Capello looking for the right answer
Not for the first time, it is John Terry's fault. Or, to be more accurate, it is because of John Terry. The captain-cum-controversy magnet dominated the headlines when Fabio Capello named his England squad for the double-header against Spain and Sweden.
While the police and the FA investigate the Chelsea player's conduct towards QPR's Anton Ferdinand in a case that will either result in the reputation of an innocent man being stained or in England selecting a footballer who is subsequently proved guilty of racism, it obscured the case of a player who does have a legitimate, albeit a lesser, grievance.
Predictably but unfairly, Micah Richards was excluded. The Premier League's outstanding right-back this season is, considering Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker and Phil Jones are in the squad and Chris Smalling is injured, at best the fifth choice for his country.
Coming a fortnight after a marauding Richards was one of the architects of Manchester City's 6-1 derby victory at Old Trafford, it suggested form played little part in Capello's thinking. Indeed, the England manager appears to have a blind spot where Richards is concerned, seeing the player who lacked positional sense and erred all too often in 2008 and 2009, rather than the improved version who is excelling. Spurned by one Italian manager in Capello, Richards has been revived by another, Roberto Mancini.
And yet Capello has a defence, in more ways than one. Competition for places in this most overlooked of positions has rarely been as intense and his current squad, including the versatile Jones, already includes two more right-backs than he took to South Africa.
Indeed, England's last two World Cup squads have only featured one specialist right-back, with Jamie Carragher providing cover long after he had moved to the centre of the Liverpool defence. In 2006, Gary Neville's injury problems meant the Merseysider played for the majority of a demoralising campaign.
Four years later, Johnson was ever present. It was just as well as, had Carragher not been talked out of international retirement, the men under consideration to deputise for him appeared to be Wes Brown and Phil Jagielka, who both prefer life infield.
Now the same might be said of Jones and Smalling, who may prove the long-term centre-back partnership for club and country, but as the majority of their Manchester United opportunities this season, along with all their England caps, have come on the flank, they can be branded right-backs.
It brings a new slant on a familiar tale of United players being picked in that particular position; indeed, for years, the right-back spot was a family fiefdom of the Nevilles. The elder, Gary, won 85 caps and assumed a place in virtually every hypothetical side selected from Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Old Trafford.
However, Neville was eased on the path to pre-eminence. The absence of alternatives is reflected by the professionals' votes. In the past dozen years only two English right-backs - Neville (twice) and Johnson in 2008-09 - have secured a place in the PFA's team of the season.
Were the current campaign to end now, the four principal candidates might all be English. Besides Richards, Jones has displayed a similarly buccaneering bent while the attack-minded Walker has established himself in a hugely impressive Tottenham team. And, barely mentioned outside Tyneside but a crucial component of the division's stingiest defence, Danny Simpson has been quietly terrific for Newcastle. In another year, such form would have brought an international call-up.
All of which should put pressure on the incumbent. Johnson benefits from being the regular choice and, with 34 caps, is the most experienced of the contenders. Nonetheless, he is defensively susceptible and was mediocre in his preferred position for Liverpool last season (although, oddly, far better when used as a left-back) when Martin Kelly outperformed him at his day job. There is a sense among many Liverpool supporters that the assured, unflustered 21-year-old is the better option while there has long been a feeling that he is future England international.
His generation features a surfeit of options, enough for Capello to ignore Richards' considerable case and to pose problems when it comes to naming his party to go to Poland and Ukraine next summer. With selection complicated by the need to take a player, in Wayne Rooney, who is ineligible for the group games, it increases the pressure on places elsewhere.
It gives the versatile Smalling and Jones an advantage over Richards, whose days in the middle of City's defence effectively ended with Sven-Goran Eriksson's exit. But while Capello has to contend with a shortage of available central defenders featuring regularly and reliably for their clubs, a situation that could be exacerbated by Terry's problems, he is in an unusual situation for an England manager with rare riches at right-back.