Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Redknapp's England

This week came the startling revelation that Pearce's England looks a lot like Capello's England. Capello's England looked remarkably like his predecessor's, and his two forebears. As England produces elite national teams about once per generation, it is hardly surprising that althought the managers differ, squads appear habitually mundane.

 England have tried many of the tried-and-true coaching approaches, with each, like Doctors Who, swinging wildly between each appointment. It's likely that with the almost inexorable Redknapp appointment, the FA will adopt a moderate approach which satisfies fans, players and media alike.

 So even though his ascension is by no means a fait d'accompli, it is worth asking what Redknapp's England would look like. With his last two managerial positions, Redknapp has favoured a regulation 4-4-2 formation based around the strengths of his current squad. As has been commented upon regularly, his sides don't generally focus on tactical mystery but pre-internet age football.

 When he took Portsmouth to the FA Cup in 2008 his sides strengths included a powerful central midfield with one designated creator (in this case Niko Kranjcar) and uncompromising centre-backs. His Spurs have a similar look: immutable central defenders, full-backs preferring advance to retreat and the same midfield headliner but adds the extra confunding factor of barrels of wing pace. At both post codes, the ginger cockney one has relied upon contributions from target men with smaller, pacy offsiders.

 To take this formula and apply it to the 25 players each England manager feels honour-bound to select is revealing. Several players fit the Redknapp formula – most notably Spurs Parker, Lennon and King – and therefore thrust themselves almost automatically into selection. When those players are combined with England's best players like Joe Hart, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney, suddenly there are only a few positions left.

Goalkeeper: Hart
Defenders: Walker, King, Jagielka, Cole.
Midfielders: Lennon, Parker, Gerrard, A. Johnson
Forwards: Welbeck, Rooney
Subs: Richards, Dawson, Sturridge, Baines, Green, Carrick, Young.

 At right-back, I've opted for Kyle Walker over Glen Johnson although Redknapp has brought out the best in both. This is mostly because Walker's form over the past year has been superior to that of the Liverpool man. Rooney and Man U teammate Welbeck are simply the best fit as a strike partnership as there really isn't an English target man of quality (unless you count the corpse of Peter Crouch). QPR new-boy Bobby Zamora could fill this spot, but would need more form at Rangers to justify selection, while should Andy Carroll regain a modicum of form he could have 'Arry slavering.

 The key playmaker should be the man with the lego-hair, Steven Gerrard. The only other player qualified for such a key role would be Rooney, and doing such would mean the new boss wouldn't play his best player where he operates best. Despite being on the downside of his distinguished career, Gerrard places passes better than any English midfielder not ginger and playing for another team in red; he also should conceivably dovetail nicely with Parker before sharing the centre of the park with Jack Wilshere upon the Arsenal teen's return to full health.

 The biggest question marks lie at centre-back and on the left of midfield. Ledley King has been a staunch performer, but his knees make my grandma's look stable and healthy. John Terry's selection should be unconscionable for reasons of team harmony, but if anyone is able to solidify dressing-room relationships, then it's Redknapp. It's possible (probable?) Terry is ignored completely and the management decision comes down to the relative stolidity of Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling and Michael Dawson.

 On the midfield's left, Redknapp could go any of half a dozen directions with each presenting interesting and frightfully scary alternatives. The first would be to employ Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against the protests of Arsene Wenger and Stewart Downing. “The Ox” would provide the type of endeavour, spirit and speed that Redknapp appreciates, but still occasionally likes to watch Postman Pat in the afternoon before heading down for a nap.

 His other four options include incumbent James Milner, who's as pacy as a pensioner pushing a recliner uphill, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson. Johnson has perhaps the most speed of the quartet, and while doesn't meet Downing's sabermetric proficiency with his crosses, he is an impact player of whom Redknapp should think he can obtain more production. Given Redknapp's real world (and occasionally imagined) miracle-working abilities, it's reasonable to include him in this theoretical team.

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