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Ledley King is a better option in the centre of England's midfield than Gareth Barry or Michael Carrick, while the 'unadaptable' Darren Bent should be spending the summer on the beach, according to Les Ferdinand.
FourFourTwo caught up with the former the former Newcastle, Tottenham, QPR and England striker at a West London watering hole last week aiming to pick his brain with regards to some of the selection dilemmas still facing Don Fabio.
With little over a week to go before the Italian picks the seven members of his 30-man squad who will be sent home from the party early without so much as a goody bag or a slice of Ben 10 cake, there are still big decisions to be made.
Happily several of those quandaries involve the very same players he works with on a part time basis as a Harry Redknapp’s striker ‘consultant’ at Tottenham Hotspur, making Sir Les a pretty good authority on some of the key selection battles ahead.
Sir Les fancied a drink, so left the helicopter at home
Whereas once the order of England's centrebacks had appeared set in stone, a combination of poor form (Matthew Upson) and injuries (Rio Ferdinand) have lead to Jamie Carragher and Ledley King both returning to the fore at the last, with Michael Dawson – astonishingly perhaps the most in-form of the bunch – making up Capello’s quota.
Spurs skipper Ledley King’s ongoing knee complaint has restricted him to just 20 appearances for the White Hart Lane club this season, and has led some to speculate that he may be one of the not-so-magnificent seven to be cut. But Les is adamant King will be part of Capello’s plans, unless there is a sudden and substantial deterioration in his condition over the next seven days.
“The only way Ledley doesn’t go is if he breaks down,” Ferdinand insists. “There’s two friendlies coming up and if he comes through them and is still fit then he will go. Anybody that knows football and knows defenders will tell you that Ledley is one of the best defenders we’ve got in this country.
“Capello might not be thinking about him playing every game, but what he’s proven this season is that he is capable of coming into a team without having played much football in the run up to a game and perform brilliantly straight away –that’s an asset to a manager and it’s something the England coaches will certainly look on favourably.”
But while Ferdinand is confident in King’s chances, he doesn’t share the same optimism for some of Tottenham's other stars.
“I tend to believe that boys that haven’t been in the squad regularly through the qualifying campaign, like Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone, are the ones you fear for most as far as not making the final squad is concerned,” he explained.
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This newfound defensive dliemma has eclipsed the previous hot topic – which strikers will be left at home, and which will spend 10 hours sat alongside Wayne Rooney eating peanuts and watching awful Nicolas Cage movies.
The Italian has left himself with four options, five if you include the possibility of a lone role for Rooney.
There's Emile Heskey – a proven foil for the Manchester United striker, but one who has scored just three Premier League goals this season; Peter Crouch – a regular goal scorer at international level, but unable to nail down a regular starting berth at club level; Jermain Defoe – a player who has enjoyed his best ever Premier League season, but has yet to shown any tangible sign of forging a threatening partnership with Rooney; and Darren Bent – the Premier League’s top English goal scorer, but one still largely untried at international level.
Ferdinand believes that Peter Crouch’s international record will see him selected, despite the former Liverpool and Portsmouth striker starting just five of Spurs’ last 13 Premier League matches.
“Peter showed [for Spurs] against Manchester City that he’s got all the ability in the world when it comes to holding the ball up and bringing others into play, and when you look at his goals to games ratio for England, it’s very impressive, I don’t care who you’re playing against, you’ve still got to put the ball in the net – Peter’s done that and for that reason I feel he’s a definite to go.”
Much like Crouch, Emile Heskey is expected to travel with England despite hardly setting the world alight at club level. While the quality of Heskey’s performances in the white of England over the past 18 months cannot be doubted, the same cannot be said of those in claret and blue. Indeed, the Aston Villa front man finished 2009/10 as the 27th highest scoring English player, behind such prolific marksmen as Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and Jody Craddock.
"I'll score some goals when I've found my bloomin' contact lens..."
Yet Les doesn’t see goals as the beginning and end of a good striker’s work: “Your goal record is obviously something you’re judged on as a striker, but there are other aspects to the game which are just as important and help the team.
“If you’ve got somebody like Emile Heskey up front, you know you can play a long ball to him and it won’t be coming straight back because he’s got the strength and presence to keep the ball, and the rest of the team will get a chance to catch their breath and re-group.
“Both Rooney and Michael Owen before him have played their best football for England alongside Emile Heskey –he’ll go and toil, battle, fight, win the flick-ons and bring the other players into the game, and this is just as important as goals sometimes.”
With that in mind, what of two strikers generally considered to be purely goal scorers – Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent?
Both have also found success in front of goal this season, with Defoe scoring 24 goals in 41 matches this season, and Bent faring even better with 25 in 40. But Defoe has shown an increasing awareness of play outside the box.
“It’s something we’ve been speaking to him about” Les explains, “he’s always shown great sharpness and awareness around the box, but what we’ve said is that the application needs to be the same when he’s in a deep position as it is when he’s near the goal – I don’t think you can get into the England side on goals alone, even as a striker.
“It might sound harsh, because he’s had an incredible season in terms of goal-scoring, but does Darren Bent possess some of the assets that Jermain Defoe does? I’m not quite sure. You have to play a certain way with Darren Bent in the team, whereas Jermain is possibly a little bit more flexible.
“Obviously it’s important to take players that are in form, but you’ve also got to find the players that blend together correctly, and although he’s scored a lot of goals and had a tremendous season, you can only play one way with Darren Bent – he’ll play on the shoulder of the last man and looks to get in behind, and England don’t play that way. My expectation is that Capello will take the four ‘regulars’ – Rooney, Crouch, Defoe and Heskey.”
"Hush your mouth, Ferdinand!"
For Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Darren Bent not to make the final cut wouldn’t be such a shock, but Ferdinand believes Fabio Capello could yet have a surprise up his sleeve.
“You’ve got Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry vying for that deep midfield role, but there’s also Ledley King – who with the greatest of respect could probably do it better than the other two if you want a real defensive midfield player."
King has not played regularly in midfield for Tottenham since 2003/04, so for him to play there now would perhaps be the biggest selection bombshell of all.
With just eight days to go before Capello must name his final squad, it still seems there are more questions than answers. Who would be England manager, eh?
Well, perhaps one day, Les Ferdinand.
“Getting into management has always been something I’ve talked about” Ferdinand explains. “I couldn’t see myself being the type to chuck teacups about though. They’re all plastic now anyway, so it wouldn’t have quite the same effect!”
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