Archive for the 'England.' Category


Surely Owen would have been a better option for Capello

Michael Owen shows "Ze Germans" how its done

Michael Owen shows "Ze Germans" how its done

To be brutally honest Michael Owen is not my favourite Manchester United player, I appreciate the effort he puts in and like every other United fan duly went mad in the 4-3.

However with the young strikers Sir Alex Ferguson has at his disposal, this season I’ve questioned whether United really need the former Liverpool hero.

There’s no doubt Owen can still do a good job, my argument was that with the likes of Kiko Macheda and Chicharito available as back-up to the front two of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, did United really need a striker who’ll be 31 in December and has had more than is fair share of injury problems.

I’ve already been pretty much proven wrong as Owen’s brace in the League Cup away at Scunthorpe and more importantly his equaliser at Bolton justified Fergie sticking with him, at least until January.

There’s also the point that having an experienced finisher like Owen in the squad can only be beneficial to the young strikers, who can maybe learn a thing or two from him. After all in a career that’s taken in two of the top clubs in Europe- as well as Liverpool and Newcastle, plus a host of international caps, Owen has always delivered goals and is perhaps the ideal player for someone like Chicharito to learn from.

Despite not being Michael Owen’s biggest fan, even I had to admit being totally dumfounded by his omission from the recent England squad. It’s not that Owen has exactly been a regular for Manchester United this season but surely a player with 40 England goals would have been handy to at least have on the bench.

When it comes to not getting regular football, Owen has started only two games this season, a reason Capello has bandied about for not picking players in the past, we all know that’s poppycock- if you pardon my French.

The nadir of my time as an England fan was watching Emile Heskey take to the field in Bloemfontein as Germany soared into a three goal lead. Heskey had been a substitute more times than he’d started for Aston Villa that season- don’t get me started on how many goals he’d managed- yet found himself playing for the national side at the biggest tournament there is.

Capello’s ‘if you’re not playing regularly for your club, you won’t play for your country’ line just doesn’t ring true. This season Shaun Wright Phillips has figured in less games for Manchester City than Owen has for United, yet the tiny winger still found himself coming off the bench against Montenegro.

I was actually hoping Wayne Rooney might not figure against Montenegro, I thought he should have a few more days off before the game against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. There seems to be this constant cycle of Rooney having a slight knock coming back and not looking right that’s been going on for months. I advocated a couple of full weeks off following his latest ‘slight injury’ and rather foolishly thought England could afford to rest him, against despite what all the England propaganda machine will tell us, should have been a relatively easy side to beat.

However with injuries to Darren Bent and Jermaine Defoe Rooney was about as likely to be rested as Robert Green was to have been picked to start.

The news that the ‘people’s elbow’ Kevin Davies was in the squad made Rooney’s selection seemed more assured. After all if Wazza wasn’t starting then the front two would have been Davies and Crouch and despite Crouch’s goal tally in an England shirt, Capello seems to have a lack of faith in him.

It was the sight of 33 year-old Davies making his debut as England looked for a winning goal that caused me the most confusion since I flicked over to the X-factor on Saturday and saw a Jimmy Saville look-a-like playing a set of bongo drums.

What on earth is going on?! Why would someone who’s fourth in the all-time England goal scoring charts and still deemed good enough to play Champion’s League football, not be at least given a small chance over a player who’s never played, let alone scored for England?

It seems Owen just isn’t on Capello’s radar which is a shame for both him and England because as last night’s bore draw showed- how many shots on target did England muster?- he could have been useful.

In the past Capello has shown he is willing to swallow his pride and bring formerly exiled players back into the fray if he needs them, as he did with David Beckham at Real Madrid.

While it’s hardly time to start panicking the fact is poor performances against mediocre opposition just aren’t good enough for many fans who spend a lot of money following England. If Capello wants to give himself the best chance in qualifying smoothly maybe turning to Owen wouldn’t be such a bad idea.


Premier league ‘cult hero’ XI

David May- rightly takes the applause after single-handedly winning the treble

David May- rightly takes the applause after single-handedly winning the treble

Following on from the most hated xi which seemed to upset almost everyone that read it is another team but this time made up of some of our favourite cult heroes.

The first question is ‘what is a cult hero?’ Well for starters, here’s what it isn’t- a truly great player that’s admired by everyone both inside and outside his club. Someone like Eric Cantona could never be a ‘cult hero’ because all United fans love him while fans from other clubs may at least have a grudging respect- I stress the word ‘may’ and obviously Crystal Palace fans are not among them.

No, a cult hero is the sort of player that not all fans love but the ones who do, adore with a passion. They’re the players that many of the opposition fans hate, or the strikers who’ve turned out for you team and scored one goal in twenty games which happens to be a winner against your arch-rivals. They’re sometimes the comical figures that we love to hate, the panto villain types that a core of us actually admire.

Then there’s that other type of cult hero, the genuine, decent talented player that for some reason never gets the respect of admiration of the mainstream media, so its left up to us fans to let the world know just how great they are. Cult heroes more often than not play the game we imagine the way we would for our club- what they lack in skill they make up for in effort, never giving up and always leaving the pitch having given 100%.

Most of these players may only play a handful of games for your club, others may be there for their for slightly longer, but they will always be admired for making supporting our team that little bit better. All of the players have played in the Premier League but some made their ‘cult hero’ status assured in Division One.

Goalkeeper – Les Sealey RIP “Sealey!” “Sealey!” “Sealey!” Could be heard from the stands at Old Trafford every Saturday- before ‘Super Sunday’ became compulsory for Manchester United- in the early nineties. What made the chant even more surprising was the fact that Sealey was merely an unused substitute for practically every game following the arrival of Peter Schmeichel. So why was he so popular with United fans- arguably more so than Great Dane. Well his first appearance had brought the FA Cup -at a time when United rated it- then there was his temper tantrum throwing in the Cup Winner’s Cup final when clearly injured he refused to leave the field. There were even stories of him threatening away fans who gave him stick during his warm-up. Sealey was a serious man and he may not have been the best of goalkeepers to stand between the Old Trafford sticks but he was definitely one of the most loved. News of his death from cancer left even the hardest of Stretford Enders with a lump in their throats. Sadly missed.

Left back- Julian Dicks -Arguably more fearsome than that other left backing ‘psycho’ Stuart Pearce, Dicks was the sort of player who could cause right wingers to feign injury before the game kicked off. A fearsome man who if he said it was Tuesday it was Tuesday but could also play a bit. Dicks scored an impressive amount of goals for a left back including 10 in the 95-96 season. Dicks may have accumulated almost as many red cards as he did goals at times, but he’s the sort of player that fans love, hard as nails, gets stuck in and and never gives up. Although his big money move to Liverpool didn’t work out and he never really threatened to break into the England team, there’s a lot of love for him in East London- as well as probably a lot of fear everywhere else.

Right back- Roland Nilsson– According to the Sheffield Wednesday chant numbers one to eleven were Roland Nilsson. Sometimes quietly going about your job in a consistent and unassuming manner gets you a mild respect but at Hillsborough it makes you a legend. While Nilsson is hardly likely to spring to the mind of most fans when naming the best foreigners to play in the Premiership, at Sheffield Wednesday he’ll always be top of the list. The Swedish international was a regular during the team’s ‘glory days’ of the early nineties which saw top five finishes and trips to cup finals as part of the norm. Men like Chris Waddle and David Hirst may have got the headlines, but no Wednesday player got as much affection from many of the fans as Nilsson. His managerial stint at Coventry was far less successful and his name certainly isn’t sung there. At Wednesday however he remains a cult hero.

Centre back- Brian “Killer” Kilcline– Although his only Premiership experience was playing for doomed Swindon, Kilcline makes this team for his time at St James’s Park. Kevin Keegan arrived at Newcastle with the team languishing near the bottom of the second tier and made the former Coventry hard-man his first signing. Never likely to trouble the England manager he did trouble opposing strikers who found the tough nut willing to stick his head in where most people would stick their boot. There have been may heroes at Newcastle and while men such as Shearer, and Macdonald may spring to mind as fan’s favourites there’s a core section who still thank ‘Killer’ for helping save the club from a trip to the third tier and not taking any prisoners in the process.

Centre back- David May – “David May superstar, got more medals than Shear-er” While that particular United chant may be more renowned for its accuracy than its rhyming shortcomings, it is still heard occasionally at Old Trafford. May joined United from Blackburn in 1994 and many were left confused as to why Sir Alex Ferguson played him out of position at right back. A switch to centre back left a few fans confused as to why Fergie played him at all as May struggled in his new surroundings. May became a cult hero at Old Trafford by leading the celebrations following United’s ’99 treble winning triumph at the Nou Camp- he was an unused sub. There are some at Old Trafford who claim May was actually underrated and a fine defender but as someone who was a regular during his debut season through to his last, I’m inclined to disagree. May was at times abysmal which makes the fact that he won far more medals than Shearer that little bit funnier and helped assure his cult hero status.

Left midfield- Steve Morrow – Heard the one about the player who got his cup winners medal before the final? Morrow was the match winner in Arsenal‘s league cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, so what better way for Captain Tony Adams to reward the Northern Ireland international than by breaking his arm on the post match celebrations?! Morrow subsequently missed the FA cup final some weeks later due to his injury. Morrow may have missed that final but he didn’t miss the Cup Winner’s Cup final a year later, where playing in midfield he produced a real barnstorming display against a Parma team that contained the likes of Gianfranco Zola and’Tino Asprilla, as the Gunners lifted the trophy. Morrow could play in several positions but for this team he’s left midfield. Morrow is now back at Arsenal assisting the clubs international academies- no doubt warning youngsters of the perils of over-exuberant celebrations.

Right midfield – Benito Carbone – The little Italian could play in a variety of attacking positions and could arguably be in this team for up to three teams. He was something of a fans favourite at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Bradford City. He amassed a staggering 17 clubs during his career and was accused of being troublesome for certain managers but the fans often loved him. Villa fans appreciated his help in their 2000 FA cup run, which included some memorable goals. Bradford fans found him a small measure of comfort in an otherwise depressing relegation season, Wednesday fans could boast two of the leagues best entertainers when he and Di Canio lined up together. You couldn’t bank on him sticking around but when he pulled on the shirt of your club he could de devastating.

Centre midfield – Steffen Freund– A cult hero is often not the greatest player on the pitch but he might just be the one who puts in the most effort. Freund was and still is a popular figure among many Spurs fans. He may not have had the skill of a Ginola, the finishing of a Sheringham or the timing of the tackle that Sol ‘dont mention his name to Spurs fans’ Campbell had but in some ways Freund was superior to all of them. A defensive midfielder who knew exactly what his job was, Freund was the sort of player you’d get fed up of playing against as he just would not stop harassing, tackling and making a general nuisance of himself to you. Spurs have had a lot of heroes over the years but Freund gains special place in many fans hearts due to playing the game with the sort of passion you’d see in the stands.

Centre midfield – Georgi Kinkladze – “And all the runs that Kinky makes are winding” sang the Manchester City faithful to the tune of Wonderwall during the Georgian’s time there. He may have been inconsistent and been part of the team that was relegated but on his day Kinkladze could be quite simply devastating. With a range of skills and low centre of gravity that was almost Maradona-esque the midfielder brought a smile to City fan’s faces before Arab Billions made them the force they are now. One goal against Southampton where Kinkladze seemed to take on the entire Saints defence polled second in the Match of the Day ‘Goal of the Season’ awards. If ‘Kinky’ had the sort of players City possess now around him, then the clubs wait for a trophy would already have been ended. A true cult hero, that even a few opposition fans- myself included- had to admire now and again.

Striker Diego Forlan– I’ve already written an extensive article praising the man ‘from Uruguay’ so I’ll keep it brief. He may not have scored many goals but his two at Anfield cemented his place in United fans hearts. Add to that last minute winners against Chelsea and Southampton- including the infamous playing with his shirt in his hand incident and its no wonder just more than a few United fans were glad to see him pick up the Golden Ball in the World Cup this year.

Striker Carl Leaburn– Carl who? Well let me tell you something I’ve always been proud of the fact that I did actually see Leaburn score once at Old Trafford in a cup game. The former Charlton striker was so inept at scoring he actually made Emile Heskey seem prolific. Charlton fans even had t-shirts with ‘I saw Leaburn score’ printed on them- apparently they didn’t sell many as there weren’t a lot of people who had. Leaburn was so poor he actually scored his third goal in his 100th game. Leaburn managed to win over fans by inexplicably bagging fifteen goals in one season. In 2004 he came third in a poll of Charlton fan’s ‘best player ever’ so you can’t ever accuse Addicks of lacking a sense of humour. Leaburn eventually moved on to Wimbledon where he helped the Dons on their way to relegation with an actually worse goal scoring record than he had at Charlton .

Subs bench: Bruce Grobbelaar, Shaun Goater, Vinnie Jones, Tony Yeboah, Peter Beagrie, Luis Boa Morte, Ali Dia


Wes Brown’s decision the right one for him and United.

The two Browns, at least Wes timed his retirement right.

The two Browns, at least Wes timed his retirement right.

News that Wes Brown has decided to retire from international duty has been met with a mixture of disdain and incredulity from many both inside and outside Old Trafford.

The ‘hardest man in town’ has called an end to his international career after 23 caps, which considering he made his England debut 11 years ago is hardly a great amount.
Brown stated:

“After a lot of thought and with a very heavy heart, I have decided the time is right for me to retire from international football.
“At the age of 30, I feel it is right for me to stand aside and let younger players come through, which allows me to concentrate on my club career.
“I regard it as an honour and a privilege to have represented my country at every level from under-15s upwards. I have always been very proud to play for England and wish them well in future tournaments.”

Brown’s decision comes just as Paul Robinson made his to also retire from England, although he stated it is more to do with being way down the pecking order than any wish to concentrate on his job at Blackburn.

While Robinson’s decision was a little surprising, after all as Robert Green showed, even a mediocre season can get you a place between the sticks for England when Capello’s in charge, Brown’s was actually pretty pragmatic.

Brown has never been a real first choice for England either at right back or centre back, due to either his injuries or having Gary Neville in his way. Since Neville more or less dropped out of the international scene Glen Johnson has emerged as the preferred choice at right back for Capello.

The world cup may well have been the final straw for Brown when it comes to England. After seemingly working his way back into the international fold under Capello, Brown was omitted even from the provisional 30 man squad for South Africa. Although he had recently returned from injury, the fact that the England manager chose to coax Jamie Carragher out of retirement and take a player who’d played a lot less football and has severe knee problems in Ledley King may well have irked the quiet defender.

Gary Neville wasted no time in questioning Capello’s decision to leave Brown out-although call me cynical I feel he may well have been having a dig due to his own omission but as with most things concerning ‘r Gary, who knows.

What amazed me about his world cup omission was that last season Brown played all his football for United at centre back and did a fine job as with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic missing large chunks of the campaign he was called into action a total of 26 times. Admittedly that hardly constitutes the term ‘mainstay’ but considering United’s defence was the best in the country and Brown put in some marvellous performances- Stamford Bridge for example- then for me he was a far better option than either Matthew Upson, Michael Dawson, Ledley King or Jamie Carragher. Like King and Carragher he has international experience but is capable of playing more than one game a week and didn’t need convincing to play, like Carragher he can play at right back or centre back but is far better in either position, and unlike Upson and Dawson he is truly world class. I know many Tottenham, West Ham and Liverpool fans may disagree but other than King, I think Brown is the more naturally gifted defender.

Regardless of whether he made it into the World Cup squad, another major factor which seems to have swayed his thinking towards retirement is Brown’s falling down the United pecking order.
When everyone is fully fit, Brown can no longer be guaranteed the right back spot that he made his own during the successful 2007-08 campaign. What is even more worrying for the ginger-ish- haired one is that even when the likes of Ferdinand and Neville are injured, Jonny Evans and John O’Shea, not to mention even Rafael Da Silva, seem to find themselves starting games with Brown often on the bench.

Sir Alex Ferguson loves to rotate his squad but certain players are pretty much guaranteed to start every game, or at least the big ones, if they are fit. Patrice Evra seldom gets rested and when he does it’s usually for an ‘easy’ Champion’s League tie or the Carling Cup. Fergie has pointed to France’s version of Leon Trotsky’s huge appearance record over the past few seasons as a reason for giving him an extra week off recently. Vidic is another defender who is only really rested when he’s either just returning from injury or it’s not a truly testing game. Ditto Rio- although if he’s fit he’ll play due to the rarity of the occasion. Brown is nowhere near this level of importance to Fergie, yet in 2007-08 he appeared more than any other United player- including Cristiano Ronaldo.

Brown knows that if he’s not careful he could find himself fourth choice right back and with the recent signing of Chris Smalling, possibly fifth choice for a centre back spot. Playing for England may not entirely prevent him from gaining his place in the starting XI but if he were to pick up an injury on international duty, would Fergie be as understanding or patient with him as Brown would hope?

Brown has two years left on his United contract, by which time he’ll be 32 and if he wants to ensure the next two seasons at Old Trafford aren’t spent keeping the bench warm or being an important member of the reserves, retiring from international football may be a step in the right direction. United have reaped the benefits of Paul Scholes decision to retire from England as the –truly- ginger haired one is still going strong –as he showed by winning man of the match in the ‘Community’ Shield.

England and Capello may regret Brown’s decision but I have a feeling that United and the defender himself won’t, the question is will Rio be joining him?


World Cup diary -England v Germany

The Lampard 'goal' was at the other end- yet I could still see it went in

As soon as the Germany Ghana game finished and it was obvious England would be playing the Germans in the next round, my friends and I made a decision, no matter what we’re going.

After spending a ridiculous amount on a ticket- 150 quid for a 35 pound ticket from some bloke on t’internet- and getting rid of a Argentina Mexico one that I already had, it was time to sort out transport.
Staying in Johannesburg, getting to Bloemfontein should have been a doddle, after all they’re both big cities. However after checking train times it became clear that both trains coaches and even flights were not going to get us there before kick-off.

Due to the fact none of us had a credit card, car-hire was also out of the question, so it was dodgy lift time. My mate Simon had the number of a Zimbabwean bloke called…..erm Zimbabwean geezer, who ran a taxi of sorts so we gave him a ring. After some bargaining that went on throughout Saturday over a series of phone calls we eventually settled on a price of 2000 rand which is about 200 quid. We had a train booked to take us back at 4am so we could stay in Bloemfontein and celebrate England defeating the krauts- or so we thought.

A light aircraft had made an emergency landing on the road to Bloemfontein

We set off at 7.30 am – miraculously Zimbabwean geezer was on time, luckily for me I managed to sleep throughout most of the journey. When we got to a petrol station to get some supplies we encountered a crowd of both England and Germany fans, we were almost there.

After a four and half hour drive we arrived in Bloemfontein and made our way to where all the fans were heading- it was a good four hours till Kick-off.

All the fans were congregated round a waterfront set of bars, and the England supporters were in full voice. There were inflatable spitfires , St George flags, even a few St. George body suits on display. Unlike other games I’ve attended there was a distinct lack of vuvuzelas- although there were the odd one or two.

Both sets of fans were in good spirits and the atmosphere was jovial and friendly- chants of Deutschland and In-ger-land could be heard everywhere interspersed with the occasional “you can stick your vuvuzelas up your *rse” and the odd actual vuvuzela.

As we made our way into the ground, walking through a shopping mall, there were several chants of “England till I die,” which I’ve always found slightly embarrassing for some reason. It reminds me of one of those no surrender to the IRA nonsensical chants that many England fans used to sing before the Good Friday agreement consigned it to the scrapheap- although I have heard the word IRA has been replaced by Taliban.
Maybe I’m just not as patriotic as some people but I’ve always found supporting England to be something of a paradox. Standing alongside people wearing everything from Arsenal to Liverpool to Chelsea to whatever tops sometimes feels a bit weird. As does cheering on a team led by that cheating “there you go Chelsea, you have the league title” badge –or camera- kissing donut Steve Gerrard. I do want England to succeed- obviously as I wouldn’t have spent almost the rest of my entire South Africa budget going to see them but if I’m honest, they’ll always be a fairly distant second to following Man U.

The waterfront at Bloemfontein was almost like being in England

That aside, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric and the old chestnut “England fans did us proud” was actually very true.

Just outside the ground I got chatting to a couple of lads from Oldham- Royton to be precise- who told me they’d got rid of their spare tickets for a measly 20 quid a few minutes earlier. Apparently despite the rumours that there were thousands of England fans travelling to Bloemfontein without tickets and that the game would be a sell-out and then some, there were lots of tickets available from touts or supporters just prior to kick-off for ridiculously low prices. It looks like, spending 150 quid each for ours was a bit of a fook up to say the least but we weren’t to know that.

The game itself was obviously disappointing from an England point of view. We were sat behind the goal where the Germans opened the scoring, when Upson put us back in the game we thought the comeback was on. For Lampard’s ‘goal’ even though we were down the other end we –along with every other person in the ground bar the ref and linesman thought it was a goal and celebrated as though it was. When we realised it hadn’t been given we were distraught, angry, bemused, devastated, all rolled into one. At half time a woman told me her friend had texted her and the ball was at least “two yards over the line”.
Great, yet again it seemed a decision against England- a bad one- was going to cost us our chance at a major tournament. When England came out for the second half we were all still pretty confident, but obviously it wasn’t to be.

The final nail in the coffin of my England world cup experience was seeing Emile Heskey come on in the last twenty minutes. I’ve never been a fan of the Villa forward and don’t buy into the whole ‘he brings the best out of Rooney’ nonsense that’s often spouted by so-called experts. Seeing him take the field to help us gain back a three-goal deficit was a joke. The man’s scored 3 times all season and yet somehow Capello thinks he’s the key to unlocking the German defence. To quote a distasteful Ivorian striker “It’s a fooking disgrace.”

After the game we headed to a bar/club as our train journey back to Jo’burg wasn’t until 4am. The shock of being knocked out and the manner of the defeat actually seemed to subside slightly and many England fans were in good voice and getting along well with the Germans- I was almost disappointed. Surely there must have been somebody rioting or burning Bloemfontein to the ground? But no we just got on with enjoying our night.

One of the few highlights of the journey back - picture Jon Devo

The train journey home was without a doubt one of the single most stressful journeys I have ever undertaken. The carriages were all full so we had to try and sleep in a corridor which was about minus 3 degrees. It was a nightmare. The journey lasted 9 hours?! But if felt like 24, although the last two hours were less harsh as seats were available and some all the ladies in our carriage began signing church songs and dancing, it was a truly magical experience watching all these ladies singing along, clapping and dancing in the aisles. I was tempted to start of a few Cantona chants but decided against it.

We were treated to two rather disconcerting things in the final hours of our trip, we saw a dead body from an accident on the side of the tracks- I say dead without meaning to sound melodramatic but the poor chap clearly was and then someone threw a rock through the window which narrowly missed my mate Jon’s head.

We finally arrived in Johannesburg a full 28 hours after we had left. England were out of the World Cup and no doubt the English newspapers would be blaming Capello, the referee and more than likely the linesman too. For our post-match analysis we went to a Nando’s and while the game may have been disappointing, the journey back a nightmare, the trip itself had actually been a good laugh. Now to find another team to get behind…….come on Ghana!


United’s youngsters end of season reports

Welbeck and Macheda- in happier times

With the season now well and truly done and dusted, there’s already been the post-mortem/transfer rumours/endless advice for Sir Alex Ferguson as everyone and his wife tries to see where it went wrong for United.

One idea that’s not been given as much credence as others is the notion that Ferguson should turn to his youngsters next season as United attempt to ‘win their trophy back.’
The problem is, as a happy-go-lucky MOTD pundit once prophesised ‘you don’t win anything with kids.’ That may have been the most infamously erroneous statement in football history but can we expect to see youth be given a chance next season at Old Trafford?
While its unlikely that Fergie will put the sort of trust in his younger players that he did in 1995/96 there are a few who’ve made genuine claims to become members of the first-team.
Let’s have a look at how some of them have fared and just what are their chances of actually making the grade.

Rafael Da Silva- At 19 years of age, Rafael has already shown enough potential to have many pundits claiming he may just be the heir-apparent to Gary Neville’s right back slot. With injuries plaguing both Wes Brown- who was mainly used as a centre back anyway and John O’shea Rafael found himself making sixteen appearances for United last season. While that is actually less than the previous season he has been plunged in at the deep end with mixed results. It’s in the Champion’s League that the Brazilian came under more pressure and scrutiny and many will cite his sending off against Bayern Munich as the turning point in United’s entire campaign. While he is still guilty of occasional rash challenges- City 1st leg at Eastlands- he is still obviously an extremely talented player. Better at going forward than he is at defending, there are signs that he is improving in both departments and if he can stop getting himself and United needlessly into trouble he looks as though he could make the grade and give the team an Evra-type at right back.
Rafael is progressing unlike his twin Fabio who’s despatched with the Keiron Richardson type hair do- and has only made three appearances for United this season as injuries have blighted his chances.
Grade- B minus – Tries hard, and has obviously got potential, just needs to channel his aggression in the right way on occasion.
Another future Patrice Evra- only at right back of course- a heavy mantle to lay on anyone but skilful quick and confident, if he works on his defensive shortcomings he could be the Brazilian Patrice.

Jonny Evans- It seems a bit daft labelling Evans a youngster seeing as he’s been a semi-regular fixture in United’s defence for two seasons now. At 22 though he is still fairly young and has arguably been United’s best youth product of the past decade. With 31 appearances last season- eight more than Rio Ferdinand, Evans has had to play more games than he really should have as Nemanja Vidic has also suffered with his share of injuries. Evans has been immense for United in many games and although he can occasionally be guilty of the odd lapse- erm just as Rio can really- he’s looking more and more like a magnificent defender. His stamp on Didier Drogba which inexplicably saw the Ivorian booked at Stamford Bridge also gave us one of the season’s funniest moments. If I were to be overly fussy then perhaps using his height at the other end of the pitch and threatening from corners would be a useful addition to his locker of talents but it’s a minor quibble in what’s been a great season for ‘the boy’ as Fergie calls him- along with every other United player regardless of age.
Grade- A minus – Fulfilling his early promise and becoming an integral part of the team.
Another future- Gary Pallister – well timed tackles and looking comfortable on the ball with a slight nit-picking criticism that a man of his height could grab at least the odd goal from a corner.

Darron Gibson – With 26 appearances and five goals to his name, it would appear that Gibson is settling into the first-team at United quite well. The same age as Evans the Republic of Ireland midfielder has found himself in the starting line up for some big games lately in both Europe and the Premiership. With a fierce shot and the confidence to use it, the best Gibson to ever play for United- Colin and Terry were sh*te- is putting forward a decent -ish claim to be Paul Scholes’s rightful heir. Then why am I not totally convinced? The thing that strikes me about Gibson is that sometimes, other than his shooting ability which is impressive rather than awesome he doesn’t always seem to influence games enough. Again, I may be being overly critical but there’s still a niggling doubt in my mind as to whether he is quite a Manchester United player. I hope I’m wrong as if Gibson does improve he could well do for United what Frank Lampard does for Chelsea. Next season is probably make-or-break for him.
Grade- B – Decent goal return and does seem to be going in the right direction, just a few nagging doubts over whether he is capable of moving up a gear.
Another future- Brian McClair- post 1992- could be accused of looking a bit slow at times but tries hard and chips in with goals.

Anderson – Everyone’s favourite Predator impersonator has had a mixed season to say the least. Sterling early season performances against the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham- where he finally broke his league goal scoring duck seemed to indicate Anderson was becoming the player we knew he could when he made Black Lace fashionable again – sort of.
However the United wheels looked like coming off for the man who’d never looked like missing his 2008 CL final penalty, after a supposed bust-up with Fergie. Apparently Fergie had dished out the hairdryer treatment to the youngster following his inept display against Manchester City in the Carling Cup first leg. This act of playful Scottish banter didn’t go down too well with ‘r Andy who supposedly did what is compulsory for all Brazilian footballers and disappeared back to his homeland without so much as goodbye note. While rumours of his imminent sale did the rounds, Anderson returned to Old Trafford and was back in the first-team for all of twenty minutes before a season-ending injury. Like Gibson next season could well be his make-or-break one as its time for him to step up and fulfil his early promise.
Grade C minus- Must try harder as it may be time for him to go elsewhere regardless of his potential.
Another future – Nicky Butt- good at tackling and getting stuck in, probably not a United-career type but hopefully will provide a good few seasons worth.

Gabriel Obertan – With only ten appearances for the first team it does seem a little premature to be giving the Frenchman any form of appraisal but I feel we’ve seen enough to expect him to figure a lot more next season so why not? Obertan is one of the few United players who’s been talked about for what he’s done for the reserves- including a cracker against Liverpool, as his performances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have often prompted Fergie to promote him. When in the first team Obertan has shown that he has skill in abundance and an energy that could well be utilised next season- most probably as a substitute. The pacy winger may well be given more than a season to prove himself as with Nani, Antonio Valencia not to mention Ryan Giggs and Ji Sung Park all ahead of him, he may have to make do with cameos to show his worth. While hardly setting Old Trafford alight, Obertan has made a decent start to his United career and looks very promising. If he can survive the rigours of English football, the Clairefontaine graduate may be the surprise package for Fergie next season.
Grade C plus- A solid start, and shows a willingness to try and get involved which will stand him in good stead at Old Trafford.
Another future- Nani or David Bellion only time will tell whether he can be the sort of livewire that his Portuguese colleague is- I’m a big fan, or he goes the way of Bellion and simply doesn’t have what it takes.

Danny Welbeck – Two seasons ago Welbeck appeared to be one of the few youth team strikers who’ve gone on to make it in United’s first team. Impressive displays earned him a start in the 2009 Carling Cup final, as the confident youngster made his case for being a valuable squad member. However fast forward to recent times, and things aren’t going quite as well for the Longsight-born lad. After being loaned out to Preston as Darren Ferguson’s first signing- nepotism? Never- Welbeck seemed to be making progress as he grabbed a couple of goals in his first few games. However a knee injury scuppered his chances of making further progress ending his season eight games in. When it comes to his performances for United, I can’t shake the feeling that he’s just not quite good enough, even though to be fair he has been used inexplicably as a winger for the first team on more than one occasion. Welbeck also has a problem with greediness, which while you’d expect it from a nineteen year-old striker, can at times frustrate. Whether Welbeck will be given more first-team chances next season remains to be seen, but he may find himself out on loan again.
Grade C minus- Seemed to have stagnated slightly after successful first season and injury prevented him proving his worth.
Another future -Frazier Campbell- sneaky feeling he may end up loaned-out until it becomes permanent.

Frederico Macheda – Despite an injury ravaged season that’s seen the Italian make only a handful of first team appearances, it’s still obvious he’s got a lot to offer. A perfectly legitimate goal against Chelsea -unlike the previous one scored in that game which was a disgraceful exhibition of linesman-ing incompetence – is all Macheda’s got to show for his efforts but its still at least something. While he’s not really improved on the previous season- to be fair though he did practically win United the league with his winner against Aston Villa so it was a tough act to follow, Kiko’s still shown glimpses of his class and I for one truly believe he’s got what it takes to make it at Old Trafford. At the age of 18 time is well and truly on his side. Fergie may use him sparingly next season but the potential is there for everyone to see.
Grade- C plus- Despite all his injury problems, the impact he made against Chelsea is enough to show that he’s still the real deal.
Another future – Ruud Van Nistelrooy- may not be at Old Trafford forever but I expect a lot of goals before he leaves.


Does Wayne Rooney really need an England strike partner?

Trying to pick out Peter Crouch with a cross was not easy

Wayne Rooney- those two words seem to occupy any article involving England’s world cup hopes and let’s face it rightly so.

Despite the talent named in Fabio Capello’s provisional squad Rooney is the one man who looks genuinely irreplaceable in the team. As Manchester United have found out this season, when you take Rooney out of your team even average opposition becomes a problem.

Looking at the England team on paper you could genuinely believe that even without Wazza they had a chance of going far. After all Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard and erm, James Milner are among some of the top players in world football- sort of.

The trouble is that not everyone seems to replicate their club form for the national side, with Gerrard and Lampard often being rightly accused of failing to live up to expectations.

To be fair to Lampard he’s been a little hard done by England-wise as I recall him being totally overlooked by many in the English press during Euro 2004 due to the emergence of Rooney. Lampard managed to score three goals yet with all the Roo-mania –to quote almost every tabloid from the time, poor old Frank barely got a look-in for what was a truly excellent tournament for him.

In 2006 Lampard was lambasted for not only missing his shoot-out penalty but also having more shots on goal than anyone else and still not scoring- a true victim of the cyber-age obsession with stats.

Gerrard is another one who’s been accused of being lacklustre on the international stage and has four less goals than his midfield partner despite having played one more game. While the last world cup was hardly considered a success for Gerrard it should be noted that he finished as England’s top-score- albeit with only 2 goals.

This season Gerrard has had a somewhat disappointing campaign whereas Lampard’s has been nothing short of phenomenal. Everyone talks about Didier Drogba being the key to Chelsea’s success and while this is no doubt true how Wayne Rooney must’ve wished he had someone of Lampard’s quality at Old Trafford to help with the goal scoring burden. 22 League goals from Lampard is only two less than Rooney himself and there-in lies a massive difference between the top two clubs.

Although Gerrard’s been poor by his standards nine league goals and seven assists in 33 games is not to be sniffed at –as Robbie Fowler used to say.

Gerrard’s also weighed in with a hat-trick of goals during England’s qualifying campaign so he’s hardly been a disaster on that front.

The point is both Gerrard and Lampard are still potential match-winners and must surely start for England in South Africa.

Fabio Capello seems to have a liking for Emile Heskey as Rooney’s strike-partner as he ‘brings out the best in him.’

For me this may have some truth but is a misleading analysis. Heskey may be better suited to partnering Rooney than say Jermaine Defoe or Peter Crouch but that doesn’t mean he has to partner him.

All season long Wayne Rooney has pretty much carried Manchester United almost single-handedly more often than not playing as a lone striker.

Against teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool, AC Milan and Arsenal –not to mention Chelsea away where Rooney played well and United were unlucky- Wazza led the line superbly, not only weighing in with goals but also holding the ball up well for the attacking midfielders to feed off him.

If Rooney was asked to do the same job for England I don’t see any reason why Lampard and Gerrard wouldn’t benefit by being encouraged to support him at the quickest given opportunity.

A five man midfield also allows Gerrard to fill the role he has done for Liverpool so often- playing just off the front man, rather than being pushed out wide which for me dilutes his effectiveness.

Then there’s the wide positions, with five in midfield you could have say Aaron Lennon or James Milner or whoever on the wings which is much more balanced. With this formation Capello can still accommodate a defensive midfielder-which he always seems to like- allowing Lampard and Gerrard to concentrate more on attack.

The argument is of course that Rooney as a lone striker is not as effective as he would be with a partner. Well here I’d argue that he is, after all anyone who’s seen United this season will know that Rooney has grown into the role. If you take the two Arsenal games as an example, at Old Trafford at times Rooney looked isolated and drifted a little bit too deep, yet at the Emirates he gave a master-class in not just passing and holding but also counter-attacking.

United have adopted a 4-5-1 formation for most of the big games which can be changed to a 4-3-3 of sorts when they’re attacking. This formation could work for England with two wingers from a five-man midfield linking up with Rooney when they’re on the offensive.

Then there’s the question of have any other strikers really done enough to convince they could really perform at the World Cup.

Emile Heskey’s record for Aston Villa this season is quite frankly abysmal with 31 appearances, 15 of which were starts and a paltry 3 goals and 2 assists. Heskey’s record for England is again nothing to brag about with one goal in his last seven starts. People will point to the fact that he’s also got 2 assists but when you’re playing alongside Wayne Rooney gaining assists is not that difficult as even Dimitar Berbatov will testify.

Jermaine Defoe has scored his fair share of goals for Tottenham this season, but 4 in his last 14 appearances leaves me for one feeling a little worried as to whether the season exertions have caught up with him.

Peter Crouch is probably the only striker in recent memory who is more prolific for England than he is for Spurs. Everyone’s favourite light-bulb changer only has 8 league goals this season, yet has appeared in every league game- with 21 of them starts. Yet Crouch’s goal-scoring record for England is better than even Rooney’s and this season his six caps have brought five goals. There still remains the question mark of whether he can perform against the top international sides has most of his England goals have come against small-time opposition.

That just leaves Darren Bent who has been prolific this season for Sunderland, yet for some reason doesn’t seem to have fully convinced Capello of his international worth. The smart money’s on Bent not even making the plane despite his 24 league goals.

Looking at Rooney you can say without any fear of getting laughed at that he’s one of the top strikers in the world, good enough to get into any team. However the same can not be said of any of his potential strike partners and the fact that two of them –Heskey and Crouch aren’t even regulars for their clubs speaks volumes.

My point is with the obvious quality Lampard and Gerrard possess and the ability of Rooney to operate as a lone front man- is it not time that Capello tried the 4-5-1 formula that’s seems to work at Old Trafford and bring out the best in the ‘white Pele’?


Gary Neville is a Red……..he hates everyone.

Scholes almost wished he hadn't scored the derby winner

Sometimes life throws up little surprises that really make your head spin, volcanic ash, Lib Dems in government-sort of- Alan Shearer saying something remotely interesting. One thing that never ceases to surprise is the predilection for spouting agitating nonsense of a certain Mr Gary Neville.

It seems Neville can’t go more than a few weeks without making some arbitrary comment about footballing matters that more often than not don’t really concern him.

His latest vitriol was aimed at England manager Fabio Capello following the Italian’s decision to omit Wes Brown from his World Cup squad.

Speaking to the Times of Malta Neville stated:

“I’m slightly surprised in some ways that there is only one right-back in the entire squad, but I’m probably more surprised Wes Brown isn’t in the 30, to be honest.”

It seems Neville either doesn’t regard Jamie Carragher as a viable option at right-back or has simply forgotten that the Anfield vice-captain can fill that position.

As a United fan, I’m a big admirer of Wes Brown. During the double winning season of 2007-08 Brown played more games than anyone else and was superb throughout the entire campaign, which culminated in him setting up Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in the Champions League final. I remember him bursting on to the scene in 1998-99 and performing admirably against the likes of Barcelona. However one criticism I have of Brown is that when he returns from injury it often takes him a few games to get back into his stride. The beginning of this season was a case in point as against the likes of Birmingham and Burnley Brown really struggled. If he was to be suddenly called upon in a big world cup game he may be a real liability and I personally would hate to see him at fault for costing England the chance to progress and being lambasted by the over-zealous media.

You could argue that Brown is more used to playing at right-back than Carragher is so therefore should be on the plane to South Africa. However while that may have been true in the past, this season Sir Alex Ferguson has used Brown almost exclusively at centre back, preferring Rafael Da Silva, John O’Shea and Neville himself in the right back slots.

There is of course the possibility that the Manchester United skipper was actually surreptitiously criticising the national coach for not picking Neville himself. It must have really pained Neville to see a member of his favourite team Liverpool edge him out of the squad- even more so when that player had previously retired from the international scene. While many, myself included thought Neville may have done enough to be taken as Glen Johnson’s understudy Capello obviously otherwise.

Questioning the national coach’s decision making is one thing but just in case Capello was not particularly bothered by Neville’s comments, he decided to go one further by insulting the Italian’s decision to try and coax Paul Scholes out of international retirement. Neville said:

“Capello spoke to Scholes to try and bring him back into the squad, but Scholes retired a good few years ago from international football and he’s not the type to go back on that.

“I’m not surprised Capello tried to get him out of retirement because if there’s one player I would try to pull out of retirement, it’s Scholes.

“Capello maybe got a bit desperate at the last minute and wanted Scholes because he’s still probably the best midfielder in England, but Scholes decided to stick to his guns.”

Again, while you can see Neville’s point that Scholes would be a useful part of the squad- his form for United the past few weeks has been vintage- the question remains is calling Capello ‘desperate’ really necessary? The answer is arguably no.

Neville just can’t seem to help himself, and while you could argue that similarly to the earlier comment he’s merely praising one of his team-mates, the whole thing seems rather pointless, merely designed to generate more anger his way. As soon as I saw the headline ‘Neville questions Capello’s squad’ I could picture nearly all of England rolling their eyes in disgust.

Neville always seems to have something to say and even United fans can sometimes find him slightly embarrassing.

Since injuries stopped him from being a permanent member of the United team, Phil’s more outspoken older brother seems to have decided to make himself the club’s unofficial spokesman.

You could argue- in fact I have in the past- that he’s less of a spokesman and more of a ranting clown, randomly spouting garbage to anyone who cares to listen or print his at times semi-moronic dribbling.

This season he’s done himself –if no one else- proud by criticising Carlos Tevez- not worth the money, Liverpool –deserved what they got in Europe, Chelsea- not an exceptional season and now Capello.

While I can often agree with Neville, in fact in nearly all of what he’s said I can see his point, the question is why does he always feel the need to say it?

It’s not merely his words that cause outrage amongst opposition fans, his goal celebrations- running towards Liverpool fans, gestures- giving Tevez the bird and even snubs- refusing to shake then-Manchester City goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel’s hand before a game, all seem the actions of a die-hard black shirt rather than a club captain.

The attitude that often pervades among United fans is ‘us against the world’ and many of Neville’s supporters would no doubt argue that he’s merely embracing this ethos. After all if I’m totally honest the sight of former Liverpool players, pretending to be objective about United on nearly every football programme can often grate as can some of the national media’s love of all things London.

Neville could be a welcome antidote to much of this if his credibility wasn’t so tarnished by his often childish churlishness.

Part of the sad thing about all this is due to his antics many people have become clouded when it comes to Neville’s footballing ability. People can easily dismiss him as merely some form of village-idiot forgetting how good he actually was and still can be.

Neville actually made the England team before his mates David Beckham and Scholes, playing every game -bar the semi-final where he was suspended-in Euro’ 96.

He was also instrumental in United’s dominance during the nineties and noughties, making nearly 600 appearances and winning every major honour there is in the game.

People have been waxing lyrical about Patrice Evra recently, yet for me Gary Neville was every bit as good in his heyday, getting forward well linking up with Beckham- then Cristiano Ronaldo. He was also excellent in defence, the timing of his tackles and his all-round energy enabling him to cope with practically any left winger in the world.

It seems though that much of this is in danger of being forgotten as Neville seems more concerned with making himself everyone’s least-favourite United player.

He’s entitled to his opinion and as club captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world he’s always going to have people willing to listen, I for one just wish he’d try and do what most players who are hated do- let his football and success do the talking.


What was the PFA awards ceremony all about?

Rooney and Milner- trying their best to look *rsed.

Watching the PFA player of the year awards the other night was about as entertaining as watching the Eastenders or Hollyoaks omnibus depending on which one it is your missus insists on watching on a Sunday.

First of all there was the live ‘entertainment’ at the ceremony, which began with Gabriella Cilmi, you know the woman who brought you, erm, well that song something about not being sweet, yeah that’s the one. Well, she performed her latest ‘hit’ entitled ‘I am a woman on a mission’ or something to like that, with a team of dancers while footage of some of the nominees scoring goals was shown on a screen behind her.
The sight of Wayne Rooney power-heading the ball past a helpless ‘keeper as our Gabby warbled ‘I am a woman on a mission’ seemed ridiculously comical. Talking of comical, there was absolutely nothing comical in Jeff Stelling’s performance as presenter. His jokes went down quicker than a skinny centre forward in the penalty box – in fact that rubbish metaphor I just used was just the type of garbage Stelling was delivering with all the conviction of confessing sex-offender. It was painful stuff which only seemed to get worse as the evening progressed.

After announcing the lower league teams of the year to applause which varied from polite to disinterested to insulting, there was another live entertainment performance this time from the rifles who underlined the bizarreness of the entire proceedings by covering Billy Joel’s ‘We didn’t start the fire,’ but with a football spin, so we treated to lyrics such as ‘City cash all he said was derby clash’ while pictures of the Carlos Tevez poster and Michael Owen’s injury, sorry ,Fergie-time winner were screened. There was also references to Emmanuel Adebayor’s celebration against the Gunners, and the whole ‘handshake-gate’ episode which no football reference would ever be complete without. To be fair to The Rifles their performance was fairly good and compared to Gabby’s it was at least relevant but the evening seemed to be crying out for a Peter Kay –let’s really take the p*ss out of some footballers- type comic rather than some mildly amusing football rhymes.

Talking of mildly amusing, Stelling never quite reached the dizzy heights of that but did soldier on with a smile unlike those of us viewing this at home. Lucas Radebe was next up, who was receiving the PFA Merit award, we were shown footage of Radebe, in his Leeds United heyday as well as interviews with his managers and coaches not to mention various South Africans. The only disappointment was that Nelson Mandela couldn’t come on, repeating his line from Invictus sort of : “Lucas, thank you for what you have done for this country.” To which Radebe could have replied: “No Mr. President, thank you.” Now that would have been memorable, even without Mandela the PFA could have at least tried to get Morgan Freeman.

The nominees for PFA Young player of the year were announced and this is where we really are into pantomime season. Now I’m not saying that James Milner didn’t deserve his award, but looking at the nominees only one man seemed to fit the idea of a young player- or at least one who’s not been around for five years. With Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and James Milner having about fifteen years worth of Premier League experience between them, it seems a little unfair that any of them should win the award. Surely Joe Hart who has not only had a blinding season but was also nowhere near the Premier League, when Rooney first won the award back in 2005, would have been a more deserving recipient. Milner may be young in years but in experience he’s an old pro. To be fair to Hart at least he turned up, none of the other losing nominees did. Milner and Stelling then engaged in an excruciating bit of banter, which was rescued only when the Villa man, turned the event into an ode to Martin O’Neill’s greatness, while the little Irishman looked on like a proud Director watching his Leading Actress at the Oscar’s as she gives him all the credit while collecting her Academy award.

The Premier League team of the year was announced, and had very few surprises, although perhaps Frank Lampard may think otherwise. Then it was down to business or as Jimmy Greaves, presenting the PFA player of the year award termed it: “The biggest forgone conclusion ever.” Or words to that effect, to be honest I was barely awake by now such had been the drivel of the past hour.

Wazza came up collect his award and actually did manage to raise a few laughs. Firstly by commenting how his bigger bald patch was the reason behind his large amount of headed goals. He then ensured any ideas Liverpool had of trying to beat Chelsea next weekend went out of the window by cracking that they were “chasing a Europa League place.” To all of which Stelling cracked up with just a hint of jealousy in his eye that Rooney had outdone him in the laughter stakes- almost a more difficult task than scoring 34 goals this season.

Forget the world cup, the real football showcase starts here. Remind me not to bother next year thank you very much, unless Gabriella Cilmi’s performing again, “I am a woman on a mission, ye-eah”, it’s very catchy.


Can Neville and Campbell gatecrash the World Cup?

Becks missed his Tango lessons with his best mate.

A few months ago, the idea of Sol Campbell and Gary Neville joining the England world cup squad probably seemed about as likely as Lyon knocking Madrid out of the Champions League.

Neville had fallen way down the pecking order at Old Trafford, with first O’Shea, then Brown, and even Rafael all seemingly ahead of him.

The prospects for Campbell seemed even bleaker, following the Notts County debacle, he was probably grateful that Arsenal allowed him to train with them let alone, harbouring any first-team aspirations.

Wenger’s decision to sign Campbell was seen as something of a gamble, after all at the age of 35 and following a not too impressive campaign at Pompey last season, many felt that Wenger was perhaps letting his heart run his head. The fact that Campbell was the Gunners only signing during the transfer window merely seemed to add fuel to the criticism, was he really good, young, or motivated enough to help an Arsenal title bid?

While Campbell was salvaging his career at the Emirates, Neville was keeping the bench warm at Old Trafford while doing his usual best to upset opposition fans. Wild celebrations following Michael Owen’s injury time winner in the Manchester derby were not enough for Neville when it came to upsetting the blue half of the city. Touchline gestures towards Carlos Tevez, as well as an interview claiming the Argentinean was not worth the money it would have taken to keep him, made sure that Neville will be about as welcome at Eastlands as Ryan Shawcross would be at the Emirates. Neville even managed to find time in his busy schedule to anger fans of his favourite club Liverpool by commenting on their Champions League exit, although the word ‘gloating’ would probably be a more appropriate term. It seemed Neville had become something of a bit of a joke to anyone from outside Old Trafford, like a drunken uncle at a wedding who insists on getting on the microphone, he was in danger of turning into more of a mascot than a player.

The last few weeks though, have seen a remarkable turn around in fortune for both former England players. Campbell after a shaky start against Stoke in the FA cup has shown that he can still perform at the highest level. Despite only making five appearances for Arsenal this time round, he seems to be growing in confidence with each one and has even admitted that he has yet to give up on a place in the World Cup squad. This may sound like bluster but there are several factors working in the former Spurs captain’s favour. For starters the players behind Rio Ferdinand and John Terry in the central defender stakes are far from outstanding. Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Ryan Shawcross are all very good players, but truly world-class? I’m not so sure. Also with Arsenal through to the next round of the Champions League, Campbell will get the chance to shine on a much bigger stage than any of the aforementioned players, not to mention the fact that he could well still help Arsenal win the title.

Neville on the other hand has found his path to both the United and possibly England team cleared by the injury to Wes Brown. With O’Shea out for the season and Rafael’s inexperience occasionally getting the better of him, Neville has become United’s first-choice right back. His performance against Milan in the second-leg highlighted that he still has a lot to offer, not just defence-wise but also bombing forward whipping in crosses. Although Glen Johnson is likely to be Capello’s first choice right back, there may still be a case for Neville to be taken as his understudy.

The main difficulty either player may find in making the plane to South Africa could be their age- both being 35 years-old. This may not be the obstacle that some suspect though, as until very recently David Beckham was seen as almost certain to make the squad at practically the same age. Let’s not forget that both players have bundles of experience with over 150 caps between them not to mention appearances in 11 major tournaments.

With the inexperience of other defensive options such as Micah Richards or many of the other centre-back choices it seems the idea of taking either of them may not be all that far-fetched.


Is being black and playing for England finally irrelevant?

Ince on another night out in Ilford

In 1984 John Barnes danced through the Brazilian defence in the Maracana stadium to score one of the greatest goals ever by an England player. Several hours later on the flight home Barnes received a torrent of abuse from National Front England fans who claimed his goal didn’t count because he wasn’t really English.
In the dark days of the eighties the fact a player was wearing an England shirt failed to protect him from the racist abuse he could suffer from his own fans.

Only six years earlier Viv Anderson had become the first black man to be capped for England, while players such as West Brom’s the “three degrees” – Regis, Cunningham and Batson- were giving the English league a more multi-ethnic look. When the lovely Bobby Robson took over the national team’s reigns he was quick to remark that he was willing to pick any player good enough regardless of race.

Many fans however did not share Robson’s liberal outlook and the treatment of England players such as Chamberlain, Blisset, Regis and Barnes was nothing short of disgraceful.
Times have thankfully moved on from the days when black players were regularly abused while plying their trade in England. Football in England has progressed so that the sight of Neanderthals making monkey noises and throwing bananas at players- without any sense of irony I might add- are thankfully a thing of the past.
As times changed and more and more black players started playing for English teams and gaining England caps, so did the attitudes of many fans.

An England player’s ethnicity was still an issue though, particularly in sections of the press.
When Paul Ince captained England for a game in 1993 – the ill-fated US Cup tournament- much was made in the press of the fact that he would be the first black captain of the national side.
That same year when John Barnes was booed at Wembley during a lacklustre performance many suggested that the colour of skin rather than the ineptitude of his efforts may have been the reason he was singled out- it was by no means a foregone conclusion though. While any booing of an England player is by no means to be condoned, simply singling out the black man is particularly awful. Whether his treatment had racist undertones is not entirely relevant the point is, some still felt that it could have been a possibility, therefore his race came into the discussion.

There seems to have been a drastic change in attitudes, even since the early nineties, an England player’s ethnic background doesn’t seem to matter quite as much anymore.
Fast forward to recent years and you can find the proof that times have moved on. Ashley Cole’s booing at Wembley in 2008 was put down to his being at fault for Kazakhstan’s goal rather than for anything race-related. The same progressiveness can be noticed with the succession of Rio Ferdinand to the captain’s role. In the entire furore surrounding Ferdinand taking over from Terry, very little-at least not in the mainstream press- has been made of the fact that Ferdinand will be the first black man to captain the England football team at a major tournament.

Teams such as Spain and Italy booing either their own black players- or the oppositions- merely helps to remind us how bad things were in England not all that long ago and how we’ve moved on.
Does this mean that being black and playing for England is no longer an issue? Our nation’s supporters and press may not all be totally colour blind but things seemed to have changed for the better. Race doesn’t seem to matter in terms of England players-ability finally seems to be paramount- let’s hope it stays that way.