Watching football fans watching the football
Proud North East-based England fan Kristan Heneage ponders whether the England manager has something against clubs from the North East...
A recent study showed that Newcastle and Sunderland are the two clubs who have used the highest percentage of English players in the Premier League. Quite an impressive stat, yet a glance at the latest England squad shows not one player permanently registered with either club. Surprising when you consider both of the aforementioned teams find themselves in the top half, are their small percentage of foreigners carrying their respective sides?
Put simply England’s World Cup campaign was a shambles. Even if you put Germany’s demolition of Fabio Capello’s side in the Last 16 to one side, the lack of goals against the likes of Slovenia and Algeria was disgraceful. In recent interviews Fabio Capello has said he wishes he had taken Theo Walcott to South Africa, but what bout Darren Bent?
For a coach who claimed to pick players on form rather than reputation, excluding Bent seemed to be the ultimate contradiction. Twenty four goals yet Heskey and Defoe were both deemed better players.
Yet again the problem rears it’s ugly head. Bent’s admission that Capello had told him moving to Aston Villa has improved his England chances would all but suggest a prejudice towards the North East clubs, given Sunderland are currently five points and league positions better off than Aston Villa.
Joey Barton has regularly talked up his England credentials, and up until this season it was laughable to even consider him. However he has been one of the standout performers for an over-achieving Newcastle side this season. With four goals and six assists to his name, the former Manchester City midfielder has every right to feel aggrieved at not even being considered for inclusion.
After all, in both fixtures against West Ham this season Barton has had the better of Scott Parker - a player currently in the England set-up but who himself struggled for international caps during his time with Newcastle. His cross for Carroll at Upton Park was the kind of delivery another English No. 7 currently playing for LA Galaxy would have been proud of.
And what of Nedum Onouha on loan at Sunderland? You’ll struggle to find a Black Cats fan who doesn’t want to sign the defender permanently from Manchester City. His superb solo-effort against Chelsea has so far been the crowning moment on what has been a good season, yet to Capello Aston Villa’s Kyle Walker was deemed the better choice for last month’s friendly in Denmark after only three Premier League appearances.
That decision could be one he regrets. After all Onouha also qualifies to represent Nigeria and it is reported he is beginning to entertain the idea of committing to the Super Eagles due to the sheer lack of opportunities with the country of his birth.
The need for change in the England side became greater after the tepid home draw with Montenegro. Yet the token selection of Kevin Davies when a fit Andy Carroll was waiting in the wings seemed almost identical to the situation Bent found himself in only months previously.
Known for being stubborn and with his reputation already cemented it almost seems as though Capello doesn’t care. His remark to Darren Bent was just one of several media slip-ups. The Italian didn’t seem prepared for the heavy media intrusion and after his public outburst with photographers in South Africa you wonder if his distain for the press means he almost goes against whatever they suggest.
My issue with Capello’s comments is that, while this may be the first season in a while in which Aston Villa have found themselves behind Sunderland, Bent wasn’t in poor form at The Stadium Of Light, quite the opposite. His career had stalled at Tottenham and the move North reignited his Premier League career after early promise at Charlton.
The notion that Capello picks players on form is becoming less and less believable as each squad is announced. So why say it? It may have appeased fans and the media at the time but ultimately he instantly made a rod for his own back.
Kevin Nolan typifies that situation. The modern lurking, goal-poaching midfielder, his ten goals have helped Newcastle into a mid table position in their first season back in the Premier league - yet still he is not mentioned in the context of an England call-up, not even for friendlies. While international caps shouldn't be handed out to every English professional like a scene from Mike Bassett England anager, the poor performances of late should spark a rethink.
Many have suggested Capello break from tradition by picking a squad of players that best fit his system. After the debacle that was the World Cup demolition by Germany, that ‘system’ required an overhaul similar to the one Germany underwent with the development of young players being the focus.
Yet if you look at Tuesday’s likely line up it seems very little has changed. Glen Johnson still inhabits the right back slot despite being generally considered weak defensively, while the pedestrian Gareth Barry will once again play in midfield despite being over-run by Germany’s counter attacking play last year. At least Scott Parker - a player who has always struggled for international recognition - started against Wales on Saturday.
The inclusion of Ashley Young and Jack Wilshire did bring some positives from the games against Denmark and Wales. However the other new additions, Kyle Walker and David Stockdale, remained on the bench in Copenhagen. The inclusion in training is one thing, but we know what to expect from Joe Hart and Glen Johnson - a mid-season friendly should be used for the blooding of new players like Walker and Stockdale, not a run out for established players.
The Darren Bent saga will have all but vindicated Andy Carroll’s decision to join Liverpool. He also made his international debut in November and most likely would have played in Denmark were it not for injury. He benefits from the fact England lack the target man with his aerial prowess - despite the height of Peter Crouch.
It’s not as if the North East hasn’t produced English internationals. Adam Johnson and Stewart Downing are in the current England squad and going further back the likes of Shearer, Beardsley, Gascoigne and Waddle all made significant contributions to the national team.
In all honesty Capello’s comments display a real naivety and narrow mindedness when approaching his England selection. What he may have perceived as a throw away comment has turned into a damming suggestion that the club you play for will dictate your England chances.
More importantly, what message does that send to young Jordan Henderson? Born and raised in Sunderland, he made his England debut in November against France yet wasn’t selected for the latest squad.
How long before either his agent or the player himself see Bent’s move and believe the same is needed to progress internationally? It was perhaps not a surprise to see Steve Bruce fume at the Italian’s dismissive comments. After all, the Sunderland manager was born in Corbridge, Northumberland and despite a trio of league titles with Man United was never selected to play for his country...
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