Missing the Plane

There’s 5 months left until England (and indeed all 32 World qualifiers) pick their final 23 man squad. This is possibly the worst time to suffer a drop in form and as we can see from these incidents the safest looking seats on the plane to the tournament can actually be ejector seats (not literally).

Italia ’90- The Arsenal Trio

Arsenal’s stunning league title triumph in 1989 saw their young trio of Tony Adams, David Rocastle & Alan Smith all set to play in the following summer’s World Cup. Right wing Rocastle had started all of England’s World Cup qualifiers whilst Smith’s aerial presence provided a different option to Peter Beardsley in partnering Gary Lineker. Adams had suffered a poor Euro ’88 and was now behind Nottingham Forest’s Des Walker in the pecking order but was still seen as a squad certainty.


What Went Wrong?

Arsenal suffered a relatively poor title defence in 1989-90 as Liverpool and Aston Villa contested the title. Bobby Robson had his preferred 11 set and was left pondering who could provide different options from the bench, Adams was chopped in favour of Mark Wright largely due to the Derby defender’s superior ball playing skills. Rocastle’s dip in form saw Trevor Steven recalled and Villa’s David Platt given a late call on the back of his PFA Player of the Year award. And Wolves’ battering ram of a forward Steve Bull had made a late surge into the squad after impressing with a handful of caps, pushing Smith out of the squad.

The Right Move?

Unquestionably yes- Wright played the key sweeper role as England switched to 3 at the back after 1 game in Italy. Steven was influential off the bench whilst Platt started all England’s knock out games in midfield. Bull had less impact but still got game time. Amazingly no Arsenal player made the England squad that summer.

France ’98- Hoddle splits up Fergie’s Fledglings

Alex Ferguson’s class of ’92 were aged 21-23 in 1998 and all 5 Englishmen: Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers were in Glenn Hoddle’s provisional World Cup squad. But Hoddle faced tough decisions with his final cut.


What Went Wrong?

United were overwhelmed by a rampant Arsenal in the title run-in and United’s England contingent saw their stock drop slightly. Meanwhile the return from injury of Darren Anderson, concerns over Gazza’s fitness and Hoddle’s desire to pick young West Ham defender Rio Ferdinand threw the balance of the squad up in the air.

Hoddle dropped Gazza (see Managing a fading star ) picked Ferdinand, Anderton and Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee and dumped Phil Neville & Butt along with striker Dion Dublin.

The Right Move?

Iffy- Gazza was a whole different and much covered story but Neville & Butt’s exclusion was odd. Neville was seen as the back up option should left-wing back Graeme Le Saux be unavailable, instead Hoddle insisted right footed centre back Gareth Southgate could play on the left wing, Hoddle later admitted Ferdinand was chosen purely to gain experience and was never likely to play in France. Hoddle liked to play holding duo David Batty & Paul Ince in midfield so not taking Butt for when (not if) one got suspended seemed a gamble.

Ultimately Le Saux played all 4 of England’s games in that tournament and Beckham was moved to central midfield to accommodate Anderton so England got away with no back up option to Batty/ Ince.

The damage seemed to be more on Hoddle’s relationship with his players with some senior players annoyed by his treatment of Gazza and Scholes & Beckham rumoured to be distant from the manager after he dumped their United teammates very late in the day.

Japorea 2002- Andy Cole

Andy Cole had finally won himself a regular start with England in the 2000-01 season as Sven Goran-Eriksson took over as England manager and Cole even added his first England goal against Albania, after being in an out under 4 different managers Cole was surely now a regular and heading to the World Cup.

What Went Wrong?

At the start of the 2001-2 season Michael Owen was in the form of his life having single handedly won the FA Cup final and by September had scored a hat-trick for England in Munich enroute to the Ballon d’Or. Meanwhile Owen’s Liverpool teammate Emile Heskey was a more natural foil for England’s inform number 10.


Worse still Cole’s Manchester United strike partner Teddy Sheringham was the reigning footballer of the year and at 35 was back in the England fold and Robbie Fowler was in fine form following a transfer to Leeds. Cole was suddenly in the cold and Eriksson omitted him from his final 23.

Laughably Cole announced his international retirement within minutes of the squad announcement and Eriksson kindly doing that for him.

The Right Move?

Oh Yes- Heskey proved an excellent partner in the tournament for Owen and even added a goal himself whilst Sheringham gave England a different option off the bench and Fowler an able back up. Cole was ultimately a consistent premier league striker but rarely looked an international player.

Top 10 English players who didn’t make it with England.

South Africa 2010- Theo Walcott

Aged just 19 Walcott burst onto the international scene with a stunning hat-trick in qualifying against Croatia. It seemed after his bizarre selection and then benching at the 2006 World Cup Walcott had finally arrived.


What Went Wrong?

Walcott struggled to maintain his early qualifying form and scored just 4 goals from 30 games in the 2009-10 season (although one was a stunner against Barcelona.) Walcott struggled to add tricks on the ball or make the correct decisions in the box for Arsenal or England and Fabio Capello started looking at alternatives.

Aaron Lennon was in good form for Spurs and Capello liked Shaun Wright-Phillips. Ultimately there was only room for 2 pacey right wingers in the squad and Walcott was excluded.

The Right Move?

No- Lennon started England’s first 2 games on the right and looked lost whilst Wright-Phillips was found woefully out of his depth- England ended up playing the functional James Milner on the right.

It’s hard to argue Walcott would have made the difference in England’s second round defeat to Germany but at least his pace and directness would have injected some life into a listless team.

Brazil 2014- Ashley Cole

At the start of the 2013-14 season very few England players were safer bets to make the World Cup than Ashley Cole. Cole had made his 100th England appearance the previous season and looked set to play a fourth straight World Cup.


What Went Wrong?

Cole lost his regular start at Chelsea to Cesar Azpilicueta mid way through the season and played only 26 club games that season. Meanwhile Cole’s understudy; Everton’s Leighton Baines enjoyed an excellent campaign and 18-year-old Luke Shaw was one of the Premier League’s brightest breakout stars of the year. Baines & Shaw seemed to represent the epitome of the modern fullback role both natural attackers who would bomb on past the left-wing. The increasingly attack minded Roy Hodgson decided to go with Baines & Shaw whilst Cole announced his international retirement with 107 caps.

The Right Move?

100% Wrong- bombing on might work well in the Premier League but when your opening match is against Catenaccio Kings Italy it’s maybe best not to throw caution to the wind particularly when playing in the tropical temperatures of Manaus. Yet that’s what Hodgsin did as Italy specifically targeted Baines’ defensive shortcomings and England lost 2-1.

Having Ashely Cole giving them a solid base would have given England a better chance of at least claiming a point from their opener and provided some stability to a weak looking back line and attacking midfield. England crashed to their worst World Cup since 1958, notably only 2 of the 7 defnders listed in the 2014 squad are currently in Gareth Southgate’s plans.

Candidates for 2018?

Soutgate has already dropped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling whilst Gary Cahill and Jordan Henderson must be worried by their current lack of form. Ryan Bertrand was a consistant selection through qualifiying but the return of Danny Rose and the resurgence of Ashley Young have Bertrand sweating on a place.

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