Making his debut for The False Nine, Joe Hall looks at a list of potential wild card picks for England next summer…
The World Cup Wildcard: the final, desperate attempt of an England manager who has suddenly realised the impending humiliation and dejection he is about to face.
Ahead of recent World Cups, every England manager has seemed to pick one player he knows nothing about in the blind hope he could be the next Gascoigne. The “wildcard” will not have played for England much (if at all) and will nearly always have displayed some form of skill or invention that deludes us into thinking he can have an effect.
The results have been mixed. In ’98 Hoddle caved into public pressure (The Sun ran a campaign of course) to pick Michael Owen and it worked a treat.
In 2006 not one, but two “wildcard” choices made their way to Baden-Baden. Aaron Lennon, uncapped but impressive for Tottenham, was a bold but typical choice from Sven-Goran Eriksson. Theo Walcott, who had run really fast in the Championship, was inexplicable.
And then there was Mike Bassett’s inspired and redemptive selection of Kevin Tonkinson.
Who will it be this year? Here’s five players who, with a late surge of form, could convince Hodgson they will be the man to send England into the promised land of a semi-final.
The Ravel Morrison hype may well have come too early. If he’d stockpiled the screamers until May he’d be a shoe-in. He may now have to settle for a friendly against the USA in February as the fervour dies down.
Seemingly settled on a midfield three, Hodgson is likely to take four/five central players with Phil Jones or James Milner as reliable, uninspiring, soul-crushing cover. There’s probably only likely to be one spot for a more dynamic and daring centre-midfielder and at the moment Ross Barkley is probably the favourite. Still, if you’re to take the “wild” part of the wildcard seriously, then you really couldn’t do much better than Ravel.
Picture this: big lump of a striker has half a good season in the Premier League for a north-east club. Goes onto earn plaudits, a big-money move and international recognition.
If it could happen to Andy Carroll, it could happen to Connor Wickham. I mean, it probably won’t, but it’s worth pointing out that Wickham does have nine more career goals than Carroll had at the same age.
If Hodgson does opt to introduce Brazil’s samba savvy football fans to the unique charms of the British big lad, then Carroll probably has the spot down. When he’s inevitably injured, Lambert will get the nod.
So Wickham is more likely to finish this season fighting for 11th position in the Championship on loan at Huddersfield than at the World Cup. But if the kid does bag a few in a Sunderland survival miracle then you can bet some hack, somewhere, will be campaigning for his place on the plane (by the emergency exit – extra leg room). After all, the Daily Mail told us in 2010 that Wickham would be a star of the 2014 World Cup alongside Romelu Lukaku, Alan Dzagoev and Neymar.
Nathan Dyer would serve almost no purpose at the World Cup but hey, what had Andros Townsend achieved in his career that Dyer hadn’t before last week?
The guy has played a crucial role in the rise of Swansea and still remains a consistent presence in a side widely lauded for their playing style and ability to keep the ball – the very qualities football writers love to righteously condemn England for lacking.
It’s probably not unfair to presume he may have been considered if he belonged to a “bigger” club. Or perhaps Hodgson decided that any player to act like that much of a prick in a Cup final shouldn’t be playing for his national side. In which case I support him unreservedly.
Saido Berahino will score more goals than Danny Welbeck. Probably. Maybe. Either way Berahino has emerged this season as a Premier League player of genuine promise. His impressive goal-scoring performance at Old Trafford followed a hat-trick in the League Cup and a brace for the Under-21s.
If Berahino can keep this form up, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t considering his eight goals have come from just seven games, there will be calls for him to get his chance.
Nothing excites the English public and press like the promise of a young, goal-scoring striker whose confidence is yet to be shattered by failure and ridicule on the world stage. Beyond Daniel Sturridge, there aren’t really any other candidates for this role. Steve Clarke could well be using this to coax the best out of Berahino; “keep it up son, you could be the next Darius Vassell.”
Young, fast, dribbles a lot – Nathan Redmond is a classic World Cup wildcard.
Redmond has the benefit of playing for Norwich. He is likely to get lots of game-time, emerge as a genuine match-winner and get plenty of praise from the sofa on “Goals on Sunday”.
However, Redmond also has the hindrance of playing for Norwich. Hurricanes of hype don’t quite whip up the same kind of sway when they emerge from Norfolk instead of, say, Merseyside.
The demand for a hot prospect to get his chance to wreak havoc upon an unexpected world is always more furious when they come from a club with thousands of fans that buy thousands of papers.