What’s Wrong with Experimentation?

International friendlies almost divide as much opinion as fellow controversies Marmite, Joey Barton and Brussels sprouts – you either love them or hate them.

Without getting to into the debate surrounding the importance of England’s victory over World and European champions Spain on Saturday, Fabio Capello’s team selection and widespread changes for their second friendly against Sweden later this week has caused some ructions from parts of the Three Lions faithful.

So what is the point in an international friendly? Is it to lament the strongest XI and create some consistency? Or is it primarily to try something new and field players in abstract positions?

Phil Jones joined Manchester United in the summer for £18 million from Blackburn Rovers as a centre back, but has played just as much of his football away from the centre of defence, is that a crime? At only 19-years-old, why is his best position already being labelled at centre back when he is yet to reach the milestone of 50 senior games? Fernando Torres began as a goalkeeper, and moving to striker was a career change that morphed him into the world name he is now – forgetting the last few seasons anomalies. 

After being called up to the England squad Jones was dispatched at central midfield against Spain, something that raised the eyebrows of those watching the game. But what seems to have been forgotten is the Lancashire-born footballer spent most of last season at Blackburn playing in a midfield role, something which contributed to him gaining the attentions of league champions Manchester United. 

A word which seems to have been forgotten in all of the bemoaning is versatility. What is wrong with having a young talent who can apply himself in multiple positions? And it’s not restricted to the young, inexperienced mob; some of the old guard can still find new roles. Away from the England set-up a prime example is Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, who just two years ago was starting a Champions League final at centre back for Barcelona. Now, several seasons on, he is scoring marauding midfield goals in the same competition for City against Villarreal. 

A win over Spain is an achievement to boast about, regardless of the possession statistics or any other material fact, the game is measured simply on who scores more goals, and England won on that ground. So, after such a win why change anything? As the cliché often goes, ‘why change a winning side’? Well, unlike the likes of San Marino and even some of the home nations such as Wales and Scotland, England have the luxury of a rich and plentiful bunch of players to choose from, and with the Under-21s progressing immensely, different personnel have to be tried and tested on a smaller stage, before the bright lights of the European Championship.

Eight changes have been wrung before Tuesday’s encounter with Sweden, and rightly so. The definition of squad is a “small group of people organised in a common endeavour or activity”, so the additional personnel must be utilised. The nation knows what Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole can do, so why not allow the likes of Jack Rodwell and Leighton Baines to add to their personal caps and show the Wembley crowd their credentials.

Although a friendly win over Spain means nothing in terms of real achievement, international friendlies are vital for developing a depleted England side, and they may well be the catalyst to any success they possibly find in Poland and Ukraine next year. 

Alex O’Loughlin


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