Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWho is England's right man - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Who is England's right man - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Who is England’s right man

In recent years, the right-back spot for England has been predominantly monopolised by one of the finest full-backs of his generation, Gary Neville.

But with Neville’s recent demise and subsequent retirement, the competition for a permanent role as England’s first-choice right-back is wide open – with a number of worthy candidates currently shining for their clubs.

Here we will review how tough a choice Fabio Capello has in selecting the right man for the job.

Glen Johnson – Liverpool, aged 27 – 34 caps, 1 goal.

Suggested as the full-time replacement for Neville, Johnson spent many years as his understudy, having won that right with a series of sterling performances at full-back, in particular showcasing his attacking capabilities and his ability to create and score goals of his own.

His fine form, for Portsmouth at the time, saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2008-2009 season, and soon attention from a number of glamorous suitors came the way of Johnson.

It was eventually Liverpool – with a sizeable transfer fee of £17.5 million – who would capture the signature of Johnson, who began where he left off at Pompey, showing why many believed unanimously it would be he who would succeed Neville.

However, in the 2010-2011 season, a number of niggling injuries, coupled with a dip in form, saw Johnson’s England spot less than secure. As for all his positive attributes as an attacking right-back, his frailties as a defensive full-back were being brutally exposed on a regular basis.     

 Roy Hodgson – then Liverpool manager – criticised Johnson, as he felt his performances “had not been of international standard”.

Johnson then became the subject of criticism from Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson. Johnson responded in explosive fashion on his Twitter account: “Comments from alcoholic drug abusers are not really gonna upset me and who is Paul Merson to judge players, he was average at the best of times.” Johnson later deleted the comment.

However, coinciding with Liverpool’s renaissance under Kenny Dalglish, Johnson rediscovered his form at the end of the 2010-2011 season, but has only made three starts in the current 2011-2012 season, and has been struggling for fitness.

VERDICT: If fit, second-choice.

Kyle Walker – Tottenham Hotspur, aged 21 – made his debut against Spain

A lively talent, Kyle Walker burst onto the scene with boyhood club Sheffield United.  A solidly-built defender, Walker possesses blistering pace, a fierce shot, terrific competency in possession, and a penchant for quickly building attacks and creating chances. 

After rapidly progressing through the ranks, Walker became United’s youngest ever player to play at Wembley in the 2008-2009 season – though Walker was soon to be attracting attention from a series of top clubs, and when Tottenham Hotspur came in with a double bid of £9 million for both Walker and fellow defender Kyle Naughton, Walker was on his way to White Hart Lane.

However, Walker was to be loaned back to the Yorkshire club as part of the deal for the remainder of the 2009-2010 season.

After a successful spell on loan to Queens Park Rangers at the start of the 2010-2011 season, Walker was then loaned to Aston Villa to gain top-flight experience. Nine minutes into his first game, he scored on debut against former club Sheffield United in the third round of last year’s FA Cup competition in a 3-1 win for the West Midlands club.

However, Walker lacks a priceless commodity: experience. He has yet to make a senior start for England, despite call-ups to Capello’s squad, including for the upcoming friendlies against Spain and Sweden. He has proven vulnerable to the high ball, and at times can be caught out positionally, and may have to curb his cavalier attacking instincts to a degree to become a more accomplished full-back.

But his potential is unbound, and Walker has clearly impressed Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, having received a contract extension at the start of the 2011-2012 season until 2016, and establishing himself as Tottenham’s first-choice right-back.

His profile only increased further with a tremendous 25-yard strike for the winner as Tottenham triumphed 2-1 over North London rivals Arsenal in the Premier League.

VERDICT: Johnson gets marginally ahead because of international experience, but Walker should be third-choice and deserves an inclusion in Capello’s Euro 2012 squad if he can maintain his impressive form.

Chris Smalling – Manchester United, aged 21 – 2 caps, 0 goals.

Consistently likened to United colleague Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling’s fairytale rise to international stardom is nothing short of remarkable. 

Unflustered and a calming presence at the back, Smalling possesses similar qualities to Ferdinand in his prime, distributing long and short passes accurately and with ease, while making charging runs into midfield to start attacks.

Strong with great pace and athleticism at the back, he is superb in the air and a threat at set-pieces – most recently shown when opening the scoring in United’s 3-1 win over Chelsea this September.

Just four years ago, Smalling was signing for non-league side Maidstone United. However, injury and international duty restricted his appearances for the Kent outfit to just twelve.

Despite this, Smalling had been attracting strong interest from a number of clubs – including Fulham, Charlton Athletic and Reading. However, he signed a two-year deal for Middlesbrough in April 2008, but soon cancelled his contract, citing homesickness.

Soon after in June 2008, he signed for Fulham, and was immediately made captain of the club’s development squad by manager Billy McKinlay.

In the 2009-2010 season, Smalling became a key feature of Fulham’s first-team, helping them to the final of the UEFA Europa League, making twelve more league appearances, including a fine debut display against Chelsea, albeit being unfortunate in scoring an own goal in the game.

It was announced in January 2010 that Manchester United had signed Smalling for a reported fee of £10 million, and would join the club at the start of the 2010-2011 season. Much was made of the size of the fee for someone with so few league appearances, but today, many would regard this as a fine piece of business.

Smalling has continued to impress the masses, forging a strong central defensive partnership with fellow countryman Phil Jones, a partnership many feel will form the basis of a future England team.

Sir Alex Ferguson said of Jones and Smalling: “I thought he (Jones) and Smalling were the stars for the England Under-21s in the summer, and Chris had a fantastic first season with us, and he’s continued his progress this year.”

VERDICT:  Like Jones, Smalling warrants a spot in England’s squad, but is not the answer to England’s long-term issue in finding a permanent right-back, while being more than capable of shining there, his future is at centre-back.

Danny Simpson – Newcastle United, aged 24 – yet to feature for England.

Something of a journeyman, Danny Simpson, a product of Manchester United’s academy, has spent much of his early career undergoing loan spells at a series of clubs.

A player with much to offer, Simpson, hard-working at the back, also has – like many of the finest English full-backs currently – terrific pace and delivery into the box, a vital asset in creating chances and beginning attacks with a series of marauding runs down the right hand side.

However, Simpson may have an issue with application and discipline, as he has gone from a fine young prospect at Manchester United to a number of loan spells until recently, when he signed for Newcastle United. This lack of discipline has often marred his game, with more evidence of his defensive capabilities needed.

In January 2006, he was sent out on loan with a number of United youngsters to gain first team experience at Belgian club Royal Antwerp. Simpson prolonged his stay in Belgium, eventually returning to Old Trafford in January 2007, before being loaned out again almost immediately to Sunderland, helping them to win the Championship title that season.

Simpson then returned to United for the 2007-2008 season, where he signed a contract keeping him at the club until 2010. Simpson turned in some promising displays as a right-back with a liking for making mazy runs and fine service into the box.

A couple more loan spells at Ipswich Town and Blackburn Rovers then led Simpson to Newcastle United, where he spent six months on loan before signing a three and a half year permanent deal worth £750,000.

Since then, Simpson has staked his claim for a place in the international squad, being a prominent part of Newcastle’s impressive start to the 2011-2012 season, where they remain unbeaten and lie third in the Premier League.

VERDICT: While having a fine season for the Magpies, Simpson remains at the back of the line behind a number of worthier candidates for England’s full-time right-back spot.

Micah Richards – Manchester City, aged 23 – 12 caps, 1 goal.

Micah Richards has been nothing short of a revelation this season. An enormous presence, Richards possesses the build of a fine athlete; big, strong and pace to burn.

Having only made one appearance during Fabio Capello’s reign as England manager, Richards seems more hell-bent than ever on proving his credentials, currently enjoying an outstanding season in City’s frighteningly ominous start to the 2011-2012 season, the highlight a man-of-the-match display in the 6-1 demolition job of fierce rivals Manchester United.

Having added the ability to break up attacks with a number of jinxing runs and excellent delivery, Richards has become a serious threat to those competing for England’s right-back spot.

Furthermore, due to his ample strength and speed, Richards can ironically negate the very weaknesses in his game – namely his naivety in positioning, as he can immediately pace back and recover situations from which he may have slipped up on.  

As the only first-team regular from City’s youth set-up, Richards made his debut in October 2005, and since making his first start, he has not looked back and played in the majority of City’s fixtures since, and was named as the club’s Young Player of the Year for the 2005-2006 season.

In July 2006 Richards was the subject of speculation linking him away from the Manchester club, however then manager Stuart Pearce was quick to quash these suggestions: “I am not actively looking to sell Micah because he has a great future here. I would love to see Micah stay here, captain the club, and maybe be here for 10 years and carry the club on his back if he can. He is good enough to do it. I have not worked with anyone so good and so young.”

Richards’ impressive form for City saw him become England’s youngest international defender, ahead of Rio Ferdinand, and scored his first goal against Israel in September 2007.

Richards’ main problem may be he is not favoured under Capello. As aforementioned, he has only made one appearance since Capello took over, and was a surprise omission from the latest squad to take on Spain and Sweden in friendlies in preparation for Euro 2012, with Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker being preferred.

Richards took to Twitter to express his shock: “Well well well!!!! Disappointed is an understatement!!”

Capello defended his decision, saying: “Now Glen Johnson is playing well and I have followed Kyle Walker for the last three games. He is in good form.

“I can only select two right-backs. He (Richards) was in the provisional squad but I decided on these two.”

 VERDICT: My first-choice pick, and deserves to go to Euro 2012 as England’s established number one right-back. If he can continue his superb form for City throughout the season, Capello will soon be unable to ignore the cries for Richards’ inclusion.

 Alex Smith

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