Don’t you just hate armchair managers?

Ignore the know-nothings moaning about the exclusion of Walcott and the inclusion of Heskey. Fabio is on the ball.

Duleep Allirajah

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Armchair football managers. Don’t you just want to punch them?

Well, I do. But perhaps you fancy yourself as a manager. Maybe, you reckon you’re better qualified to pick the England team than Fabio Capello. Maybe you think that experience, expertise and leadership skills are overrated. Maybe you think that winning the European Cup, Serie A five times (plus two titles with Juventus that were revoked) and La Liga twice counts for nothing. All because Theo Walcott wasn’t on the plane to South Africa or Darren Bent has a better strike rate than Emile Heskey.

Wannabe managers. It’s a modern affliction. I blame Championship Manager. It’s a game which is predominantly played by nerdy blokes who have neither girlfriends nor man-management skills. They think they know better than one of the most successful managers in the world. Ever since the England coach named his 23-man World Cup squad, the armchair managers have been moaning on the message boards and football phone-ins.

I think they’re all wrong. He hasn’t fluffed his lines thus far. In fact, the biggest thing England have going for them is Fabio Capello. He’s transformed a disjointed group of individuals into a team. He’s instilled self-belief. He’s banned WAGs and mobile phones and vetoed a World Cup song. He makes tough decisions. And, more importantly, he makes the right decisions. His squad selection, as far as I’m concerned, is spot on. But the armchair managers are still grumbling. Let’s look at the complaints in turn.

1. OMG, he’s axed Theo. Sven’s decision to take Theo Walcott, then an untried 17-year-old, to the 2006 World Cup was madness. Everyone could agree on that. Capello’s decision to omit Walcott was greeted with similar disbelief. Walcott’s advocates argue that his lightning pace makes him the ideal impact player. They’re wrong. It’s no use being able to skin defenders if you can’t deliver a decent cross. Readers of a certain age will remember the former Aston Villa winger Tony Daley. He, too, had blistering pace but couldn’t cross for toffee. Walcott is just Tony Daley without the silly haircut. And it’s not just his crossing. His reading of the game, movement and positional play leave a lot to be desired. As Chris Waddle put it: ‘I just don’t think he’s got a football brain.’ Walcott is not so much a fox in the box as a rabbit caught in headlights.

2. No Darren Bent? WTF! I’m sick of listening to whinging Wearsiders complaining that Darren Bent should have been on the plane. ‘He scored 25 goals for Sunderland last season’, they say. ‘He’s the top English goalscorer after Rooney.’ All of this is true, but it doesn’t make Darren Bent an international footballer. Ask yourself this: can Bent hold the ball up and link play as well as Heskey or Crouch? No, he can’t. Secondly, although he can score goals in the Premiership, it’s a big step up to perform against world-class defenders. Bent has yet to prove that he can make that step up. How many goals has Darren Bent scored for England? Zero. How many Champions League games has he played in? None. And sorry, I’m afraid that his six goals in that joke tournament formerly known as the Uefa Cup don’t count.

3. What is the point of Emile Heskey? Many football fans can’t understand why Emile Heskey is in the squad and Darren Bent isn’t. ‘Why has Capello picked an off-form striker who doesn’t score goals?’ they ask. The fact that so many supporters fail to understand Heskey’s value is symptomatic not of Capello’s misjudgement but English tactical philistinism. I know this is going to sound counterintuitive, but Heskey isn’t in the squad for his goals. He is there to lead the line, hold up the ball, link play, and draw defenders out of position. He enables other players to score goals. Wayne Rooney and, before him, Michael Owen have been far more effective playing off Heskey than operating as lone strikers. The much maligned Heskey is far from a donkey; he is the archetypal modern striker. As Jonathan Wilson, author of Inverting the Pyramid, has explained: ‘The situation has emerged whereby a striker’s primary function is no longer to score goals, but to create the space for others to do so.’ Many England fans might not appreciate Heskey’s worth but thankfully Fabio Capello does.

4. Dawson before Carragher. Fans questioned Michael Dawson’s initial omission from Capello’s 23-man squad. They questioned the inclusion of Jamie Carragher, a player who snubbed England three years ago and has been somewhat off-colour for Liverpool. Dawson has been called up to replace the injured Rio Ferdinand but, despite an excellent season for Spurs, he is still behind Carragher in the coach’s pecking order. To me it’s a no-brainer. Carragher gets the nod over Dawson every time. Why? Carragher is tried and tested at international level; Dawson is a novice. Carragher has 36 England caps, Dawson has two. Carragher has made 133 appearances in all European competitions, Dawson has made just 21 – all in the Uefa Cup. Carragher has played against the best European strikers in the Champions League. Dawson has no Champions League experience. Michael Dawson might make the international grade. He might not. And, at the World Cup, you simply can’t afford to take chances.

5. Scott Parker anyone? Oh, please!

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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spiked-issue: Sport

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