With the appointment of the experienced Roy Hodgson as the newest manager of the Three Lions, there is hope that England can make a run at this year’s European Championship. After all the controversy and negative media attention that makes the English squad seem more like a sideshow rather than an actual football team, a great run through the European Championship would alleviate concerns over whether Hodgson can thrive under the most pressure he’ll ever endure.
With Hodgson’s impending announcement of the squad tomorrow, many questions need to be addressed in defense, midfield and up front. What makes matters worse is that the British squad will have to go up against two foes who they’ve struggled against mightily. They first face France who they haven’t beaten since the days of Alan Shearer in 1997. After that, they’ll face a tough match with Sweden who has always been a thorn in England’s side (before their most recent victory last November, England had not defeated the Swedes in twelve matches since 1968).
Who plays up front is undoubtedly one of England’s biggest concerns after Wayne Rooney’s two game suspension. While Rooney has often struggled to score and keep his composure on the international stage. He is still far and away the best striker England has to offer. Darren Bent surprisingly, has been possibly deemed fit enough to partake in the Euro after initial expectations that he would be inactive due to rupturing ankle ligaments in February. While everyone knows that he’s England’s second best striker, whether he’ll be in proper shape and form for this summer is up in the air. Trying to replace Rooney and possibly Bent in the first upcoming games will be no easy feat as Hodgson could potentially face a devastating fallout from an early exit in the tournament if England slips up.
With that, lets assess the pros and cons of England’s other strikers in line to stand in for Rooney and possibly Bent in Euro 2012:
Pros: After a successful loan stint with Sunderland, the 21 year old Manchester native had a fantastic first season with the Red Devils. While Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez struggled to find his form and Dimitar Berbatov fell out of favor, Welbeck stepped up on the big stage in his first full season and played fantastically at times. His physicality in possessing the ball and link up play with United’s line up made him a mandatory selection in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting eleven. His swiftness allowed him to fit in perfectly with United’s aggressive, up-tempo style and he developed a great rapport with Rooney up front. He also scored in crucial games throughout the season against the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal (twice), Tottenham, Everton and other formidable foes. The rising striker, who was nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year in 2012, is acclimated with playing for his country after playing for both the under-21 and senior level squads.
Cons: His inexperience with playing in major international tournaments could definitely bring on serious drawbacks. The most frustrating aspect of Welbeck’s first full season was his struggles in goal scoring as he blew many chances throughout the season. In 30 Premier League games, he scored nine goals which shows that while he does know how to produce up front, his goal scoring may not be clinical enough for him to warrant a starting spot for England. While Welbeck’s abilities still need to progress as he matures into a star striker, it might be too soon to rely on him as a starting striker against elite defenders in Europe.
Pros: Along with Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge was another English youngster who impressed many in his first full season at Stamford Bridge. After scoring eight goals in only twelve appearances on loan at Bolton Wanderers in the previous season, Sturridge continued his fine form under Chelsea in the first half of the season. Sturridge, who was one of the few players who actually benefitted from playing for Andre Villas-Boas, scored nine goals before January thanks to his quick pace and strong finishing skills. Sturridge has also played for England against Sweden and won a man of the match award for his excellent performance against the Netherlands.
Cons: There are two major concerns with throwing the inexperienced Sturridge into a “baptism of fire” at Euro 2012. First, after impressing everyone up until January, Sturridge became inconsistent in the second half of the season and lost a lot of playing time under interim coach Roberto Di Matteo. As a young player, he will experience his fair share of highs and lows as he matures into hopefully a fine striker. The other evident issue is Sturridge’s selfishness when trying to score. Although his passing abilities are solid, Sturridge’s pursuit for personal glory has turned him into a one man show at times which will make him unpopular with coaches and teammates. In order for the young Englishman’s game to grow, he truly has to become more of a team player.
Pros: Love him or hate him, Andy Carroll has shown that he can produce on the big stage against some of the best teams in the Premier League. His strength and height make him excel at heading in goals which could prove quite valuable against smaller European defenders. Along with deceptively decent shooting skills, the 23 year old can be quite disruptive in the box which could spark England to success especially if he could head in aerial crosses from a talented winger like Ashley Young. Carroll has also shown good character by cleaning up his off-field issues and can galvanize a team to success as he almost single-handedly inspired Liverpool to come back in the FA Cup Final. After playing well at the end of the season, maybe it’s time for Hodgson to see if he could carry his enthused form into the Euro?
Cons: As the most expensive British footballer ever, it would be quite an understatement to say that he has failed to live up to his lofty expectations. After paying 35 million pounds for his signature, Carroll has returned the favor with a paltry four goals and two assists in the Premier League this season. Although it isn’t completely his fault (he hasn’t exactly been able to receive great ball service from the likes Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and a chronically injured Steven Gerrard), Carroll has bore the brunt of the blame because his style has made Liverpool appear way too conventional and unimaginative when creating chances. Although he has played better recently, his overall form for the whole season dictates that he just isn’t cut out for England duties yet.
Pros: Jermain Defoe has made a career out of being a quality poacher as he has shown that he has natural instincts for scoring on both the domestic and international levels. When it comes to getting a quick goal, England may not have anyone better than Defoe as his speed allows him to get behind and away from defenders. He is an experienced, clinical scorer with excellent finishing abilities both from distance and up close in the box. He is a fantastic addition off the bench that England has utilized before as he has scored in a third of his games on the international level (15 goals in 46 appearances).
Cons: In all of Defoe’s 46 appearances for England, he has never once played a full game as he has always been substituted into or out of matches. In other words, if Defoe isn’t scoring or creating chances, he really doesn’t offer anything else on the field. Defoe has long been criticized for not being able to keep possession or hold the ball up to link with others. Defoe is also an older version of Sturridge in that he’s a ball hog which simply isn’t conducive with England’s consistent ability to score. Also, besides a brace against the Netherlands in a friendly in 2009, Defoe has only scored against inferior opponents like Poland, Andorra, Kazakhstan, Trinidad and Tobago, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Overall, Defoe has never really shined against elite opponents and his capabilities may be too limited for England this summer.
Pros: The well-traveled 6’7” behemoth has successfully left his mark in England through his obvious heading abilities and surprisingly first-rate dribbling considering his height. Crouch is a remarkable mix of styles as he is both physically imposing but can also show great technical skill (If it wasn’t for Papiss Demba Cisse, his goal against Manchester City would be the best of the season). He has proven to be difficult to deal with on the international level as he has scored 22 goals in 42 appearances including against France, Croatia, and Mexico. Overall, Crouch is an experienced player who knows that this is likely his last chance to play in a meaningful international competition (and who wouldn’t want to see him do the robot one more time?).
Cons: Crouch simply has never really been a clinical scorer who can really take over games. His size makes him rather slow and referees will always watch him closely for fouls due to his reputation. In terms of scoring, after producing eleven goals in twelve appearances in 2006, he has found the back of the net eleven times in 26 appearances over the subsequent four years. While that isn’t terrible, it may indicate that an older, slower Crouch may struggle against young, fast European defenders.
Pros: Grant Holt has proven the critics wrong this season by showing that he can score goals at the highest level in England, netting 15 goals in the 2011-12 Premier League season for Norwich City. The gifted striker is clinical in front of goal, and reminds me of an Alan Shearer near his prime. Holt is strong in the air, has a good aerial presence and gets into good positions for Norwich to score goals. Most importantly, he’s calm, cool and collected under pressure when he has a chance to score in front of goal.
Cons: Holt has a few things against him. He’s never played for England, so to expect him to jump from the Premier League into an England team at a major international tournament is, perhaps, too much to ask. He’s also older — 31, so he’s at the tail end of his footballing career. I’m not sure whether Hodgson would select a player who may be retiring in a few years especially when he could select a younger striker instead who will have more a longer international career ahead of him.
Hodgson will have to make a difficult choice in selecting three other strikers to join Rooney in Eastern Europe this summer. In my mind, the best choices are Danny Welbeck because of his great link-up play and partnership with Rooney, Sturridge because of his great speed and finishing abilities, and Crouch because he offers something unique as he will be difficult to mark. With issues from the back and in midfield, Hodgson better hope that someone besides Rooney or Bent can really step up this summer.