just me. Yes, it isn’t the spectacle everyone yearns for. But just like Jose Mourinho’s inferior Inter Milan outfit spoiling the life out of attacking flair, Holland would not have cared what any headline said if they were going home in the company of that iconic gold trophy. And truthfully, they probably warranted it. Spain played by far the better football, but apart from Fabregas’ breakthrough, they struggled to overcome the tenacity of the Dutch terriers in normal time. (Of course, with 10 men, cracks later became apparent in the Orange wall of defence). And as I’ve always argued; in sport; you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take. And with the best chances of the 90 minutes (I counted 4 first-class opportunities), Holland should have stolen the game from the grasp of the best passers on the planet – and I would have been one man delighted to see it (not merely because my 12/1 pre tournament bet would have came up!).

I could say that they came up short, but they probably over-performed throughout the whole competition. And after winning 14 competitive World Cup fixtures on the trot (and drawing with Spain after full time), how can anyone begrudge the Dutch of the credit their effective system deserves? Had they taken on the Spanish or Brazilians man-for-man, had they done the same against weaker opponents (like previous years) for that matter, they would have been wiped out – simply because their players are not good enough. But like the enigma of ancient warfare tactics, sport provides the flexibility of the manager’s nous to become an advantage; it allows perceivably weaker outfits to damage their rivals in unexpected, sometimes unorthodox, fashion; and it allows the underdog to prevail, reminding us all that anything is possible.

Instead of bashing the Dutch for their admittedly disgusting spoiling tactics at times; why aren’t we celebrating the fact that they brought the greatest footballing nation to its knees for 116 minutes? Johan Cruyff criticised his country’s performance as “ugly, vulgar and anti-football…” and it probably was. But it was this anti-football approach which gave his compatriots a fighting chance. And I’ll tell you what, if Aston Villa decide to adopt a gung-ho attacking and respectful approach to the 2010-11 season, we can kiss any aspiration we have of breaking the top 4 mould goodbye – because on paper, we are simply not amongst the 4 best teams.

Sport defies logic

Fortunately though, the game is never won on paper and anything can happen on any given day. And I will not criticize The Netherlands for refusing to accept second best, but instead, making the most of what they had, ignoring the boundaries of logic and reason. And just like David beat Goliath (in all his size, all his armour, and all his artillery) with an impotent yet cunningly effective sling shot, I respect Bert van Marwijk’s modern day Holland for their spirit, their resilience, their unlikely success and more importantly, for their triumph in restoring faith in the giant-killing fairytale.


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England v USA


And so: after 240 days of anticipating build up; over 30 months of Capello’s callous expectation; and 44 years of dreaming; England’s most recent quest for world domination came crashing down to earth with an almighty thump upon the uneventful plains of Rustenburg.

Of course, it would be unfair to rule out the Royal Britannia after just 90 minutes of football, and but for another goalkeeping error, England would be sitting pretty with a 100% record; unfortunately though, for me, the national side have been much too uninspiring to be even considered as outside contenders to claim the planet’s most prestigious football competition.

The beauty of the group stages, however, is that each team has two more games to get things right and as per the nature of Group C, only a couple of meagre outfits stand in the way of England and the World Cup’s first knockout round.

So rather than waste an article moaning about another pitiable performance; instead of sliding blindly into the vicious circle that is the Three Lions rigmarole, I thought I’d have a proper look at the England-USA game and try to offer some constructive feedback (for anyone interested!).

Goalkeeping Problems

Firstly, I feel bad for Robert Green. He seems like a nice guy and a complete professional but sadly, football is a dog-eat-dog world where only the fittest will survive. It would be easy for England to pin responsibility for their draw on the shoulders of one man; but at the end of the day, he is their first choice goalkeeper and every team runs the risk of being as weak as their weakest player.

Maybe the manager chose the wrong man to stand between the posts. With 4 blunders, Rob Green made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League last season. But with “the more experienced” David James failing to ever line out in tournament finals for his country, and a 23 year old shot stopper yet to start an international match, as backup, the selection of the West Ham number one was not controversial by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it just goes to show that England is not blessed with a great goalkeeper – a necessary tool for any team who have aspirations of winning a cup competition.

James Milner

Maybe he was sick; maybe he wasn’t involved, but as a Villa fan, I certainly was not going to let this one go without a say.

Not even 30 minutes on the clock and up went the fourth official’s board to signal the first substitute of the evening. Annoyingly, Milly would have been dreaming of playing for his country in the World Cup finals his whole life and would not have let his manager down. However, one yellow card later and the PFA Young Player of the Year is summoned to the dugout. Yes, he mistimed two tackles, but I have never witnessed a game where there is such concern over one of the wingers being booked. Playing inferior opposition, why was Fabio so obsessed with protecting the backline? Indeed, at the risk of sounding cliché, it is a testament to the Italian’s negative system that the left midfielder can’t prolong his game-time with a yellow card because it will interfere with his prioritised defensive duties. James Milner has an awful lot to contribute to any team; but unfortunately because of his admirable industry, Capello spoiled the Villa player’s game out of an unnecessary fear that Ashley Cole (one of the best left backs in the world) could not cope without backup.

(I also wondered why, in those first 30 minutes when the USA did show something going forward, were the yanks so determined to get down the right side past an almost immoveable resistance of Cole and Milner. Surely they would have had more joy getting at the likes of Lennon and Johnson on the other flank.)

Not to mention the ineffectual introduction of Shaun Wright Phillips. As I’ll prove later, the Man City man offered nothing for his country in their opening group game. In the second half, England played 17 of their final balls from wide areas – only 3 of these came from the left (none from SWP). I’d like to think that Aston Villa’s main man would have had a greater input than that had he been given the chance to ply his trade in a dominating second half.

Steven Gerrard

His inspiring performance tonight raises questions as to why he was ever considered to play out wide. He offers too much in the centre to be wasted on the wing and after completely outshining midfield partner, Lampard, if Gerrard is moved to accommodate Gareth Barry, there should be uproar amongst both the fans and the players to keep Stevie G as the team’s attacking heartbeat.

Emile Heskey


There is a fickle sense that The Mule has won people over with his one, admittedly elegant, assist today. This is one report I found:

There will be plenty of fools criticising Heskey for thumping his chance just before the hour straight at Tim Howard. Ignore them. And if you are one of those fools, ignore yourself. The big man was terrific in every other way, winning everything in the air, strong when holding the ball up, an of course the exceptionally weighted pass for Gerrard’s opener. The idea that a striker is there only to score goals, and is a failure if he doesn’t, is outmoded. If Heskey contributed less elsewhere, he would not be worth his place in the side, but he was arguably England‘s best all round player.

Some will say ‘Defoe/Bent would’ve buried that’. Possibly. But would Defoe/Bent have played a similar pass for Gerrard, or made such an important contribution to the rest of the game? Absolutely, positively, certainly not.”


I am here to tell you to not be fooled by such sensationalism.

Heskey looked sharp at the beginning of the game. He got in front of his marker and flicked a perfectly weighted ball in front of his captain in an almost effortless manner – and surprisingly, I was delighted for him. Indeed, in the first 8 minutes, it was Heskey who delivered all of England’s final passes (4 of them) – but only one of which were successful and lead to a shot (the Gerrard goal). If only the game was played over 8 minutes.

Because for the remainder of his 72 on-field minutes, the Villa striker looked like he wanted to rest on his laurels and did his best to be substituted. Back to his old self, the man-mountain was being barged over and “hurt” with every ball that came his way in an attacking position (oh, and of course he was standing pointlessly offside a few times as well). With regards to him “winning everything in the air”, the England number 21 did flick a number of long balls aimlessly off the back of his head – which did not once result in Capello’s men advancing further upfield with possession.

And referring back to the above quote, I’m happy to dissociate myself from the said “fools”. Simply because I will not be criticising Heskey for his time-rich one-on-one miss; for the reason that when the ball was played through, not one inch of my anatomy reacted with any sort of stimulus out of complete assurance that there was no way Emile Heskey had the ability to finish off that move. Therefore, just like I wouldn’t judge Rooney on his aptitude to mark an opposing centre back whilst defending a corner; I won’t criticize Heskey for not being able to produce something that is not within his capabilities to produce (why should the striker be expected to finish that anyway?). Rather, I hold my reservations for Emile’s inability to affect change in the “rest of the game” where he still came up some way short (and if he is expected to lead the nation through the knockout rounds, then please excuse my lack of faith for the England cause).

(Just a note: To suggest that the substituted Heskey was also better than Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard, in their World Cup opener, defies logic.)

I really don’t want to sound like a Villa basher because I am the complete opposite – I just don’t want English men and women sitting up on their seats for a player who I know (and I’ve seen tonight) is not worth opening one eye for.

First Half Analysis

What was most worrying, however, was the further evidence of England’s technical weaknesses. Having analysed every final ball Capello’s men made, I noticed a shockingly poor ratio of attacks turning to shots. What was more interesting was to find that the 5 times England did manage to create a shooting or scoring opportunity in the first half was when they cut inside and went through the centre either with a direct dribble or a cute through ball.

England’s Final Pass

Diagram Key below article

The two times the team did go long to Heskey, nothing came of it. With not even one successful cross; any final ball, which led to any sort of outcome for the English, had to be played on the deck through the centre.

This first half also comes to question Capello’s belief of having speedy wingers in the team. With Aaron Lennon playing the whole half and Wright Phillips a third of it, England didn’t try to utilise their pace and get to the by-line or in behind the defenders.

Second Half Analysis

After a quiet first half, Aaron Lennon was responsible for a lot of his team’s final passes in the final 45 minutes – however, 5 of these went astray with no outcome.

Mr Capello clearly set his team out to get down the sides of the US in this half (despite the central success of the first) and it resulted in a lot more final ball being delivered from open play. It did however also show up the deficiencies of Shaun Wright Phillips on the left as his only penultimate contribution to his team’s attack was to win a free nearer to the halfway line.

The diagram shows the tendency of the English to head for the right flank even though they still looked likely to cause damage through the centre. But with Glen Johnson getting heavily involved and Steven Gerrard clearly covering a lot of ground, balls were going into the American box as quickly as Heskey was falling to the ground.

Looking at both images, every time Wayne Rooney had a say in the final pass, it led to a goalscoring opportunity. This is probably an obvious observation considering the talent of the United player, but it is further proof of the technical importance required to unlock defences. The scouse man wasn’t used enough as the white shirts of England felt they were having enough joy bombarding the American left back.

Nevertheless, despite the volume of right sided attacks launched by Capello’s men, England failed to score in the second half (and their two greatest chances came from through balls to Heskey and SWP who both spurned great opportunities).

If England were to continue playing like they do, it would be advised to select the best crossers of the ball because not only was that mode of attack top-heavy, it was also very unsuccessful and obviously didn’t suit the players on the field. And I’m confident that SWP and Lennon are not the best crossers in the squad.

Alternatively, if they learned to keep the ball on the deck and go for the jugular of the opposing defence, they have shown they can turn a lot more of their attacks into goalscoring chances. But this will spawn out of an ability to hold possession and wear down the defence – and by not constantly looking for clear bits of harmless grass beside the touchline.

Spain are the tournament favourites and will score very few goals from deep crosses. England have shown they can get through the centre. Whether they will realise the importance of it in time, remains to be seen.


(2) = Glen Johnson

(3) = Ashley Cole

(4) = Steven Gerrard

(7) = Aaron Lennon

(8) = Frank Lampard

(9) = Peter Crouch

(10) = Wayne Rooney

(16) = James Milner

(17) = Shaun Wright Phillips

(21) = Emile Heskey

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World Cup 2010: England’s 30

New regime?

With just 19 days separating today and the start of the world’s biggest football competition, and with the rugged German and Italian champions flying the flag for the elite of club soccer tonight, it is safe to say that all English men and women are quite happy to buy into the hype of World Cup fever and hope that the international distraction will get them through the summer (and indeed, through another 44 years).

But as my own South African dreams were bitten and broken by the venom of Thierry Henry’s very own Hand of God, I have been able to adopt a more cynical analysis of the would-be-delight of the promises of June/July.

And as the other home nations once again prepare for yet another Summer in absentia, I have found myself falling into the trap of reluctant support for the England campaign – but grow increasingly disillusioned as a “fan”.

Don’t get me wrong, Fabio Capello is doing a great job, and when England shot out of their qualifying blocks with 24 points from 8 games, I was thinking that 2010 could be their year. Not only that, but the Italian masterminded 2 victories over Croatia (their biggest threat to qualification) by a goal difference of +7; and having succeeded in winning a place in the finals with 2 games to spare, I wasn’t worried about the defeat to a Ukraine outfit who desperately needed the points.

Maybe though, it would have suited the St. George’s men a lot better had the World Cup actually taken place a lot closer to October (their final group game), when their momentum was unstoppable. Because as the weeks and months drag on; the air of invincibility within the England camp grows thinner and thinner, the nation begins to analyze any detail of every player, and the threat of rival countries becomes all too apparent as doubt begins to gnaw into championship ambitions.

The time between October and June has also allowed me to reconsider throwing my money at the 7/1 (3rd favourite) odds I could get for Capello’s men to reign supreme in Capetown come the 11th July.

The time between then and now has made me realise that this current England squad are no different to any of the other 21st century outfits. These crop of players aren’t disimilar to the team that failed to reach the group stages of Euro 2008. Yes, they are more organised and certainly more focused and have what would appear to be a lot more self belief. But should they be so confident? Should the odds be so short for England to break their 44 year trophy draught?

It’s easy to argue that they have destroyed Croatia (their supposedly only test to date) with two ruthless masacres… but when the dust settled, Croatia failed to reach the World Cup finals – in fact, they acquired an inferior points tally than the Ukraine did (who would later be knocked out by Greece). In truth, Capello has faced just 5 decent opponents and of these, has won just one of them (Germany way back in 2008). And, of course, the likes of Holland, Spain, Brazil and France are frightening opposition (although having been outplayed be the Republic of Ireland, I would question the latter’s inclusion), but this is the genus of quality that England will have to overcome if they are to prevail from Africa with a winner’s medal come July. And unfortunately, these are the standard of teams who not only I can’t see England overcoming, but the type of nation in which Capello has struggled to gain a result against in the past. Therefore, I have seen nothing of Fabio’s England that would suggest that they can improve on their customary average of a quarter final defeat.


However, if the past teaches us nothing, then maybe we can learn something from the future – where we have been given an insight to with the selection of the provisional squad of 30. Aston Villa, who fielded 14 English nationalities throughout the course of this season, will have just 2 players on the final plane to South Africa (Warnock will lose out to Baines). One of these players will be Emile Heskey. Heskey, with 3 goals to his name, has been selected ahead of our first choice striker, Gabby Agbonlahor. Heskey, who has been dropped for the majority of our games, makes up 50% of the players representing Aston Villa for England. Meanwhile, Gabby, with 13 goals to boast, hasn’t even been considered. Gabby, who can hold the ball up as well as Heskey and lead the line as effectively as anyone, stays at home. I’m not sure who should be most embarrassed by this decision: Emile Heskey or Fabio Capello – because it is a travesty; and a selection which will only hinder England’s search for glory.

Meanwhile, the selection of the two City slickers is further testament to the appalling job completed by the decisions panel. Shaun Wright Phillips; who not only has been out of form, but out of favour for the entire second half of the season, has, like Heskey, been deemed immune to Capello’s policy of selecting only those players who are in form and playing regularly. It is an outrage that such an inconsistent, non-entity of a player has been made an exceptional circumstance and selected ahead of two-times left winger of the year Ashley Young. It is blatantly obvious that Young is a much more technically gifted footballer than SWP and their effect for their respective clubs in the past 5 months bears no comparison. Yet, Young, like Agbonlahor, has been deemed surplus to requirements.

Andy Johnson. Probably the most disappointing decision of them all. Clearly, he’s not a bad player; but at 22, he still has a lot to learn. He set up 5 goals in his 5 months for City, but down the road in Birmingham; Capello could have chosen the older, the internationally experienced and ready-made left footer Stewart Downing in his place. In fact, Johnson seems to be just a clone of his former teammate, but the current England manager followed the footsteps of his predecessors and bowed to the hype and pressure of the English media.

Recalling the retired Jamie Carragher to the setup was another blunder. This has hardly been the Liverpool player’s best season (not by any stretch) and the fact that he had turned his back on his country should have dismissed any notion that his name be even considered. Bringing him in as full back cover is another questionable decision. Designed as a raw, last-ditch centre back, Carragher will fail to make an impact on the wing (offensively and defensively), and in Gary Neville, Capello could have had a much more competent, and loyal, full back substitute.

All in all, it seems to be a case of “more of the same” as England prepare for yet another major tournament. The eventual switch of Steven Gerrard to the left flank is testament that nothing ever changes in the England setup as Capello attempts to accommodate all his big names. Instead, players should be selected on the basis of who is the best for each position (not on the idea of selecting your 11 best players). European champions, and tournament favourites, Spain, will line out with the exclusion from the first team of names from this list of ridiculously gifted players: Fabregas, Alonso, Busquets and David Silva. Worryingly though, Capello seems to have shirked every big decision to date. His attempted acquisition of Paul Scholes, in my opinion, is further admission to his belief that his team can’t cut it. Not only will England have to come through the dreaded penalty shootout at some stage if they are to be crowned champions, but they must overcome opposition who they have, in the past and recently, just simply been second best to.

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.

Defenders: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney

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Milner For England

Beckham out. Lennon out. Crisis? What crisis?


The start of the summer transfer window at the beginning of this season spelled danger ahead for Villa. We had fought long and hard for the duration of 08/09 but came up short – some way short. On top of this, our most prized pearl was being stripped from our necks and we had no palpable replacements. Gareth Barry; our leader, our heartbeat, our hope had smelled the next door neighbour’s cooking and jumped ship at the mercy of temptation. What I didn’t realise was that, in our midst, we had everything we were losing and more in a capable James Milner.

 Thankfully, I’m not a Premier League manager and couldn’t see that Villa were not in a ‘crisis’. I would have panicked, overreacted and probably wasted money trying to find a clone of Barry. But O’Neill did not panic, and he did not overreact. In fact, he took the loss of our former captain with a pinch of salt and carried on his predetermined plans for Villa’s season, unshaken. Bolstering our once flappable defence with 3 solid acquisitions in Collins, Dunne and Warnock, MON ignored the apparent hole in the heart of our midfield and went about securing the signing of his long term (and injured) target Stewart Downing (under the nose of our rivals Spurs). So we’re lining out with presumably a weaker front six than last year with Sidwell replacing Barry in the engine room, yet we’re competing. We’re not just competing, we’re performing, and we sweep aside the threat of Liverpool and Chelsea all before Stewart Downing is even introduced. In the absence of Barry (and no replacement), Villa flew out of the blocks and stood toe to toe with the rest of the league in the months between August and December which would stand as a solid stepping stone for the rest of the season. The players had clearly matured with Milner and Gabby looking 5 times the competent players they once were. Then, Stewart Downing is introduced at the perfect time to push us through December, to freshen up our ideas and to move Jamesy inside (and of course, the rest is history). League Cup Final, FA semi (so far) and a much improved shot at 4th place is concrete testament to the development of our squad and to the advancement of our central midfield area (all using the lowest number of starting players in the League); And all without our supposed necessity, Gareth Barry.

 So now, England’s World Cup plans are in theoretical ‘meltdown’. Yes, Beckham is a technical marvel, a centurion and of course, a leader (pretty similar to Gareth Barry of Aston Villa). Aaron Lennon, no doubt, has improved in epic proportions. I was never a fan of the Spurs winger (and he’s still suspect to inconsistency), but he has turned his pace and control into effective directness – and, admittedly, will be a loss to England should he lose his fitness battle. Fortunately for Capello, he has the gift of hindsight and would have seen Martin O’Neill diagnose Villa’s ‘crisis’ with an apt prescription of James Milner. Even more luckily for the England manager, in Milner, he has a player better equipped to take on World Cup opposition than Beckham or Lennon would ever have been. And now, with his 2 closest positional rivals out injured, the right midfield slot on the England team must surely reside with Mr Consistency, James Milner.

 Not only is Villa’s number 8 a tireless worker, and an all round midfielder (similar to a young Steven Gerrard) with a high aptitude of all the physical and technical skills required, he is a player with a proven track record of making goals. In fact, when you analyse England’s current right sided challengers this season, Aaron Lennon has performed well – second only to who else, but James Milner. Lennon has indeed racked up 8 assists and his natural replacement, Shaun Wright Phillips, boasts a tally of seven assists. However, they both lag behind Milner and Young when it comes to scoring goals – and that been said, they lag behind Milner’s assist record anyway! (James has an incredible 11 this year)

More importantly, Milner lies streets ahead of his counterparts when it comes to actual impact each right sided individual has on their respective teams. Subjectively, we can talk all day about who’s good and who’s not (I think Milner would come out of this conversation well anyway), but when you’re looking for an output from your players, when you’re looking for results, I don’t think Theo Walcott’s 1 goal and 1 assist sounds too appealing. Does it? Maybe the Arsenal player hasn’t got as much game time as the others, but I know I wouldn’t be playing a player who hasn’t played all year just because he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Not in the World Cup anyway! What does sound attractive to me however, is when you take Milner’s 11 assists and 5 goals, and put it into context of his team’s season, he is directly responsible for 44.4% of all Aston Villa’s league goals (pre Wolves match). In fact, none of his rivals can even come half as close to that when comparing their effect on their own teams. And if I was being bold, Gareth Barry has contributed to just 12% of Man City’s league goals (playing in the same position as James) – maybe it’s time Milner got a run out in the centre for his country (if the transition works as well as it has for Villa, then England are laughing).

 With more assists, more goals and lets be honest, more technical ability than the rest of his remaining right sided contenders, it’s about time the nation’s second most in-form player (Rooney number one of course) got at least one chance on Capello’s stating team. I don’t think it is an audacious statement at all – if Shaun Wright Phillips, Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Leighton Baines and Emile Heskey can all line out for their country, why is it so difficult to imagine someone of the higher calibre of James Milner getting the nod (be it anywhere in the midfield)? In fact, it would be an insult to the player, an insult to England, if he didn’t.

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