Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tottenham, England and the World Cup

'The 5 English Lions', or possibly 7, at Spurs

The England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, has only a few more weeks to decide on his squad for the World Cup finals in Germany this summer. As the season closes so he has to finalise his squad to be announced on Monday, 8th May. One of his strengths, some would regard it as a weakness, is that he is loyal to his players, rarely varying in his selection of players, even when questions are raised over current form or fitness.

With so many foreign players in the English Premiership, it has become more difficult for the manager, especially as most of the top sides are composed entirely of foreign players. Sven's visit to Highbury last Saturday was not to watch any Arsenal players, as once again their team consisted totally of foreign players, so he must have been checking on the Spurs players available to England. In the Spurs team for that game he had a smaller number of players to view as two of his possible squad were absent through injury.

Ledley King has now missed two games since his foot injury at Everton and is unlikely to appear again for Spurs this season. His manager, Martin Jol, speaks optimistically about his recovery and availability for England duty this summer but with a stress fracture to his toe it is difficult to accurately estimate the length of time required for recovery. If King were to miss out on the World Cup, it would be a great shame as he was certain to be member of the squad as his versatility provided options for central defence and the midfield anchor role. He has had an impressive season captaining Spurs and has never let England down.

Jermaine Jenas was a late absentee following his training ground injury on Friday morning. Various stories have circulated about the seriousness of his injury -from a broken leg to pain in his shins. The full extent of the injury is still not known generally so whether he will be available for next Sunday's game is open to debate. However, where England are concerned, he has been a regular squad member and his recent form has improved following his early season transfer from Newcastle to Tottenham. For much of the early part of the season he has played wide on the right, not his natural position, but with the emergence of Aaron Lennon, Jenas has moved into a more central position alongside Michael Carrick and they performed very well against Everton.

However, of the other England players on view, Paul Robinson was at his very best against Arsenal. He has made the England No. 1 shirt his very own and bar injury is certain to be in the team for England's opening game of the tournament. Robinson gave a very commanding and confident performance at Highbury, making crucial saves as Arsenal tried to get back into the game and clearing bravely in the final moments when Spurs came under serious pressure. As the season has progressed he has received accolades from former England 'greats' - World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, current England goalkeeping coach Ray Clenmence and former Arsenal and England keeper David Seamen, all have heaped praise on him for his performances for Spurs and England and supported him as England's number one goalkeeper. Even today, German World Cup winning captain, Lothar Matthaus, has praised Robinson as being the final link in the England team.

Michael Carrick rose to the occasion and was 'Man of the Match' at Highbury, controlling central midfield and almost scoring a wonderful goal just before half-time. Carrick has made major strides since joining Spurs and he has Martin Jol to thank for giving him the opportunity. Signed in the transfer window of August, 2004, he became a pawn in a power struggle involving former manager, Jacques Santini, and Director of Football, Frank Arnesen. Santini obviously hadn't wanted to sign Carrick so didn't play him but when Jol took over, he selected Carrick and he has been a constant member of the team. Last summer, Carrick was impressive for England in the tour to America and rightly received high praise from reporters and pundits, especially Alan Hansen. It was thought that Carrick might play a part in the final qualifying games in the autumn but the chance didn't come but in a recent friendly he became a member of 'Spurs 5 England Lions' and again displayed his full capabilities. With his present form at its best he will be very hopeful of being a member of the party going to Germany. Carrick is a player who improves as the quality of the players around him increases, he raises his game accordingly.

The final member of the group of five Spurs players in the England team is Jermain Defoe. He looked to be certain of taking one of the striker positions and started the season well. He seemed to suffer a crisis of confidence following the autumn Internationals when with Michael Owen out, he was overlookeed by the England manager who altered his team formation to the exclusion of Defoe. A dip in form also saw him lose his place at Spurs to Robbie Keane and he spent a number of frustrating weeks on the subs bench. He has started recent games, playing alongside Keane and has had a number of near misses but is still looking for a strike on goal. He has been unfortuate in recent games but a couple of goals in the final two games should assure him of his place.

As Sven attends nearly every game at White Hart Lane or in his absence his assistant is present, they can not have failed to see the developing potential of two of Spurs young English players. In his first season in the Premiership, Michael Dawson has developed a very good understanding with Ledley King and gives total commitment every game. his over exhuberance can sometimes be a problem but with experience he will overcome that. He has impressed in the recent games where King has been absent and was a vital player against Manchester United over Easter. In defence every ball was drawn to his head or foot and in atack he could have scored his first goals for Spurs. With the injury to King, Dawson may come into the manager's thoughts as a possible replacement.

The most recent player to raise headlines about possible inclusion in the England squad has been nineteen year old Aaron Lennon (Pic: Possible late inclusion in England squad?). He was bought as a young player with potential but as the season has progressed he has become a vital member of the Spurs team and such was the confidence of the Spurs management in Lennon that Wayne Routledge was allowed to go to Portsmouth on loan. Lennon's display at Goodison alerted the journalists to his case and continuing impressive displays against United and Arsenal have only added to it. It will probably prove to be too early for Lennon but with Wright-Philips who was such an exciting player at Manchester City having had little opportunity at Chelsea this season, Lennon may be in with a shout of going to the World Cup.

If the circumstances were right, Spurs could have seven players in the party that Sven-Goran Eriksson selects in early May. While this is very unlikely and a very optimistic assessment it shows the advances that Spurs have made in the past eighteen months. That there is the potential for that number of players with serious claims to be joining the squad is incredible. With the club sitting on the verge of Champions League football for the first time and with further English players at White Hart Lane, Danny Murphy, Anthony Gardner, Tom Huddlestone and Wayne Routledge (on loan at Portsmouth), Spurs' policy of buying young English players is proving very successful.


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