There was countless cringe-worthy moments on Monday Night Football, when Sky Sports in their infinite wisdom decided to take the best football show they had, with the one pundit who didn’t think analysis was a make of washing machine and wreck it by adding Jamie Carragher into the mix, with one obvious instruction- ‘argue with whatever Gary Neville says.’
On this particular evening the topic of discussion, or rather banality, turned to full backs, “no one grew up wanting to be Gary Neville” quipped Carragher, to which the former United defender did a laugh so fake it wouldn’t look out of place at a Michael McIntyre gig. The point Carragher was making wasn’t completely invalid, for once. The role of the full back is often one occupied by wannabe wingers or centre backs who’ve been shifted out wide but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you get a player, who’s tailor made for the position, who not only performs but excels, a right or left back who is reliable defensively yet can cause problems going forward. It may not be the most glamorous position, or the one everyone wants to occupy when playing in the park as kids, but it’s a vital role nonetheless and right now Roy Hodgson has several options his disposal who can fill it, especially on the right hand side.
Dropping half his side for the Slovakia game was up there with paying money for Paul Konchesky in the pantheon of ludicrous decisions Hodgson has made during his career. England would surely have won the game, topped the group and had a reasonably easy route to the final had the manager not decided to drop the likes of Wayne Rooney for Jack Wilshere. It could be argued though that despite causing the fans a huge headache with his baffling selection policy, Hodgson has actually given himself something of one as now he has two right backs to choose from who’ve both been very impressive during the tournament. Nathaniel Clyne was arguably England’s stand out performer against Slovakia, while previously Kyle Walker had been in fine form against both Wales and Russia. It may not seem like the most important decision the manager has to make, but choosing the right player at right back could be the difference between a decent performance during this tournament and a seminal one.
In 1996, Stuart Pearce and Gary Neville were vital cogs in the England machine and were it not for their superb displays who’s to say we’d still be banging on about the ‘summer where football came home?’ Ryan Bertrand did an admirable job at left back against the Slovakians but it’s unlikely he did enough to edge out Danny Rose, Clyne on the other hand has given his manager something to think about. It’s easy to dismiss the Liverpool defender’s performance against Slovakia as almost irrelevant, such has been Walker’s solidity for England of late, but if we’re being brutally honest there’s a case to be made that the former Southampton man did enough to warrant a start against Iceland.
Both Walker and Clyne have had impressive seasons for their clubs, both show a willingness to get forward without shirking their defensive duties, both know their team mates on a club level too. Clyne plays with the likes of Lallana, Sturridge and Henderson on a regular basis while Walker shares a pitch with Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Harry Kane each week. There’s almost nothing to choose between the two. Almost.
It could be argued that Clyne has been the more effective of the two in an England shirt this summer, his one cap seeing him create seven chances with an excellent pass rate of 95%, this compares favourably to the three chances Walkers created in two games, while his 79% pass rate pales in comparison. Now, anyone born before 2002, will know that stats don’t tell the whole picture, if a team are performing and a player within that team is doing his job, then why change it?
Well, it’s not being overly harsh to say the game against Wales was hardly a display of cohesive excellence, despite the result and if a player does come into the side and shine then why not give him further chances? David Platt and Trevor Sinclair didn’t even make the plane for the World Cups of 1990 and 2002, yet ended up being drafted in once the tournament kicked off and playing their part in vital victories. It’s not a first come first serve basis with the national side- if it was Sir Geoff Hurst would be plain old Geoff. If England are to finally break the however many years of hurt hoodoo then ‘more of the same’ simply won’t do and the manager may need to start thinking about what his strongest possible side is, not which is his most popular. Walker’s done well, but he’s not un-droppable and now may be the time for Hodgson to show other players if you get your chance and do well, then you’ll be rewarded.
Not many kids may grow up wanting to be a Gary Neville, but nearly all of them want to represent their country and Nathaniel Clyne may just have edged out Walker for the chance to do that on Monday.