Was I the only person who was a little bit excited for Stuart Pearce’s England squad announcement last week? Usually such announcements are treated with a shrug, with little to raise excitement or engage the brain. The same names in the same order – injury and suspension permitting – seems to be the way of it, with tweaks and changes only coming in around the fringes. Everyone knows who England’s best players are, it seems, so the only forum for debate are topics like: who will be the third choice keeper, or forth choice striker?
I hoped all this might change for the upcoming Holland friendly. Pearce, as well as being on caretaker duty for the senior side is England U-21 boss and set to take charge of the Great Britain football team for London 2012 (which will be under-23s aside from the permitted three over-age players) and so I had hoped he would experiment and blood some youngsters. After all he has admitted that he’s not really in the frame to land the top job in the long term so he has nothing to lose. It seems the newspapers were caught up in this idea too, various organs reporting that Pearce was set to axe England’s experienced big names in lieu of the next generation. When the announcement came though, it was a let down. The same names and the same faces. Pearce named only two uncapped players, and one of those, Tom Cleverley, would have been capped by now had the postponement of the original summer friendly and injury not stood in his way. He must feel cursed to never play for England given that he has now once again been prevented from earning his first cap by injury.
The other uncapped name was perhaps the only surprise. Sunderland’s Frazier Campbell, a former under-21 striker who has played only 5 games for Sunderland this season after spending 18 months out with an injury. The former Manchester United youngster spent time on loan at Royal Antwerp in Belgium, Hull City and Spurs before getting a permanent move to Sunderland. It will be interesting to see how the livewire striker does if he appears, but it’s hard to imagine him earning a regular place for England when he probably would not have one at his club were it not for the recent injuries to Bendtner and Wickham, and he’s often kept out of the side by Stephane Sessegnon, an attacking midfielder by trade. He may well add his name to the less-than-illustrious list of pub quiz question one cap wonders like Gavin McCann, Dave Nugent, Michael Ricketts, Anthony Gardiner and Jay Bothroyd.
Beyond Cleverley and Campbell, interesting selections are harder to find than a competent owner at Portsmouth. Micah Richards finally earns the call up his form has deserved while Rob Green steps up from the Championship to sit on the bench. The same old names remain, especially in midfield where Downing, Adam Johnson, Ashley Young, Milner and Walcott all remain despite indifferent or inconsistent form. There is no changing of the guard here – no Oxlade-Chamberlain to provide a spark, no call-ups for Swansea’s much heralded English quadrangle (is that right?) of Brittain, Dyer, Sinclair and Graham or the Norwich battering ram Grant Holt. Not even a seemingly rejuvenated Andy Carroll.
I wonder what Pearce thinks will be learned from playing Ashley Cole at left back, from a central midfield of Barry and Gerrard and Parker (assuming he has three in the middle) or Walcott and Downing on the wings, with Bent up front or Rooney (suspended for the first two games of Euro 2012, remember)? Of course injuries gave him a second chance to ring the changes, Bent and Rooney both pulling out alongside Cleverley, Walker and Glen Johnson, but Pearce opted to name no other replacements aside from bringing Lescott in to replace the latter.
This game was a chance to shock a few people, maybe even a few players, but aside from discarding a couple of old stagers like Ferdinand and Lampard, Pearce has done little to herald England’s bright new dawn. With manager-in-waiting Harry Redknapp talking openly of his desire to see the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and even the Lazarus-like 37-year-old Paul Scholes playing for England again, it could be a while before England’s youth, or those other uncapped, in form Englishmen, get a chance to taste senior football. Pearce had a chance to give them that taste but declined, and more’s the pity.