Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fit to wear the shirt

With the new England World Cup shirts launched last week - available here from JD Sports - I was asked to consider who I would like to see pull on the three lions emblazoned shirts in Brazil. Here's who I am looking forward to seeing.......

Adam Lallana

Adam Lallana has really grabbed the attention of football fans across the country in the last 12 months. He is a great example of how a player with natural talent bides their time before the deserved recognition comes along. Having joined the Saints Academy as a 12-year old in 2000 and played a key role in Southampton's FA Youth Cup squads of 2004–05 and 2005–06, when they reached the final and semi-final respectively.

Lallana joined the first team squad in July 2006, but it was the beginning of the 2008–09 season before he became a regular. He played a key role in the Saint's march back up the leagues. For those of us following football outside the Premier League he was a noticeable prospect. To those who view through Premier League tinted spectacles his achievements were always going to be downgraded.

In 2009–10 he contributed 20 goals in all competitions, the first Southampton midfielder to score twenty goals in a season since Matthew Le Tissier's 30 in the 1994–95 season.

He was named in the League One Team of the Year for the 2010–11 season after scoring 11 goals that season. Along with Lambert and Kelvin Davis, he was one of three Southampton players named in the Championship Team of the Year for the 2011–12 season. He finished with 13 goals, 11 of which came in the league. Great returns from a midfielder who contributed much more in general play.

You would question whether his ambition and opportunities were being stunted by remaining at Southampton, but as the team progressed so did Lallana. If anything he was benefiting from being part of a non-fashionable team that were being relatively successful.

As the Saints established themselves as a top half Premier League team, Lallana's creative talents and significant contribution have been regularly highlighted to Premier League viewers. Whilst he isn't as high up the assists table as you might expect, it is his all round play that has contributed to Southampton's rise into the Top 10, where they look firmly established.

Timing is everything and Lallana's form led to him winning his first cap back in November. From a cold Wembley night and defeat to Chile, to a starting place in the Amazonian jungle. Not bad journey in just over six months. But it has taken a lot of hard work and a commitment to the Saints to get to the starting point.

Daniel Sturridge

For a player of such tender years, Sturridge has already picked up experience at a number of clubs. His youth career taking in Aston Villa and Coventry City before signing for Manchester City as a 13 year old. He continued his development at City and played in two FA Youth Cup finals. He made his first team debut in the 2007–08 season, becoming the only player ever to score in the FA Youth Cup, FA Cup and Premier League in the same season.

I remember him scoring his first goal for City in January 2008 in an FA Cup third round defeat at Bramall Lane, which he followed three days later with his first league goal on his full debut, against Derby County. Despite this immediate impact he found first team opportunities were sporadic, and he return to play for the youth team in the FA Youth Cup. City again reached the final, with Sturridge the leading scorer in the competition and scoring in the first leg.

With Sturridge's contract at Manchester City expired and lacking opportunities, he signed for Chelsea on a four-year contract on 3 July 2009. A tribunal decided an initial fee of £3.5 million, with additional payments based on appearances and international recognition and a sell-on clause. It seemed Chelsea had got a bargain, but yet again he was to be loaned out. This time Bolton the beneficiaries and 8 goals in 12 games quickly won over the Reebok Stadium fans, although not without quibbles.

Whenever you watched him, it was with a sense of joy and what he could do, but frustration at what he sometimes did. Capable of so much, but greed and over-confidence stopping him from achieving so much more.

Given Chelsea's lack of goal threat, his sale to Liverpool seemed an odd one. But no one could have envisaged the partnership with Luis Suarez would be so devastating. The understanding of movement and vision between the two has led to him being the leading English goalscorer in the Premier League and with an additional seven assists on top of his goal tally.

He may well frustrate this Summer, but he is one of the few England players who will do something unexpected and is guaranteed to excite.

The next three players all have links with my club - Sheffield United. One of the great things as a football fan is seeing a player with great promise at your club and knowing your team, sometimes your academy system has played a key role in their development and that you have seen a young player, grow and mature into an international class player.

Phil Jagielka

Jagielka made his way through the youth ranks at United before making his first team debut in the final League match of the 1999–2000 season versus Swindon Town whilst still a trainee. An athletic defender and midfielder, he showed a clear talent in all facets of his game. Equally comfortable taking the ball forward as well as strong in the tackle, his reading of the game was sharp for a player so young. He contributed spectacular and important goals as well.

If anything it was thought his versatility might count against him. With Neil Warnock keen to utilise him as cover, he looked equally comfortable in central midfield, central defence and right back. It took a while for him to find a settled position. He equally looked home in goal, taking the gloves for the final 34 minutes of a home match against Arsenal on 30 December 2006. With Paddy Kenny injured and with United 1–0 up, Jagielka kept the Gunners at bay pulling off a fabulous late save from Robin van Persie to secure victory. Such was the confidence Neil Warnock had in his defender-com-midfielder-cum keeper, he decided to go without a substitute goalkeeper on the bench in order to give himself more tactical options.

He was a key player and virtually ever present for the final three seasons of his time at Bramall Lane. I remember the excitement of watching a United player pull on an England Under 21 shirt at the KC Stadium, such international recognition for Blades players was all too rare. That "pride" continued as he developed his career at Everton and eventually to England recognition.

It was always going to be difficult to make that breakthrough with Ferdinand and Terry in situ and Jagielka had to be patient. That patience has now paid off with Jagielka holding off the clamour for young pretenders like Smalling and Jones. Moyes clearly recognised the importance of Jagielka naming him Everton captain, a role extolled by Roberto Martínez on taking over who stated that Jagielka would make a "phenomenal captain".

Now he needs to transfer that leadership and defensive strength to the pitch, in a white shirt in Brazil. Having missed the 2010 World Cup and remained on the bench throughout Euro 2012, this is Jagielka's moment.

Kyle Walker

Sometimes you see a player for the first time and you think "they will play for England". Kyle Walker was just that player. In a short spell in the United first team you could see that he would be wearing the three lions at a future date. As his namesake Kyle Naughton made an immediate and exciting impact, talk was of the England Youth international waiting for his chance behind him.

Coming from a Blades supporting family, Walker joined United aged seven after being recommended by the local Football Unites, Racism Divides project. He progressed through the ranks to become a regular fixture in the reserves by 2008.

After a loan spell at Northampton he made his full debut for Sheffield United on 13 January 2009, starting in a third round FA Cup tie against Leyton Orient. With injuries, Walker was included in the starting line-up for the crucial last two games of the season, making his full league debut for the club on 25 April 2009 against Swansea City. He was magnificent and retained his place for an ultimately unsuccessful play–off campaign. Yet after an all too brief spell in red and white he was gone.

That summer Walker left United to join Tottenham Hotspur along with the aforementioned Kyle Naughton, a right back who had established himself as an attacking overlapping defender in the United first team. Although Naughton was valued higher in the deal, Walker was seen as the one with most potential. He was loaned back to United for the duration of the 2009–10 season as part of the deal and was an accomplished Championship right back for the first half of the season but was unexpectedly recalled back to Spurs after 6 months.

A hugely successful loan spell at Villa followed, demonstrating he was clear Premier League class. Finally he got his chance at White Hart Lane and grabbed it with both hands. Soon he was challenging Glen Johnson for the England right back slot.

He has his detractors and a player with such attacking verve, will always find himself culpable defensively. But you don't win the PFA Young Player of the Year, beating the likes of Sergio Agüero, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale without good reason.

Injury led him to miss Euro 2012 and I hope that the pain killing injections he is currently taking for his pelvic injury, stave off an operation and enable him to take the field in Manaus on 14th June.

Gary Cahill

Gary Cahill didn't come through the Bramall Lane ranks, he even supports the other team in Sheffield, but he made a hugely positive impact on United fans during a three month loan spell from Aston Villa. Accomplished and calm he was a strong presence in the heart of the Blades defence.

There were many similarities with what we saw with Jagielka. Athletic, great vision and the ability to provide a goal threat as well.

It was surprising that Villa were willing to sell him 12 months later, unfortunately he was always going to remain in the Premier League and that ruled out any interest from United. He moved to Bolton Wanderers and became a firm favourite with Wanderers fans. Being married to a Bolton fan I closely followed his progress and it seemed that as well as he was playing, he was never going to get the credit his performances deserved, unless he moved from the Reebok.

The move to Chelsea did just that and Champions League success followed. Firmly established in the Chelsea defence and starting outshine the fading John Terry, his star was rising. Unfortunately, a broken jaw in the final warm up game robbed him of his chance to play at Euro 2012 and so like Jagielka and Walker this should be Cahill's moment. To see Cahill and Jagielka paired in defence, with Walker at right back will delight Blades fans everywhere.

1 comment:

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