There used to be a common theory, amongst England football fan’s, that ‘if Ryan Gigg’s was English we’d have won a European or World Cup.’ This rather bold and flippant claim was based on the notion that it has always been the left side of England’s midfield that has been the major problem. Of course, if asked, most England fans would take ‘the new Giggs,’ Gareth Bale, if he was eligible for play for the three lions, but the left side of midfield is no longer England’s most problematic position. The nation has high hopes for the exciting Oxlade-Chamberlain to fulfil that role. In my eyes it is the central midfield births that really lack quality, and there seems to be no obvious solution on the horizon.
In the past England could boast about ‘World Class’ central midfielders such as Charlton, Peters, Robson, Hoddle, Gascoigne, Beckham (when he played there) and even Paul Ince. But the last truly great central midfielder to wear an England shirt was Manchester United’s Paul Scholes, and he hung up his tenacious, yet magical, international boots way back in 2004. Some of you by now may be showing signs of reddening in the face, about to erupt into an impassioned cry of, ‘what about Gerrard and Lampard?’
My response is simple, ‘what about them?’ I would be mentally disturbed if I was to deny their undoubted class domestically. As Premiership footballer’s they are both absolute legends, and at their peak would have walked into any top European club. Some of which would no doubt still be keen to gain their services as I write. As an international force, no matter how much you argue or delve frustratingly deep for positives, we have to admit that they have been a disappointment. Yes, on tediously rare occasions, they have shone individually for England but, as many national managers have tried and proven, they can’t play productively as a central midfield pair. That however is an overused and deathly tiring debate, besides I want to talk about now.
For arguments sake let’s just assume that Gerrard and Lampard are England’s ‘great centre midfielders.’ They are 32 and 34 respectively, both approaching the end of their careers and no longer showing the same form or gift at club level that earned them their huge reputations. What use are they going to be by the time we reach Brazil 2014? Spain is without question the best International team in the world at present. They are littered with a star studded midfield, including the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Corzola, Busquets, Alonso, et al. Nobody can get near them, put simply it is there midfield that makes them so great.
Where are all England’s great midfielders? Ignoring Gerrard and Lampard, Barry is slow and past his best, Parker is injury prone and his international career started far too late, and Carrick is a nice passer of the ball but essentially average and aging. Worse still is the realisation that nobody of true quality is coming through either. Your face may be reddening again as you shout out, ‘Wilshere and Cleverley.’ Yes, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere is an excellent prospect, that I have full confidence will be categorised as a ‘world class’ player, and Cleverley looks promising, if inexperienced, too. But they are both better suited to play in the ‘hole,’ rather than the more traditional central midfield role that I am talking about.
So who are the future candidates? The obvious thoughts are Jack Rodwell, Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones. To date Rodwell has shown no consistency, makes mistakes and is likely to waste away years of his talent competing for a regular starting place at Manchester City, just like Parker did at Chelsea. Henderson is quite simply terrible, Phil Jones is a quality player, but his problem is that nobody has decided what his best position is. Looking at the under 21 squad for inspiration simply makes me feel angry. The best central midfielders there appear to be Jason Lowe and Jonjo Shelvey, neither of which I hold particularly high hopes for.
Some may be optimistic that the FA’s new £100m St George’s Park coaching centre will stand us in good stead for the future, but little over a week since its official launch it seems that England has again fallen behind. German champions Borussia Dortmund have launched their latest state of the art training machine, ‘the Footbonaut,’ which aims to produce future Xavi’s and makes our coaching centre look like a Victorian relic.
At Times against Poland on Wednesday England were passed off the pitch. I have sickly concerns about England’s central midfield, now and in the future. The outstanding central midfielder in the Premiership at the moment, and still at a youthful age, is Joe Allen, but of course he is Welsh. Maybe in ten years time England fans will have a new common theory, ‘if Joe Allen was English we would have won a European or World Cup?’
Are there any hidden gems waiting to break through into England's midfield?
image: © Alfonso Jimenez