Saturday, August 12, 2006

McClaren's Opening Gambit

England prepare for Euro 2008.
Steve McClaren might have already been hung, drawn and quartered before he has even coached a game for England but his first squad looks reasonably encouraging.

I don't mean the omission of Beckham: That was a given sooner or later, after he nobly tendered his resignation as captain - his insipid performance at Euro 2004 should have consigned him to the international dustbin already. His immediate omission also implies a sharp difference of opinion felt over the Leytonstone superstar between McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was accused of allowing Beckham too much say over team tactics.

Incoming England managers often stamp their authority on the job as soon as they arrive, and it often entails culling the captain and his waning powers and influence: Ron Greenwood scythed Gerry Francis and Bobby Robson Kevin Keegan when they inherited the post.

Graham Taylor's first squad after Italia '90 retained all the heroes who had made it to the World Cup semi final but soon afterwards he shocked the football world by dropping Chris Waddle, who was in electrifying form for Marseille in France and in Europe, as he considered him a luxury flair player, an anathema to his footballing philosophy.

What is encouraging is the opportunity given to youth and inexperience, particularly West Ham striker Dean Ashton, Watford keeper Ben Foster, Spurs' Michael Dawson and a welcome back to Chelsea's forgotten boy-wonder Shaun Wright-Phillips.

The midfield looks particularly green with an average age of 23 and quick too - Aaron Lennon must establish himself as the right-winger after his zestful substitute appearances in Germany. If he fails, then Wright-Phillips offers a sound alternative.

Yet surely the best selection is that of former England coach Terry Venables as assistant manager. Venables' England career ended prematurely after squabbles with the FA board and only one tournament; the public was solidly behind the England coach too, for the only time in living memory.

'El Tel' produced one of England's greatest ever performances in the 4-1 demolition of Holland in Euro '96, when the three lions played with uncharacteristic élan and tactical sophistication. As the outstanding living English coach, one wonders why he was not considered good enough for the coach's job itself if he could become the assistant, but that is another debate. Rest assured when McClaren comes under fire, Venables name will once again be touted as a replacement.

McClaren still has the odds stacked against him for reasons stated in an earlier post, but at least you cannot accuse him of being timid in his initial squad selection. But this will all be swiftly forgotten after the results come in. The only assessment of a manager that counts comes from what his players do on the field.

England Squad to play Greece at Old Trafford, Weds 16th August

Goalkeepers: Robinson (Tottenham), Kirkland (Liverpool), Foster (Man Utd).
Defenders:Bridge (Chelsea), Brown (Man Utd), Carragher (Liverpool), A Cole (Arsenal), Dawson (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Man Utd), G Neville (Man Utd), P Neville (Everton), Terry (capt, Chelsea), Young (Charlton).

Midfielders: Downing (Middlesbrough), Gerrard (Liverpool), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Jenas (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Lennon (Tottenham), Richardson (Man Utd), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea).

Strikers: Ashton (West Ham), Bent (Charlton), Crouch (Liverpool), Defoe (Tottenham).

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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