IF, as he has suggested, Roy Hodgson means to make his World Cup squad a vital mixture of youth and experience, I make two suggestions to the England manager: Take Southampton’s terrific teenager Luke Shaw and Everton’s 33-year-old Gareth Barry to Brazil. For me, Shaw’s immense potential was fulfilled in a 45-minute international debut display against Denmark, when the 18-year-old took to the Wembley stage with the confidence and composure of a veteran. I would take him, to the exclusion of Ashley Cole, plus Leighton Baines as the two left-backs. Barry wasn’t even in the squad for yesterday’s match, but he would be my pick, alongside Steven Gerrard, in the midfield holding roles. I am a big admirer of Frank Lampard, but the Chelsea ace will be 36 as the World Cup gets under way in June and he does not play every week for Chelsea. I feel the heat and humidity might be just too much for his ageing legs and lungs. Barry and Gerrard, who is 34 on May 30, are no spring chickens, but, in the “non-energetic” roles in front of the back four they would be, in my opinion, the best pairing.
Gerrard, neither an out and out holding player – he still occasionally allows players to run off him – nor an attacking one, is more of a quarter-back, the man who collects the ball and pings long, diagonal balls, notably and often with deadly effect, to Luis Suarez when playing for Liverpool. Gerrard is a terrific player, but he is not really a link-up midfielder like Barry, who has had an outstanding season at Everton. In the heat and humidity of Brazil, the emphasis will be on keeping possession and short passing is key to doing that. Between them, Barry and Gerrard should be an effective, holding, controlling force who can leave the hard running to the likes of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. England’s first match is against Italy and we are likely to see Juventus star Andrea Pirlo, at 34, patrolling in front of the back four, shuffling about the pitch, dictating the rhythm and pace of the game with his accurate short passes. That is the job Barry can do for England, setting up situations which young bucks like the above-mentioned can, hopefully, exploit.
In such a system, it is important that the full-backs bomb on and deliver dangerous balls into the box – what a beauty young Shaw produced at Wembley, the pity being no-one got on the end of it – and that’s where he, Baines and Glen Johnson, on the right, will be so important to the cause. It was good to see Daniel Sturridge, prolific for Liverpool, score for England for his form eases my early-season concerns that we had no-one to complement Wayne Rooney in the scoring department. Danny Welbeck, who will almost certainly go to Brazil on the basis of his strength, pace and athleticism, is a case in point. Welbeck again showed that, while capable of getting into good scoring positions, he all too often fails to hit the target.
Despite the lack of goals, England’s overall display was pretty good in parts. The emergence of Henderson, Sterling and Lallana has eased my worries of nine moths ago that we lacked young talent to support Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere in the attacking midfield areas. I do fret about who will provide the support to Joe Hart, our No 1 goalkeeper. Ben Foster, John Ruddy, Fraser Forster, of Celtic, and Stoke youngster Jack Butland seem to be the names from which Hodgson will pick two, but I have a surprise suggestion: Chris Kirkland, of Sheffield Wednesday. Chris, who is 31, has bags of experience after stints at Coventry, Liverpool and Wigan and Wednesday’s goalkeeper coach Andy Rhodes tells me he is playing better than ever, a major factor in the team’s resurgence in recent months. Kirkland was hampered by injury problems, one theory being that, in his eagerness to improve, he over-trained in his early years. Now, he’s in control of his game and his preparation and I’m suggesting to Roy Hodgson that a trip to Hillsborough could give him food for thought.