Who Will Be England’s Player Of The Year?

Thomas Rooney takes us through some of the candidates – and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect.

The FA have begun their annual search to find out who England fans rate as their player of the year for 2011. With the disappointment of 2010 well behind us, 2011 has certainly been a much brighter year for the national team, with renewed optimism about their hopes for Euro 2012.

Indeed, 2011 has been an unbeaten year for England – a year when they played the likes of Spain, among other tricky opponents, it has been the year that they scored their 2000th goal, and above all, it was the year that they qualified for the European Championships. But who has been the star player among all that?

Surprisingly, the top scorer is not Rooney, Bent or indeed any striker, but rather Ashley Young, a midfielder. For him it has been a memorable year, for both club and country. Aside from getting his big move to Manchester United in the summer, he has notched four times for the national team, and has become one of the stars of Fabio Capello’s side.

Frank Lampard is another player who has been in amongst the England goals. He has three for the year – two of which were from the penalty spot – but has played an important role for the national team. There is no writing him off just yet.

Joe Hart has now established himself as England’s first choice goalkeeper, and has put in a number of impressive displays, including keeping a clean sheet against World Champions, Spain. He will certainly consider himself a contender.

Another player to consider would be Phil Jones. The youngster has made his international breakthrough, and looks likely to be one of the stars of the future for his country. In the games he has played, he has shown great composure for a man of his experience, and is certainly showing all the signs of potential that England fans like to see.

In total, however, there are 32 candidates running for the award, and it would be impossible to make a case for all of them. For me however, the honour surely has to go to Young. Not only has he outscored all the strikers, but has been an essential cog in the works of the England midfield.

He is a player who is confident of his own abilities, and absolutely appears to have it all. He can shoot, he can pass, he can beat a man. He can play down the right, down the left, or in behind the strikers. Add to that a fantastic work rate, and you have a top player.

So take your time, play poker games and make your decision on England’s player of the year!

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Recent Internationals Provide Hope for Capello and England

The last ten days have been encouraging for England – there’s certainly no lack of competition for places throughout the squad, even though the general feeling about Sr. Capello is that the sooner he’s replaced the better. Richard Smith takes an overview of the recent games.

So, after the debacle of the captaincy change and England’s latest two matches against Wales in the Euro 2012 qualifier last weekend and the friendly against Ghana at Wembley in midweek, how far exactly has England come in the past nine months in terms of putting away their world cup nightmare and moving on?

The win against Wales was an extremely comfortable affair which saw England wrap the game up within the first fifteen minutes, scoring twice and never looking in any danger from then on. Some hardened critics might question why did they not go on and win the game by more goals, but the truth was this was a comfortable win and the team never needed to get out of first gear and the points has Capello’s side back on top of Group G at the halfway stage on level points with their nearest rivals Montenegro, who sit in second and who England must play away in what could be a crucial final qualifier on 7th October.

The friendly against Ghana gave England boss, Fabio Capello, an opportunity to ring a few changes and take a look at a few fringe players. It also allowed him to work on his newly found 4-3-3 formation. The result was a good all round performance against a vibrant team with the match ending 1-1, with England being deprived of victory in injury time after Sunderland’s Asamoah Gyan deftly slipped the attention of Joleon Lescott before firing into the net to cancel out Andy Carroll’s first half left foot strike. All in all, it was one of the more entertaining England friendlies in recent memory and more positives can be taken than negatives.

Overall, England should be pleased with their work this past week, which provides a glimmer of hope for the remainder of Capello’s tenure, particularly as the media were baying for the Italian’s blood after his handling of the England captaincy, a situation that has probably not yet gone away.  Certainly it is difficult to envisage Rio Ferdinand playing for England again under Capello, who failed to inform the Manchester United defender about his decision to reinstate John Terry as captain. There may well be question marks too over Steven Gerrard’s commitment to Capello, particularly as he had been appointed captain in Ferdinand’s absence for the World Cup last season, where he was blatantly and publicly undermined by Terry.

That said, perhaps Capello himself will feel the time is right to change a few of the ‘old guard’ in favour of some of the younger players such as Andy Carroll, Jack Wilshere, Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Young. Certainly if Capello is to persist with his 4-3-3 system it looks very difficult to play Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team. Add to the equation that both Ferdinand and Gerrard have spent plenty of time this season injured, it could prompt them both to consider the option of retiring from international football, however, both are likely to want to play a key role should England reach next Summer’s European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine and it will be very interesting to see which team Capello picks come the next qualifier against Switzerland on 4th June should both Gerrard and Ferdinand be available for selection. 

England remain hot favourites to automatically qualify for Euro 2012 with the odds as short as 1/10 to top Group G, an outcome all concerned will hope is already decided in their favour well before the trip to Montenegro in October.

England End Their ‘Annus Horribilis’

Only a couple of weeks until Christmas: then we’ll be celebrating the arrival of 2011 and hoping that – in football terms at least – England’s performances will be better than they were in 2010. Guest blogger Richard Smith looks back at 2010 – a memorable year for all the wrong reasons.

There will be plenty of England fans happy to see the end of 2010, which really has been an ‘annus horribilis’ for them, for manager, Fabio Capello and his England squad, who of course ended their year with a Wembley defeat against a rejuvenated and possibly resurgent France.

That defeat followed the goalless draw against Montenegro, who now tops the Euro 2012 Group G table ahead of England and could seriously jeopardise the England chances of automatic qualification in the Autumn of 2011.

The year started of course on a much more optimistic note with the England team having already safely negotiated their qualifying group to qualify for the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa. An excellent 3-1 win over Egypt in March, who had just been crowned African Nations Champions, saw the team in great form, despite going a goal down in the first half. Two second half goals from Peter Crouch and one from Shaun Wright-Phillips, rescued the situation and England looked good value for their win.

They followed that up with another 3-1 victory, this time over fellow World Cup hopefuls, Mexico, in May with Crouch getting on the scoresheet once again with further goals coming from defenders, Ledley King and Glen Johnson. Confidence clearly ran high with the World Cup just over two weeks or so away.

A trip to Austria was the next stop, where they played an exhibition/friendly against Japan, winning narrowly by just 2-1, thanks to two own goals. It was a poor performance overall and extremely untimely being their last match before coming up against the USA in their opening World Cup fixture.

We all of course know what happened in that match, England skipper Steven Gerrard scored ‘early doors’ but things went downhill rapidly from thereon. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but worse followed as they were also held 0-0 by rank World Cup outsiders, Algeria which left them needing to win their final match against Slovenia in order to qualify for the Knock Out stages.

In one of the tensest games in the World Cup, England hung on by a thread to win 1-0 after going into an early lead with a goal scored by the lively Jermaine Defoe. It was a mind numbing performance, which met with a scathing media and fan reaction, with many calling for the head of Capello even at that stage. The fact that England failed to win the group meant that they would face old rivals, Germany in the last 16, who were already proving their World Cup pedigree by winning their group.

The match of course was a disaster for England, losing 1-4 being forced home from the tournament early to huge derision and for many of the players as well as the manager uncertain futures in international football.

The back of a bus

The World Cup campaign was not helped by the John Terry scandal earlier in the season, which eventually cost him the captaincy and worsened when a last minute injury to replacement captain, Rio Ferdinand ruled him out of the tournament altogether. Steven Gerrard was then given the armband, somewhat onerously as Terry had kept his place in the team and who, on more than one occasion, became the team’s spokesman. This led to speculation concerning team morale which Capello did his utmost to deny.

Whatever the reason, the World Cup dream turned into the nightmare many had feared it would, but for reasons of financial prudence, Capello kept his job and began to rebuild the team ahead of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

After defeating Hungary by 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley, the England team, put on one of their best ever performances under Capello to defeat Bulgaria by 4-0 in their opening qualifier, with Defoe superb, scoring his first England hat trick. Newcomer, Adam Johnson of Manchester City also made the score sheet.

A follow up qualifying win was efficiently earned against Switzerland in Basel by 3-1, goals this time being scored by Wayne Rooney, Adam Johnson and Darren Bent. England looked a very solid team again and looked at this point certain to win the group. However, then came the Montenegro debacle, followed by the friendly defeat by France and now England must wait until March to redeem the situation in what could be an explosive match at the Millennium Stadium against Wales.

Wales will be the first opponents of 2011 and will be no pushovers on home soil but if England are to silence their critics after a nothing short of disastrous past 12 months then a win together with a good performance is essential as the next 12 months could well prove pivotal for the future of the England football team.

UPDATE: First England fixture of 2011 will be against Denmark in Copenhagen on Wednesday 9th February 2011.