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The England Outsiders #3. The Centre Halves

Well it’s not been the best season for either of England’s first choice centre halves so far. Enough has been written about John Terry’s problems and Rio Ferdinand’s chronic back injury to have caused meltdown on Google through searching for both issues. Thankfully, Terry’s form seems to be picking up again and Manchester United seem to have cured Ferdinand through a calming spell of rehabilitation.

The issue for England would seem to be cover for both players with several high profile replacements injured, retired or bang out of form. Capello has already shown that he rates Matthew Upson, and for all his Premier League problems, Upson is clearly the first choice as a back up centre half for the Italian. He’s been dependable and reliable for England when called upon though and is clearly on the plane to South Africa.

The only question mark would be West Ham United’s struggle in the relegation battle they currently find themselves in. Could relegation leave a hangover that could affect him? It will be interesting to see, but Upson should be strong enough to deal with whatever happens to West Ham. After that though, it becomes a bit of a lottery with a major question mark over another player Capello clearly rates, Ledley King.

What can be said about Ledley King, he simply defies science and common sense. King has been suffering for 4 seasons with a chronic knee injury that he picked up in pre-season training back in 2006. Now with no cartilage in his left knee, it is simply bone grinding on bone every time he plays, King has to have at least 5 days rest to recover. The problem is that fluid builds up in the knee, swelling it up after any vigorous exercise but it’s incurable.

For a player in this day and age to be able still perform without any real training week to week is astounding. Harry Redknapp rightly calls him a freak for being able to still continue at the top level and this will probably be his last major tournament for England. Even at 29, the toil of the injury will surely bring an end to the career of surely one of English football’s brightest talents far too early. Fully fit, it wouldn’t have surprised me if King had become a regular starter for his country. Unfortunately, we will never know.

Of the other two outstanding centre halves of this generation, one is seemingly more injury ravaged than King and the other retired after being consistently overlooked by Steve Mclaren. Jonathan Woodgate must have run over several black cats in his career, which like Kings, promised so much but has petered out in to a continual battle to even make it on a treatment table, never mind a pitch. When fit, Woodgate was a superb ball playing defender who could score a couple now and again. Time is certainly against him and he has no chance of being fit for the World Cup and maybe even the beginning of next season.

Jamie Carragher has stuck to his decision made back in July 2007 after being consistently overlooked by Steve Mclaren and no amount of pleading has seen him make himself available for selection. I kind of understand why he’d had enough, but hells bells, World Cups don’t just grown on trees. Yet, regardless of that, Carragher along with Wayne Bridge seem certain to stick to their principles. It’s a shame and Carragher is certainly deserving of more caps than he won.

Of the remaining contenders, Joleon Lescott has had a terrible season by the standards he set whilst at Everton. Injuries and criticism over the way he handled his £23 million move to Manchester City have certainly seemed to weigh on Lescott’s mind this season. Of course, his career at City along with his relationship with Kolo Toure is still in it’s infancy and it should settle down eventually, question is, will it settle down in time for the World Cup?

Phil Jagielka is another high profile candidate only recently returning to playing after a 9 month lay off through injury. He’s certainly impressed since joining Everton in the summer of 2007, but it could be a little too soon for him. He’s another that has impressed with the chances available to him at international level and looks set to be involved with the England set up in the European Championship qualifying rounds when they begin in September 2010.

The outstanding English centre half who is not an England regular for me this season has been Michael Dawson. It’s ironic that if King and Woodgate were fit, Dawson wouldn’t be playing, never mind captaining the side in King’s absence. In fact over the last 18 months, Dawson has come on leaps and bounds and has been playing excellently all of this season. Strong in the air, reliable and passionate, Dawson in my opinion, clearly deserves to go to the World Cup.

I was amazed when Ryan Shawcross was called up but Dawson overlooked once again, because he’s simply a better player at the current time. I doubt Capello picked the Stoke defender to deflect the criticism over the Ramsey challenge, but it was still a surprise. A pointless one in the end as he didn’t even get on the pitch, but the experience will have stood him in good stead. Shawcross is definitely one for the future though, along with Jagielka.

So for me, the final choice comes down to John Terry and Rio Ferdinand as first choice centre halves,  Matthew Upson and Michael Dawson and Ledley King, dodgy knee as well to make up 5, taking my squad to 12 players so far. King, despite the knee issue, offers cover in both central defence and midfield and deserves his last chance after cruelly missing out in 2006. So who would you choose?

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  1. unclesand

    March 31, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    barring injuries, it will be ferdinand, terry, upson, lescott. i wish we had a ball-playing center back like pique or vermaelen but that’s never been the type of player we produce. any english kid that can pass ends up in midfield.

  2. Lance Anderson

    March 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I totally agree about Dawson. As a Spurs fan I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Dawson for years…At times he looks an absolute rock at the back, and at others he looks more like a liability. This year has been different, however. He has well and truly impressed me with his consistently solid performances this season, and the leadership he has displayed captaining the team since Robbie Keane left has been outstanding. I too was very surprised to not see him even mentioned in potential England defender’s lists, especially after Upson’s less than stellar performances for both club AND country of late. I think it’s too late at this point for Dawson to get a call-up…if Capello were considering him for South Africa he would have already made the squad a time or two. If he continues performing as he has, he will be impossible to overlook for the next major tournament.

    • LI Matt

      April 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm

      FACT: Spurs are (joint) second in fewest goals conceded — with their first-choice centerbacks combining for fewer than 20 appearances.

      Certainly Gomes and Bassong get shares of the credit for that, but … really, what more is Dawson supposed to do?

  3. Dean @ Footballgambler

    March 31, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    I think that Woodgate and King would be in squad, maybe even one of them as a first choice, if they were fit and playing week in, week out.

    In King’s case, I know he is playing at the moment, and I think Capello would love to take him, but I can’t see Capello taking a risk on him with Rio Ferdinand’s recent injury problems.

    I also agree that Upson looks to be on the plane already, FC hasn’t had him in all his recent squads just to leave him out now. Do think that for both Upson and Green, if the season ends badly for West Ham, it could effect them at the World Cup, mainly Green who has flapped a bit under pressure for West Ham already this season.

    I think Capello will take Wes Brown if he is fit, not sure if he will take him as cover at centre half, or cover at right back. Hopefully he might take him to cover both positions and maybe take a 5th striker.

    Ok, I know that is a long shot for an Italian manager, but then again the Italy squad from 2006 and had six strikers in it.

    The other candidate that FC has looked at is Gary Cahill, think he still might be in with a chance. FC mustn’t rate Michael Dawson though, if he hasn’t picked him by now, he probably never will.

    3 to 4 years back we had 5 or 6 really good centre halves, the cupboard is looking a bit more bare these days, and with injuries and loss of form it could be a problem come the summer.

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