'Who the fuck is staying?!'
Would this scenario ever occur? No it would not. Why not? Because Spain are the best side in the world at keeping the ball. Therefore they do not, like the English, have an overpowering preoccupation with employing a defensive midfielder to shield the defence. England are vulnerable because they don't keep the ball well. And in the absence of the one truly very good English defensive midfielder, Owen Hargreaves, everyone is extremely keen on having a midfielder holding so the back four aren't exposed by the inevitable breakdown in play just inside the opposition half.
But then, what is there to worry about? Fabio Capello has Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard at his disposal. Two of the most highly acclaimed central midfielders in the world. As Terry Butcher will tell you: “They are intelligent. They know when one goes, one sits.” With that attitude and depth of ability is it any wonder England are the best team in the world and set to sweep all before them… oh hang on.
The “one stays, one goes” argument is as futile and irrelevant now as it ever was. In the frenetic world at the top of the Premier League, it is ok to lose the ball following the raking diagonal ball so favoured by English players because in 30 seconds time, it will be retained. In international football, however, once England give the ball away to the likes of Spain or Holland, they may not see it again for a couple of minutes. That is why Gerrard and Lampard are so effective domestically but still struggle when paired together for England. Added to this is the fact that both enjoy the luxury of being backed up by two of the best defensive midfielders in the world at club level – Javier Mascherano and Michael Essien.
More often than not, Gerrard and Lampard are employed in the most attacking role in the midfields of Liverpool and Chelsea respectively and so the whole “you stay, I’ll go” debate is redundant, as they both always ‘go’. As crushingly negative as it sounds, until the technical skills of the English match up to those of Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Holland, France and Italy, an exclusively defensive midfielder will always be needed.
Which makes it such a shame that the one player who can truly measure up technically to the world’s best midfielders has decided not to travel to South Africa, spurning Fabio Capello’s advances. Paul Scholes would have been incredibly useful at the World Cup. He just does not give the ball away and is fantastic with both feet, a trait not usually associated with the English. He can also dictate tempo and with possession being nine-tenths of the law at World Cup level, his cool head (with the ball, not in the tackle) would have been invaluable as he sat as a deep-lying playmaker akin to Xabi Alonso. As it is, the talk of Capello opting for a 4-4-2 is rife, which means Gerrard once more making the acquaintance of Lampard in the centre. Let’s hope they are not as indecisive as the ponderous Joe Strummer when deciding who stays and who goes. Adam Bushby