England: Where now?

Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and the GBP35 million young centre forward Andy Carroll were all absent for the friendly against Denmark but will doubtless be in contention for the ensuing European qualifier against Wales in Cardiff, writes Brian Glanville.

In Copenhagen, an England team with fully nine changes from the skeleton side, which last time lost ignominiously to France at Wembley, looked a great deal better in defeating Denmark 2-1 in a friendly. Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and the GBP35 million young centre forward Andy Carroll were all absent but will doubtless be in contention for the ensuing European qualifier against Wales in Cardiff. Even with Craig Bellamy and the electric Spurs left flanker, Gareth Bale, absent from a Welsh side embarrassingly beaten by the Irish it is hard to see England failing there. But, after the fiasco of the last World Cup, are there true signs of a recovery?

At least Fabio Capello had the good sense in Copenhagen to deploy Arsenal's precocious teenager Jack Wilshere from the start, though he took him off at half time. No repetition of Capello's crass decision in a Wembley international to deny him to the under-21 team then keep him on the bench throughout the senior game. Yet the huge amount of space and attention afforded to Wilshere before the Danish match made one fear for his international future. Gifted and outstanding though he be, he is scarcely a messianic figure. And, in the event, well though he played, he was outshone by another slightly younger teenager in the shape of Denmark's remarkable Christian Eriksen, whom the England side never managed to subdue.

The salient question is, where should Wilshere play? Capello's idea was to use him in a so called “holding” position, just in front of the back four. In contrast, Jack's club manager, Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, was emphatic that Wilshere should be used much farther up so that he could deploy his ball skills and shrewd passing in attack. In the event, he played more where Wenger would prefer to that where Capello wanted, to the obvious benefit of the attack, but at some cost to the defence. In my view, having watched this gifted footballer in many games, deploying him in any kind of defensive role, is, in an old saying, like asking a racehorse to pull a plough. When West Ham's Scott Parker replaced him in the second half, England gained in defence but lost in attack. Parker, in former terminology, being a natural wing half and Wilshere a natural, ball playing, inventive inside forward. That is where I'd respectively play the two of them in Wales, or anywhere else.

Who, though, would drop out of the midfield? My candidate would be Chelsea's Frank Lampard, whose persisting but wrong headed dualism in central midfield with Gerrard has, all too often, led to the farce of the right footed Gerrard being exiled to the left wing. Gerrard and Wilshere could surely constitute a dynamic central midfield, with Parker in the role he successfully performed in Copenhagen.

One of the most encouraging features of the Danish game was the attacking form of Darren Bent and, in the second half, of Ashley Young. Bent has played for England before, of course, on scattered occasions but this was arguably the first time he has looked really effective. Now a very expensive arrival at Aston Villa from Sunderland, scoring on his Villa debut, his goal in Copenhagen was an easy knock in, but, overall, he looked altogether sharper and more confident than he has done with England in the past.

Ashley Young was something of a revelation filling a central role, rather than working on the beings, the position with which till very recently he has always been associated. Villa paid Watford what then seemed a hyperbolic GBP9 million for his transfer, but now, his versatility has made him into a strong international candidate.

Which I suppose, brings us to Wayne Rooney, who played half a game, provided an excellent pass or two, but failed to score a goal which, it was felt, he would have got at his peak. His appalling form in South Africa still hangs over him like a pall, and he all too seldom scores for Manchester United, with whom, last summer, he fell out so dramatically. He will never live down his World Cup debacle, and it is arguable that Capello cannot indefinitely keep waiting for the “real” Rooney to turn up. That amazing goal against Manchester City may turn the tide. Meanwhile waiting in the wings is the outrageously overpriced Andy Carroll. A powerfully built, traditional centre forward, who will doubtless never aspire to Rooney's cornucopia of talents, and one who, on his expensive arrival at Liverpool, has already been told to work on what seems an imposing physique.

There is also, of course, the matter of all those violent episodes in what might be euphemistically referred to as Carroll's private life, which includes court appearances in the North East after violent episodes and the one on the Newcastle training ground, which saw him break the jaw of a teammate, in a quarrel over a girl. Carroll assured us that he had put all that behind him, but Liverpool is hardly less of a tumultuous city than Newcaslte. Meanwhile, he has rivals for a striker's role, though he is, of course, already a one-cap international.

In defence, it looked at last, in Copenhagen, that John Terry has regained dominating form, despite those chronic aches and pains. Rio Ferdinand would plainly be the ideal partner, but his injuries seam to be catching up with him. Spurs' Dawson played in Denmark and was arguably somewhat at fault with the Danish goal allowing his man, the scorer, to slip past him. And in his previous two games for Spurs he had a disaster at Fulham, culpable for two goals and sent off in the bargain, caught out against Bolton. Nor am I yet convinced by Glen Johnson at right back, suspect in defence, as he was early in the game, however, powerful as an over-lapper. Still, he didn't have the disastrous game he did when England last played in Copenhagen and lost, 4-1.