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Tuesday, April 11, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: May 9, 4:18 PM UK
The hopefuls: Michael Carrick

With only five rounds of Premiership fixtures remaining before the end of the season and England's first choice left-back yet to play a full game this year Sven Goran-Eriksson might have been expected to be scouring the land for a back-up defender.

He isn't, but even so he must have been slightly disturbed by the news that Charlton Athletic defender Luke Young has been sidelined with an ankle injury - limiting his options even further.

The fullback's injury was quickly dubbed 'World Cup threatening' by the press but Young, who has won 6 England caps and been included in recent selections, has assured fans he will be back by April 22. Eriksson must name his squad by May 8.

Earlier this week Ray Clemence, a senior member of the England coaching staff, stated that no players deemed to be an injury gamble will be going to Germany 2006. If that is indeed the case then Arsenal's Ashley Cole, who is still two weeks away from fitness and hasn't played 90 minutes since October, could well be a doubt, giving both Young and West Ham's Paul Konchesky an outside chance of making the team behind Wayne Bridge.

Despite the potential left-back problems, at the weekend the England manager sent his right-hand man Tord Grip to White Hart Lane to watch Tottenham Hotspur take on Manchester City where there were eleven English players on show in the starting 22 - which must be some kind of record for a Premiership match this year.

Man City keeper David James caught the eye for the wrong reasons with a crazy dribble in the first-half but impressed with a string of world class saves in the second. Paul Robinson could only marvel at his England rival's acrobatics in the opposite goal but the Tottenham keeper is now well established as Eriksson's Number 1.

Another of the Swede's former favourites Darius Vassell, who booked his place at World Cup 2002 at the 11th hour, gave his national team manager a reminder of his striking qualities by delivering a stirring performance in City's attack - proving troublesome to Spurs throughout the match.

However, it was the Tottenham midfield that Grip would have been focusing his studious attention on with Jermaine Jenas bounding around the pitch with endless energy, only to be out-shone by team-mate Michael Carrick.

Carrick's terrific technique has been an integral part of Spurs' challenge for the Premiership fourth spot, and a place in the Champions League qualification stage, this season and has been touted as the answer to England's holding midfielder problem.

Against the Sky Blues the former West Ham United midfielder again showcased his attributes in a deep-lying role, able to control play and dictate the pace of the game.

The 24-year-old orchestrated Spurs' tactics from the centre of the pitch with solid tackling and a wide range of passing and capped a fine performance by snatching the winner with a close-range volley.

Despite the north London club's plethora of midfielders, and players in general, Carrick has been one of the few constants in a changing team, but will he be good enough to make the England squad?

England Contenders
Key: probable, possible

Goalkeepers
Paul Robinson
David James
Robert Green
Scot Carson

Defenders
Gary Neville
Rio Ferdinand
John Terry
Ashley Cole
Jamie Carragher
Ledley King
Sol Campbell
Wayne Bridge
Wes Brown
Luke Young

Midfielders
David Beckham
Steven Gerrard
Frank Lampard
Joe Cole
Shaun Wright Phillips
Michael Carrick
Jermaine Jenas
Kieran Richardson
Scott Parker

Strikers
Michael Owen
Wayne Rooney
Peter Crouch
Jermain Defoe
Darren Bent
James Beattie
Dean Ashton

Pros

As a youngster Carrick came through Tyneside's famed Wallsend Boys Club, which also produced Gazza and Alan Shearer, before joining another well-regarded institution in the form of West Ham United's youth academy.

Unlike many highly-rated youngsters Carrick kept progressing and after pushing his way into the Hammers first-eleven won his first England cap against Mexico in 2001.

He has met all the challenges thrown at him thus far and since joining Tottenham in the summer of 2004 he has cemented his place at the Premiership club and won back his place in the England squad. His return to top form club culminated with place in the squad for England's tour of the US in May where he made his first senior start against the USA and retained his place in the first 11 against Colombia.

Since reclaiming the England shirt Carrick's composed ball-playing and eye for a killer pass have won him many plaudits. His discipline in the centre of the pitch and tackling ability have put him in the running to make the final cut for Germany 2006 and Carrick's recent performances in the victories over Argentina and Uruguay have done nothing but enhance his chances.

In addition to his vision in open play Carrick also has an array of set pieces in his armoury that Eriksson could call on as back-up to captain David Beckham.

Cons

On the down side Eriksson likes his team to have pace and Carrick doesn't. If he were to be deployed as a deep lying midfielder a lack of speed could prove costly when tracking back with quicksilver strikers or covering for the equally slow David Beckham.

After breaking into the England squad in the summer of 2001 it took the former Birmingham and Swindon loanee until May 2005 to win his third cap - despite being handed a place in Eriksson's first-ever squad against Spain in February 2001.

Carrick may have represented the England Under-21 team at European Championships in Slovakia in 2000 but he has never played club football at a European level and tested himself against the quality of player he would face at the 2006 World Cup. He would represent something of a gamble if he were to travel to Germany.

Despite all the acclaim that has headed Carrick's way this term he has only had one season at the very top level of the Premiership with Tottenham and that has followed an unsuccessful year in the Championship after relegation with the Hammers.

While the Spurs player held his own in England's last friendly against Uruguay, when he played the full 90 minutes, he did not use the opportunity to book his place on the plane as his former team-mate Joe Cole did with a top notch display. Can he deliver a big performance when needed?

Will he make the cut?

If Sven Goran Eriksson has any reservations about the Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard combination in the middle of the pitch, and given the failed experiment with Beckham in the 'quarter-back role' against Northern Ireland I would suggest Carrick is a must.

If either of Gerrard or Lampard were hit by injury or suspension Carrick would provide the natural replacement in midfield. The usual suspects apart, he has consistently been the top performer in his position in the Premiership.

Carrick appears to have beaten off the challenge from England hopefuls such as Bolton's Kevin Nolan, Man City's Joey Barton and Newcastle's Scott Parker. If England decide to deploy a holding midfielder Carrick should be first in line and he should go to Germany.


  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.



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