Steven Beacom: If Gareth Barry’s the answer, what’s the question?
Gareth Barry is a solid, hard working professional. He has a fine left foot, is strong in the air and can play in a variety of positions.
In short, he’s a useful man to have around.
Clearly Fabio Capello thinks so too.
The England coach really has gone the extra mile for Barry.
The Italian named 29-year-old Barry in his 23 man squad for South Africa even though he had an ankle injury, which was certain to rule him out of the opening game against United States.
Even more out of character, earlier this week Capello revealed that the midfielder would definitely start tonight’s clash with Algeria.
Normally Fabio doesn’t name his team until two hours before kick-off - no problem with that - but if he is willing to make an exception for Barry, why not put poor old Robert Green and the other goalkeepers out of their misery and inform them who is between the sticks, rather than leave them on tenderhooks.
Up until now Capello, throughout his successful managerial career, has treated players the same, be they the most famous football name in the world or just a run of the mill defender.
He wasn’t blinded by the Hollywood lifestyle of David Beckham, who he initially banished at Real Madrid, before Becks impressed the Italian so much with his work ethic in training that the boss brought him back into the Bernabeu fold.
That decision worked as Beckham’s comeback helped Real enjoy La Liga success.
Capello is now a Beckham fan, and even brought Goldenballs to South Africa as a cheerleader after injury destroyed his World Cup dream.
Looking in from the outside, though, it seems Fabio’s admiration of Goldenballs is outdone by how much he rates Barry.
Strange really, because despite his qualities Barry is not a world class performer, like say Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney. Not even close, unless I’ve missed something watching him play for Aston Villa and Manchester City all these years.
To Capello right now, however, on the back of the frustrating 1-1 draw with USA and ahead of tonight’s crucial Group C game with Algeria in Cape Town with Table Mountain as a backdrop, Barry is his most influential player.
So, if Gareth Barry is the answer, you have to wonder what the question is.
How do you get the best out of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard playing in the same England team?
This has puzzled several England managers, but Capello believes he solved the riddle in the qualifying campaign by deploying Barry as a holding midfielder, allowing Lampard to roam forward as he does so superbly with Chelsea and having Gerrard in an advanced position on the left giving him the opportunity to link with Wayne Rooney. Effectively Barry is the safety net for Gerrard and Lampard to fly high up the pitch and not worry about their defensive duties. I would add though that if Barry is the glue that holds England together, the structure must be pretty shaky to start with.
It’s not the only question that needs answered tonight for the Algerian game, which if England were to lose would leave them on the verge of their most humiliating World Cup finals exit ever.
Who will partner Wayne Rooney up front?
Emile Heskey played pretty well against USA — and certainly better than his more illustrious strike partner. There is more chance of Diego Maradona and Pele becoming friends on Facebook than Rooney being dropped however. Heskey created Gerrard’s goal with an astute pass but crucially he didn’t score himself when an outstanding opportunity presented itself. I would have fancied Jermain Defoe to hit the net in the same situation. England need goals and let’s face it Defoe, or Peter Crouch for that matter, are more likely to get them than Heskey, though on this occasion Emile could consider himself unlucky if he gets the big heave-ho.
Who plays in central defence?
John Terry is a must but with Ledley King joining Rio Ferdinand on the injured list, Capello has a big decision to make. Much as I admire Jamie Carragher, I would go with Michael Dawson, who had such a superb season for Tottenham. Capello, though, may feel what Carragher lacks in pace he makes up for in experience.
And in goal?
I’d go with Joe Hart, but Rob Green, despite that horror show last weekend, should keep his place.
Who will star?
Well, Lampard is bound to be better than he was against the Yanks and Ashley Cole will have more of an influence by getting forward more. Rooney has to have a big World Cup game sooner or later. This could be it. Gerrard should continue his fine form.
Will England win?
Should do. And easily at that. Anything less than a victory is unthinkable.