As Fabio Capello swung the axe on seven World Cup dreams, no one could have imagined the debate and controversy which the Italian’s final decision would have invoked.
The FA’s reputation for farcical gaffes was hardly improved by the shambolic manner of the squad announcement. The waiting public resorted to Twitter and various other methods of hearing the news as it filtered through in instalments. No doubt that the players were as confused as everybody else.
It was a ridiculous decision not to simply announce the news in one early statement as other leading nations have done in a quiet and efficient manner. Instead, the public was subjected to speculative whispers and murmurings leading up to the announcement. It seems the hype of the media circus surrounding the England team will never go away.
Even with his mediocre form recently, not many expected Theo Walcott to be left out of the final 23. The breaking news that he had been omitted must have been a devastating blow personally to the player, and to his friends and family.
It is no real secret that Walcott’s performances this season for Arsenal and England have been below par, with the player making little impact in the recent friendlies. His performances against Mexico and Japan left a lot to be desired in terms of his final delivery and end product and it is those culpable weaknesses which has ultimately proved to be his downfall.
He still lacks the decision making of a top international class player and often plays his way into trouble. Capello showed him a video tape of his failings against Mexico but the player contrived to make the same mistakes against the Japanese.
The Italian wanted the 21-year-old to attack his full back on the outside and then cross, but too often he turned inside and lost possession. Once the same mistakes were made against Japan, Capello had no choice but to axe him. The manager does not tolerate disobeyed orders easily.
However, even his biggest critics would surely not begrudge him a place on the plane- he still had something to offer to the squad. There is no doubt Aaron Lennon is firmly in possession of the right wing berth, however Walcott had a place as a devastating impact player off the bench with good finishing ability.
His lightning pace scares defenders and the impact which he had against Barcelona at the Emirates in the Champions League is testimony to his ability to ruffle tired defences coming on as a substitute. Arsenal came back from two goals behind to draw level and Walcott scored the crucial first, as well as terrorising the Barca leftback Maxwell.
The assist for Adebayor’s goal at Anfield in the Champions League quarter final two seasons ago also springs to mind. He has shown he can deliver those bursts of inspiration with his directness and frightening speed.
Capello gave the impression that he desperately wanted to find an excuse to include the winger. No one has forgotten about the fateful night in Zagreb when Walcott announced his arrival on the international stage with a stunning hat trick, least of all the manager.
No one could have imagined that the hero that evening would not even be on the plane to the greatest show on earth. What a comedown for a young player who had the world at his feet after that night.
Walcott’s replacement in the squad, Shaun Wright-Philips, can perhaps count himself extremely fortunate to be on the plane. There is no doubt he gives his best whenever he pulls on the England shirt. He even scores the occasional goal in friendlies, however he has had a serious lack of playing time this season and has hardly produced top form for Manchester City.
The diminutive winger even lost his place in the City team to Adam Johnson, who like Walcott, missed out on the final squad. It is a shame Johnson was not taken to add balance to a top heavy midfield of right-footers. If Walcott wasn’t in Capello’s squad, then the general consensus is that perhaps Johnson should have been selected ahead of Wright-Philips, although the young left footed winger’s time will come. He is the future England left winger for years to come.
Having such a laughably large provisional squad in the first place, meant that more than one player was unnecessarily disappointed. It simply defies logic that players such as Scott Parker and Michael Dawson were included, yet not even given a chance in the friendlies against Mexico and Japan. In truth, they were just back-ups to the reserves and they had no chance whatsoever of being on the plane to Rustenburg.
Some will feel that Scott Parker should have been in the squad. With question marks still lingering over Gareth Barry’s fitness and Michael Carrick not really suited to the traditional tough-tackling holding role, the West Ham midfielder would have been a useful player to have. All the best teams have a ‘midfield destroyer’ in the Javier Mascherano mould, and being better tacklers than Huddlestone and Carrick, Parker could have been the player utilised in that role.
The inclusion of Joe Cole was a sensible and intelligent one, as the Chelsea midfielder has shown that he has the craft and skill to unlock the tightest of defences. The big match experience he brings will also be invaluable at the finals. His 45 minute cameo against Japan did him no harm whatsoever, although it is still uncertain whether he will be used in the hole behind Rooney or as a left winger like in 2006.As the dust settles in the coming days, it is clear that the final squad of players which Capello has selected still has the talent to go a long way in South Africa. Millions at home will be watching on tv and praying. Whether correctly or unjustly, Walcott and Johnson will be among them.