In the midst of an international break in which England plays Wales and following the revelation that Team Great Britain will compete at the London 2012 Olympics it got me thinking: who would win a contest between England and the rest of the British Isles? This led me to begin playing with the idea of an all-Celtic Eleven.
The Celts were the original inhabitants of Great Britain and much of Western Europe. Now, Celtic languages, for example Gaelic or Welsh, are spoken predominantly in Brittany, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland. The Celts (or Britons, as they became known in England) were relocated into the farther reaches of the islands upon invasions from first Rome and subsequently Danes and Vikings. The areas these invasions remained unable to conquer, very broadly speaking, are those which remain fiercely proud of their Celt heritage and from whom we can choose our team.
This means our combined squad comes from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland and would need to have today's players prepared to such a state to contest a one-off match against the best the English - and their fancy new non-inflected Indo-European language - could muster.
We can break down the players available either by position or by nation. Perhaps the easiest way would be to select the walk-up starts and fill in the gaps that may create in the squad. Like Barney Ronay when selecting his Team GB squad for the 2012 Olympics, in the interest of fairness we're going to include players from all four nations. We'll go with a 4-4-2 formation for familiarity.
First selected must indubitably be Gareth Bale, the Welsh left-winger who's recently won plaudits as the best player in the world. He may be the one World Class player that Team Celt could boast. To his right would probably sit Scotland's Charlie Adam and Darren Fletcher in central midfield. All three are proven Premiership performers and the centre-mids blend nicely Fletcher's harrying defensive style with Charlie Adam's sublime left peg. The other wing goes to Man United stalwart Ryan Giggs - no questions asked. The world's favourite Welshman would also captain the side.
One of the strikers must go to Kenny Miller, formerly of Rangers and who's just signed for Bursaspor. Statistically speaking, he was one of the best forwards in Europe last year - though few who saw him play in person would agree - and he is almost unquestionably the best forward the Celts could put forward. He has played very well both as the lone striker and in tandem for Craig Levein's Scotland. Here endeth the walk-ups - the remaining six positions, plus seven bench spots are all up for grabs.
The Centre-backs are more tricky. James Collins is one frontrunner, but has steady competition for the role from Aston Villa teammate, Irishman Richard Dunne. Sean St-Ledger has performed admirably in the green of Ireland and must be considered, as could Swansea City's Welshman Ashley Williams and Northern Irish duo Jonny Evans (of United) and Aaron Hughes (of Fulham). The only Scot with the quality in this position could be Wolves' Christophe Berra. In order to help with evenness, the positions go to Collins and Hughes.
Full-backs are again, a coaching minefield depending on what you set out to accomplish. Defensive? Maybe we could go for United's John O'Shea, who could also provide cover for offensive monster Bale. More offensively minded? Then we could lean towards the overlapping play of Everton's revelatory Irishman Seamus Coleman or Tottenham's Scottish right-back Alan Hutton. Also with strong cases are Ireland's Kevin Foley and Stephen Kelly while Chris Gunter of Nottm Forest (Wales) can play on both sides. The edge here goes to the experience of the marauding Hutton and the dour O'Shea, with Coleman unlucky to miss out.
Even farther back, the choice of goalkeeper is a three-cornered one: Wales' Wayne Hennessey, Ireland's Shay Given or Scotland's Craig Gordon. Even though he's been displaced in the Manchester City lineup by Joe Hart, Shay Given is still perhaps one of the top ten Premiership custodians - not something you can say about the solid Sunderland man Gordon or Wolves' exciting youngster Hennessey.
A forward partner for Miller is now the priority. His partner could be Irish and out of form - Robbie Keane, Irish and consistent - Kevin Doyle or Welsh and flamboyant - Craig Bellamy. Bellamy's resume is superior to Doyle's and so wins that battle. Unfortunately for the likeable Keane, he has bounced from club to club without convincing anywhere for two years now which lessens his case. I like also the unpredictability and madness brought by Bellamy.
This gives us our starting XI, so now it's time to choose our seven substitutes. With the midfield populated by stars, it's right to select Wales Captain Aaron Ramsey, a Rolls-Royce of a player. Spartak Moscow's Irish winger Aiden McGeady was bumped only by the presence of Giggs and Bale and so gets a guernsey. To reinforce the defense, I've opted for Coleman and Jonny Evans, while West Bromwich Albion's left-sided dynamo Chris Brunt takes his place as Bale's back-up. Youth loses out to experience in goal - Gordon over Hennessey, leaving only the reserve striking role to fill. To change the game a little with his ability as a target man and finisher, the only choice is Kevin Doyle. Unlucky to miss is Leicester's Welsh centre-mid, Andy King.
And that leaves us with a team looking like:
Shay Given (Ire)
Alan Hutton (Scot)
Aaron Hughes (NIR)
James Collins (Wal)
John O'Shea (Ire)
Ryan Giggs (Wal) (c)
Darren Fletcher (Scot)
Charlie Adam (Scot)
Gareth Bale (Wal)
Kenny Miller (Scot)
Craig Bellamy (Wal)
Sub: Gordon (GK - Scot), Ramsey (Wal), McGeady (Ire), Coleman (Ire), Evans (NIR), Brunt (NIR), Doyle (Ire).
I'd back that team to do well against most international squads. Now if only we could convince FIFA that it's a good idea ...