England have suffered an injury blow in midfield ahead of UEFA Euro 2012. Manchester City’s Gareth Barry came on as a substitute in England’s 1-0 win over Norway in Oslo on Saturday and was clearly out of sorts, giving up possession with alarming ease and demonstrating a quite appalling lack of sound decision making. But no sooner had I launched the fifth volley of expletives in the direction of the televisual personification of City’s midfield metronome than he was withdrawn with an injury. As an Aston Villa fan, je ne regrette rien.
Even as an England supporter, I find it difficult to mourn Barry’s absence in Poland and Ukraine next month. While it may pose a difficult question for manager Roy Hodgson, his presence in the midfield nowadays is tainted not only by his questionable mobility and fundamental lack of dynamism, but the way he so neatly represents everything that was disappointing about England in FIFA World Cup 2010 and should have been dealt with in the intervening period. It’s a harsh criticism, perhaps, but England should be looking beyond Barry by now.
Regardless, it’s an awful shame for the player that he won’t be able to represent his country this summer, because I always got the impression that while he’s not the type to constantly shout about it, he’s fiercely proud to play for England every single time he’s asked to do so. And there are qualities he brings to the game, even if he’s not the quickest or the most dynamic. Barry is a very intelligent player, whose awareness is manifested not in a mind-bending range of passing but in efficiency, taking care of the ball in tight spots and, usually, turning out of traffic rather than into it.
His replacement in the squad is Everton defender Phil Jagielka, who’s been as much a part of the Euro 2012 squad as anyone so far, and should therefore slot in seamlessly. He played as part of England’s miserly back line in Oslo, and his call-up to the squad for the finals bolsters England’s defensive options rather than adding to the midfield, although he can of course play both at a pinch. What we all know about Jagielka is that he never lets England or Everton down, and he has enough international experience to provide a worthwhile option or back-up for Hodgson.
Unfortunately England also lost John Ruddy last week. The Norwich City goalkeeper has suffered a finger injury that quickly ruled him out of the England squad, in which he was selected alongside Joe Hart and Robert Green. He’s been fantastic for the Canaries in their wonderful return to the Premier League and it seemed as if every fan was delighted to see him rewarded with a place in the England squad, albeit the dreaded third-choice goalkeeper slot. Equally, it’s extremely sad to see him have to drop out.
Ruddy will be replaced in the European Championships squad by Jack Butland, the 19-year-old Bristolian goalkeeper who has progressed through the England set-up with impressive speed. He’s yet to make a competitive first team appearance for Birmingham City but is exceptionally highly rated in the corridors of Wembley regardless, and for good reason. Having played on loan at Cheltenham Town, it is in an England shirt that Butland has really made his impact.
Inevitably, there has been some criticism of his selection as Ruddy’s replacement, but for me there was no good reason to pick anyone else. While Scott Carson still has his fans and David Stockdale most certainly has a right to be aggrieved not to have been selected in the squad proper, the fact of the matter is that Butland was selected on the standby list and Hodgson – who will not have expected this to have become an issue, and that’s fair enough – had little choice but to stand by his standby.
I’d go further. The third goalkeeping position is a horrible one, used wisely to introduce inexperienced goalkeepers to the rigours, but not the glamour, of tournament football. That being the case, there’s an argument that the standby spot should be treated in a similar way and therefore be owned by the first-choice England Under-21s goalkeeper by default. What’s the point in giving it to anyone else?