Terry Phelan: ‘Sterling has to play on the wing’

Former Manchester City defender Terry Phelan praises Southgate’s young squad for “expansive play” and “range of passing”.

England made a winning start to its World Cup campaign, beating Tunisia 2-1 in its Group G opener.   -  Getty Images

Terry Phelan, the Salford-born footballer who was part of the Republic of Ireland side that beat Italy (in the group stages) in the FIFA World Cup in 1994, understands the ethos of English football; courtesy, his stints with Manchester City and Chelsea back in the day. 

The 51-year-old Phelan is all praise for England manager Gareth Southgate’s tactics in the ongoing World Cup in Russia. But, at the same time, he has an advice for fellow Citizen Raheem Sterling ahead of the Panama clash. “The way Southgate set up the squad (against Tunisia) was a surprise to everybody. The formation was great with Ashley Young on the left side. John Stones, Kyle Walker and Leicester lad Harry Maguire in the back three.”

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“For me, the only problem was with Sterling. He can’t play as a centre forward, he has to play on the wing. He will be successful there. He is the one who is going to give ammunition to Harry Kane,” Phelan, a panelist on SONY Ten 2 channels of Sony Pictures Networks India — the official broadcaster of the tournament — told Sportstar on Friday.

Phelan rated England A+ for their “expansive play” and the “range of passing”. 

“It was absolutely brilliant. Kane got two goals from set-pieces and it was great. They can only build on it,” he added.

He observed that the poor show by Germany and Argentina makes the English a real value for money. “A lot of big teams haven’t been performing. England played with a lot of energy and if they can get through to the group stages in the last 16, they will face the big boys and there lies the real test,” said Phelan.

The youth system

Among the youth, 22-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek — the Chelsea midfielder currently with Crystal Palace on loan — impressed Phelan. “We know he has got the attributes to be a top player. He is a young boy and still has a lot to work on. The way he knocked the ball above and moved forward looked promising. The expectation from the present England team is attractive and entertaining football and that’s what they did in the last game. It can be a great tool to win games,” he reasoned.

England’s U-17 World Cup triumph is a reflection of the top class coaching system, Phelan agrees. “You look at the youth — U-17 to U-20 — they won the World Cup. The academies and coach education is getting better and it shows on the field  but the youngsters need more game time. Most of these lads, playing top-tier football, have all played in England. None of them have played outside,” said Phelan, adding, “Maybe, maybe! Not this year, but, in four years, with maturity and experience, England can be a force.”

The Messi downer

Phelan feels lack of supply line (for Lionel Messi) led to Argentina’s downfall against Croatia. Jorge Sampaoli’s side played a 3-4-3 formation with Messi as a flexible right-winger. “Argentina was poor, and Croatia was brilliant. With 3-4-3, they were neither here nor there. You needed someone to provide the ball to Messi. The goalkeeper, Willy Caballero, made a terrible mistake which set the tone for Croatia. You can’t do that in world football,” he signed off.