Are we right-back where we started with the England squad?

Gary Neville is a club icon, veteran of 400 Premiership games by all accounts one of England’s most accomplished defenders ever. Over his twelve-year international career, Neville won 85 caps- which stands as a record for a right-back. He is also famous for remaining silent during the national anthem, making weird comments as a Sky Sports pundit and having a slightly less able brother, a netball playing sister and a father brilliantly called Neville Neville- yes you couldn’t make it up.

But the reliability and consistency of the older Neville brother is the exception to the rule for English right-backs. While on the opposite flank, England have been blessed with the healthy competition of Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge and Leyton Baines- the right side remains something of an enigma. Neville played that position for years because he was a solid choice, but also because there really was no-one else to challenge him. We played Danny Mills in the 2002 World Cup, whose name stands as something of a pub quiz question these days, whilst brother Phil and even J Lloyd Samuel (remember him?) were the only other names in contention, should Gary have been injured.

Luckily Neville remained largely injury free throughout his career, but his international retirement in 2007 has left something of a void. Since then Glen Johnson has largely taken over right-back duty, with Micah Richards sometimes filling in- but overall England have largely suffered on the right-hand-side of defence in recent years. Johnson is impressive coming forward, but his defending is often suspect, whilst Richards may be the stronger candidate, competition within his Manchester City team has restricted his progress and game-time. Ryan Bertrand, Phil Jones, Kyle Walker and Carl Jenkinson have all shown promise for club and have been included in recent squads, but none have made the crucial impact to win them a trip to Brazil.

Next season is crucial for all the above players to raise their game, and give England fans peace of mind that the right-flank is safe. Right-back may not be thought of as the most important position, but if you look back at the previous World Champions it is evident what impact the right-back can have. Brazil had Cafu in 2002, Italy played the brilliant Gianluca Zambrotta for their 2006 triumph and Spain had the ever reliable Sergio Ramos last time around. England have several more games before the World Cup, but it is important that a solid, dependable right-back is found and installed as early as possible. Neville-idol is open for auditions, may the winner be found soon.

Will Mata