England: Five Potential World Cup Wild Cards


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.

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Anderson – Manchester United’s Big Brazilian


Tom Coast, writer for Can They Score?, profiles Anderson…

“What could have been”. If there ever was a sentence or expression that is most likely to be linked with Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira, it would be that one.

When Anderson arrived at Manchester United, everyone thought Sir Alex Ferguson had signed the “next-Ronaldinho”. One could see why they thought that. Both Brazilian. Both attacking midfielders. Both very good dribblers. The only issue was Sir Alex Ferguson himself.

The man was a genius. That fact is indisputable. His trophy and medal cabinet as a manager prove that. However, when it came to fitting in an attacking midfielder in his system, he seemed a tad lost. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Hodgson Approaching his Defining Summer


James Dutton looks back at England’s World Cup qualifying campaign and how Roy Hodgson will approach the tournament next summer…

After a painstaking 13-month journey through dire stalemates, comprehensive beatings of European minnows and the overriding sense of ‘perpetual crisis’ England have reached the World Cup finals. A World Cup in Brazil without England would have been unthinkable, for Hodgson now this is his self-annointed ‘Utopia'; this has been the driving-force of his nomadic 38-year career, just reward for sheer persistence. What relief to have narrowly sidestepped the screaming vortex that has humiliated his predecessors, among them Graham Taylor, Kevin Keegan and Steve McClaren.

Should two positive results and emphatic performances in the space of a week excuse what came before? Should the previous recriminations be forgotten now that England have handsomely defeated two international sides that they would be disappointed not to beat? After all, England traditionally struggle against the so-called ‘mid-table’ international stratum.

As early as November last year Hodgson had already set his sights on the play-offs, despite a group that was so eminently winnable from the outset. Thus only from the lowering of expectations (a classic Hodgson manoeuvre and one that David Moyes is replicating at Manchester United this season) has this arduous qualifying campaign been quantified as a success. Continue reading

England v Poland – Townsend shines as Zaha remains out in the cold


In light of England’s qualification for the World Cup, Josh Jalal surmises some of the structural problems still inhibiting the national setup…

England’s victory over Poland has rebuked all previous claims about the future of English football. It seems, as you would expect, the future of the English game is only questioned after a defeat or a miserable performance. It is in victory however, particularly those against Poland and Montenegro, along side other events and circumstance, that the state of English football has come to my attention and the overbearing thought as an avid supporter of the English national side that I still consider English football is in disarray. I am not questioning the speculative issue of where the next ‘golden generation’ is coming from neither am I discerning the efforts of Greg Dyke and the FA with their ominous grass roots activities. I am instead questioning why young English footballers are restrained and condemned within the institutions that are funded in attempt to harness their talent?

At 22 years of age Andros Townsend has endured 9 loan moves and experienced a relegation battle. It was after the long and tedious transfer debacle of Gareth Bale, an injury to club captain Aaron Lennon, a tediously slow transfer dealing of Erik Lamela and a strenuous fixture list that Townsend received his first opportunity in a Spurs shirt. No one could have predicted these series of events and yet without them Townsend would be amidst hundreds of football players struggling to cement himself in the one industry he knows. He would not have played in the Premier League, he would not have had an opportunity, with the exception of a handful of minutes in the Europa League, to showcase his talents against the likes of Ashley Cole and Kieren Gibbs and he certainly would have never had the opportunity to aid England’s pursuit of a World Cup berth in Brazil. Continue reading

Lucas Leiva – Liverpool’s Unlikely Brazilian Hero

Soccer - Carling Cup - Third Round - Liverpool v Northampton Town - Anfield

The Guardian journalist and The Anfield Wrap writer, Sachin Nakrani, looks back at the transformation of Lucas Leiva’s spell on Merseyside…

Lucas Leiva is not a footballer. Well he is, of course he is, but in the context of his career at Liverpool the 26-year old is more than that; he is a walking, talking metaphor for how dedication, belief, patience and talent can overcome a sense of perpetual doom. Watching Lucas now, it is hard to believe the boy from Dourados was once ridiculed and loathed in L4.

But he was, with the bulk of Liverpool supporters deeming the player Rafael Benitez had signed from Gremio for £5m in May 2007 not only unworthy of the red shirt but also a charlatan for daring to put it on in the first place. There was genuine scorn in the barracking, with a nadir reached on a brisk evening at Goodison Park in February 2009 when Lucas was sent off for two bookable offences in an FA Cup fourth-round replay against a team that took almost crazed satisfaction from their eventual 1-0 victory. The tie was goalless when Lucas was dismissed and the sense from the away end was that this hopeless prat had cost the side. Boos rang out, foul-language spilled into the winter air and continued some time after the player had departed down the tunnel. It seemed then that he had no way back.

Alex – Chelsea’s Brazilian Free Kick Machine


Joe Tweeds of Plains of Almería profiles Alex’s spell at Stamford Bridge…

Alex Rodrigo Dias da Costa, the man simply known as ‘Alex’, became an integral part of Chelsea in his spell at the club. The Brazilian once again defied the typical stereotype on first glances. He was a tank of a central defender, no nonsense and surprisingly tough, he fitted in well alongside the established pairing of Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry. Alex enjoyed frequent spells in the Chelsea side, capitalising on injuries and the like to stake his claim as one of Chelsea’s first choices.

What became increasingly obvious over the course of his Chelsea career is that Alex could take a free-kick. While some people can take free-kicks, others can take free-kicks. There was anecdotal evidence surrounding his return from injury in a reserve game that saw him knock someone unconscious in a wall with a free-kick. The sheer power and accuracy he possessed were frightening – if he got it right, it was going in or someone was going home early. Continue reading

Caçapa – Newcastle’s Catastrophic Brazilian Import


Ian Cusack profiles Newcastle’s second and most recent Brazilian import, the catastrophic Caçapa…

While it is notoriously difficult to define or even divine the ultimate historical importance of on-going situations, the summer of 2007 must be regarded as pivotal in the chronology of Newcastle United. Following the resignation of Glenn Roeder towards the end of the previous campaign, outgoing chairman Freddy Shepherd’s last significant act before selling the club to Mike Ashley, wherein lies a whole different narrative that we simply don’t have time to touch on here, was to appoint Sam Allardyce as manager. If the arrival of the infamous long-ball merchant and his litany of snake oil selling, blue-toothed, laptop-wielding, technocratic, camp following boffins was met with a severely underwhelming welcome, several of his signings were afforded a fair hearing, on account of the fact nobody had never heard of them before.

Alongside the perennially loathsome Joey Barton, back in the days when he cultivated an image of being the Gallagher Brothers’ Scouse cousin rather than an amalgam of Malcolm Muggeridge and Rosa Parkes, who promptly broke his foot in a pre-season game at Carlisle and disappeared until Christmas, Allardyce brought in the porcine, indolent Mark Viduka on a free from Burragh, the woeful, pedestrian Alan Smith, who’d never be a top flight player again following his broken leg at Old Trafford, the glacially-paced Geremi from Chelsea as well as unknown quantities David Rozenhal, a scrawny, incompetent centre back from Paris St. Germain who disappeared to Lazio on New Year’s Day, Jose Enrique, who turned into a superb left back after a wobbly first season and Caçapa, about who this piece is dedicated.

Having begun his career with 5 seasons at Atletico Mineiro, Caçapa left Brazil to spend 6 years with Lyon, between 2001 and 2007, where he was captain of the title winning side for 5 successive campaigns. Somewhat surprisingly, having been granted French citizenship in 2006, he opted to leave at the end of his contract the following summer; consequently, Newcastle United found themselves in receipt of a 31 year old Brazilian international for no transfer outlay. What could go wrong? At first, nothing; he made his debut as a 90th minute substitute in a 0-0 with Villa, becoming our 1,000th player used in the Premier League in the process and his full debut on September 1st as we beat Wigan 1-0. Until this point, all well and good; Newcastle were unbeaten, if a bit dull to watch and Caçapa seemed a steady, unspectacular stopper, with a large physical presence. Continue reading