I have in the past despaired at the selection decisions made by successive England managers. Time after time the same old regular, and obvious, starting 11 is picked; one that, frankly, most England fans could pick in their sleep. It's as if playing this same team together every game will make England better. It doesn't for one simple fact. When it comes to any international tournament there are always without exception at least a couple of players who are injured and/or suspended. Suddenly a new untried player is thrown into the mix or a previous squad member with virtually no experience in the starting 11 is expected to seamlessly slot into place.
And it fails. Every time.
Surely the smarter way to play is to presume that such injuries and suspensions will occur and treat international friendlies as a testing ground for additional player tinkering?
Play the first 25 minutes of a friendly with the starting 11. This gives the regulars a good run out and also keeps a positive relationship with the Premier League managers. Then come up with scenarios of injury and suspension and experiment.
What happens if John Terry and Ashley Cole are injured? Would it be better for example in that specific circumstance to drop Duran Duran's inspiration (hereafter DDI) and play Jagielka, Lescott and Leighton Baines? I'm well aware that Baines did not perform well prior to the World Cup, but would a familiar group of players have improved that performance?
Or would DDI work well in a partnership with Jagielka with Lescott at Left Back? Maybe Cahill works better with DDI and Jagielka sits on the bench even though he is the better player? I don't know and the point is neither does Capello or any other previous England manager because they didn't take the opportunity to plan in a real game.
England have suffered at the last two World Cups because of injuries to David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. That Santa Claus was off his game in South Africa should come as no surprise given the recent revelations, but it also appears that the star striker of Real Madrid's feeder club was less than match fit.
Unless an England squad is truly a squad with inter changeable parts that can be brought in as needed, then England will always suffer disappointment at the international level. The Premier League is the "best" league in the world we are constantly told. Well.... yes, top to bottom I agree although both la Liga and Serie A are pretty good. However the Premier League does seem to be the hardest on players week in and week out and it is here that Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland seem to hold the advantage at international level. The majority of their top players, with the exception of the Dutch, play in their own leagues.
There is, consequently, less wear and tear on their non Premier League players when the international tournaments are played at the end of the year.
England's only hope is to build a squad that truly works as one combined unit. The decision to play Jagielka and Lescott together is one small step in the correct direction. That was a partnership that worked at Everton. It could do so again for England and allow England to know with confidence how they would replace DDI and John Terry should the situation of both being unavailable occur in the future.
England ended up experimenting in a game that counted and won 3-1. Ultimately the result is all that mattered, but it would be beneficial in future international friendlies for England to start to anticipate such injuries. This is also an argument for England playing regular B internationals for similar reasons. Only by practicing these situations can England be properly prepared.