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He’s here, he’s there, South Africa beware!


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He may not have put in an appearance against Bolton yesterday, but Duncan White of the Telegraph seems to have it on good authority that Joe is being lined up as the key player in a new England formation, at the tip of a midfield diamond, a decision based solely on Fabio Capello’s glimpses of him in our two previous games. I for one believe this makes perfect sense if only because, should the formation prove to be the success I think it might, it gives the Italian an ideal excuse to sort his squad out in certain areas where a dose of realism has long been overdue. Let me explain…

There was always going to be a place for Joe Cole in the Chelsea line-up on his return to full fitness, but few fans would have guessed that he was going to go straight into the perfect position for his talents let alone perform so well, so quickly. Eagerly anticipated or not, the same cannot be said of his slotting into a readymade place in the England team, so it’s good to learn that Capello has noticed the benefits to be gained by mirroring Joe’s Chelsea return, just in time to claim a World Cup place. Being a coach single-minded enough not to be swayed by Media-based agendas and influence, constantly used for its own purposes rather than for the benefit of the national team, Capello has to recognise this moment for what it is - a golden opportunity to ensure England take a definitive route next summer, with certain ’givens’ in perennial problem areas being discarded once and for all.

Those problems and that agenda are best outlined from Fabio’s viewpoint in general and England’s progression under his pragmatic tutelage in particular. Throughout the qualifying stage it has been a journey that’s seen us use Heskey [a striker who doesn’t] and more recently Crouch [a striker who does, but we’re not quite sure how] in a role up front designed to assist Rooney rather than achieve anything in its own right. Capello must have known from Day One that World Cups are not won by target men of this quality, even if deployed alongside a world class striker like Rooney. He also knows that talk of a ’special relationship’ between Wayne and a left-sided Stevie Me is more of a sop to Scousers than substance for a convincing argument, especially in the light of Gerrard’s faltering form and fitness. Indeed, lately his time in the spotlight seems to be limited to fleeting moments when he can push Torres out of it or, failing that, linking himself in some way to a brilliancy from the Spaniard. And nowadays that is just what he is doing with Rooney in the England set-up, proof positive that Capello must look elsewhere if he wants to find that elusive winning formula in South Africa. Enter Joe Cole…

It cannot have escaped Capello’s attention that England’s current Plan A not only needs serious back-up in the form of a viable Plan B, but also needs to detach itself from the mistaken belief that players in the mould of Heskey and Crouch have to be a vital part of it. Joe’s emergence as the perfect tip of the diamond player presents Fabio with an ideal ’here’s something prepared earlier’ example that means he can be used as the catalyst for a few critical calls on both personnel and formation in the forthcoming friendly(s). Who knows, England might then go into the competition proper with a 4-3-2-1 or a midfield diamond formation as a Plan A and, if I’m any judge of the eventual outcome, I’d say the following ill-fitting pieces of the puzzle would suddenly fall into place as a direct result.

1. Neither Heskey nor Crouch would make the plane, allowing Agbonlahor and Carlton Cole to take those places, both being by far the speedier options to play at the sharp end of a 4-diamond-2 system. Defoe goes as cover for Rooney and if an extra forward is taken it should be Darren Bent, so that the strike force as a whole, prompted by Joe, has the pace to take on class defences. It is time that Rooney got a partner up front who wasn’t simply used as a sounding board, playing with his back to goal and frequently gumming up the works in the process.

2. With Joe in this role and providing chances, the wisdom of taking Beckham, merely to be used as a bit part player that supplies crosses for Crouch, takes free kicks, or pings the odd long pass, is brought into sharp focus - it’s a waste of a place that should be taken by Walcott, as the other half of the 2 in a [Plan B] Christmas tree formation. For example, the 3 being Barry [holding] Frank and Gerrard with Joe as provider, Walcott breaking from this deeper position, Rooney spearheading the attack and the width coming from Ashley and Johnson, which would make the most use out of their skills. If Beckham gets to go at all it has to be as cover in the playmaker role and he’d be lucky if he did because Capello has never given serious consideration to him performing there ever since he popped off to play for the Galaxy. In effect, Fabio would have this option as a get out clause should he end up selecting him, but it should be at the expense of Carrick and not Lennon or Walcott.

3. The current Plan A hardly makes best use of Gerrard, despite support from the fawning British press, and, as Milner is breathing down his neck for the left-sided berth anyway, the change advocated above may turn out to be his best chance to stake a place in the side. It would also damn near guarantee Milner’s selection whilst at the same time killing off the slender hopes of ineffectual players such as Downing and Young, as Joe would be available as extra cover on the flank should it be needed. By resettling Gerrard in a more central position, and selecting Walcott as an out and out alternative [to Beckham] on the other flank, the squad would have genuine pace and guile where it matters and a much more balanced look about it.

Finally, and this would be the real beauty of the Joe-based alterations, the Media agenda referred to earlier would be brought onside without too much fear of contradiction and recrimination. For those who are still wondering what that agenda might be, let me explain by pointing out that the newshounds with foresight have already realised this is likely to be an England squad dominated by Chelsea players [JT, Frank, Ashley and Joe] who will walk into the first team, matched up against an equivalent number of United players [Ferdinand, Carrick, Hargreaves and Brown] that, with the notable exception of Rooney, are far from certainties to go, let alone likely to feature as stars on the trip.

This is not exactly how the Media would want things to be [reporting-wise] so close to the finals and, should Gerrard’s injury problems, plus his obvious preference for club rather than country, ultimately affect his selection or number appearances in South Africa, the usual stream of good-newsworthy stories for the hacks preferred clubs will be reduced to a dribble. Add to this the fact that Walcott, should he get the nod, would be the only representative from their favourite London club and you can see the dilemma they are likely to be faced with - enjoy the showpiece through gritted teeth, or at last acknowledge the Chelsea players’ contributions towards our participation and any eventual success.

For Fabio to smooth these potential troubled waters, and also earn himself a calm [press] passage through the tournament, the way is clear and Joe Cole’s part in it is paramount. His inclusion in this new role should rubberstamp Walcott’s selection, ahead of the Media darling Beck’s claims, thereby placating the Gooners, and he can also throw Gerrard a new [lease of] lifeline to maintain Scouse interest, if indeed there is any left these days. That’s the best he can do for them in the circumstances and let’s face it, if a reliance on Joe’s magic leads to Rooney having a great World Cup, the United faithful will no doubt be as pleased as the rest of us. Of course, the only downside to all this wishful thinking is that ultimate failure in South Africa is bound to leave the Chelsea contingent carrying the can, but then, as one of the ’givens’, we expect no more than that anyway.

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  • 3 weeks later...

great read this. Surely it is just a matter of time before joey gets called back up to the england squad and he would be a good creative spark playing in the centre there. I really hope agbonlahor makes the final cut as i think his pace could be a huge asset especially when he has someone with the ability of lamps behind him to send through through balls.

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