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Nov 16, 2008

Fabio forced to experiment

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill was quick to dismiss England's friendly against Germany as "meaningless" last week, but it's unlikely to be a sentiment shared by the four members of his squad named by Fabio Capello.

Only Gareth Barry will have nothing to prove in the Olympiastadion on Wednesday night as Curtis Davies, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor get the chance to transfer their domestic form onto the international stage.

For Agbonlahor and Young their selection is long overdue. Striker Agbonlahor has seven Premier League goals to his name while Young was named in the PFA's Team of the Season for the last campaign and was also the Premier League Player of the Month for September. With Joe Cole injured for the last pair of qualifiers it was stunning that Young could not even merit a place in Capello's squad.

With so many established squad members missing - Ashley and Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey and David Beckham are already out with skipper John Terry doubtful - the game might, for once, force a coach into experimenting. But Capello remains cautious and insists only two of the young players he called up will be tried in Berlin.

Micah Richards also returns despite indifferent club form for Manchester City but the real surprise was the selection of Chelsea youngster Michael Mancienne known so far only to fans of the Championship and England's Under-21 side.

ENGLAND SQUAD
Scott Carson - West Brom
David James - Portsmouth
Wayne Bridge - Chelsea
Curtis Davies - Aston Villa
Glen Johnson - Portsmouth
John Terry - Chelsea
Joleon Lescott - Everton
Michael Mancienne - Chelsea
Micah Richards - Man City
Matthew Upson - West Ham
Gareth Barry - Aston Villa
Michael Carrick - Man Utd
Stewart Downing - Middlesbrough
Frank Lampard - Chelsea
Shaun Wright-Phillips - Man City
Ashley Young - Aston Villa
Gabriel Agbonlahor - Aston Villa
Darren Bent - Tottenham
Peter Crouch - Portsmouth
Jermain Defoe - Portsmouth
Theo Walcott - Arsenal

It's not completely unheard of for young, untried players to be brought into the England squad, most notably Theo Walcott when he hogged a place at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. And Capello has looked at a number of other young players, including Middlesbrough's David Wheater.

Wheater has now been usurped by the 20-year-old Mancienne who has not played a single minute of football for his parent club Chelsea, appearing as an unused substitute on three occasions at the beginning of the season and six times in total.

But Mancienne has won plaudits for his performances on loan in the Championship firstly with Queen Park Rangers and now Wolverhampton Wanderers who sit six points clear at the top of the table. With 63 appearances under his belt in the second tier he joins the full squad with considerably more experience than Walcott who started only 13 matches before being picked by Sven Goran Eriksson.

Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce has long been a fan of Macienne, a calm defender with the ability to play the ball out from the back, and he won eight caps as England qualified for next summer's European Championships. That Pearce has the ear of Capello is surely a crucial factor.

Mancienne would not be the first Chelsea youngster to fail to push forward to become a regular in the Premier League. Scott Sinclair was long lauded as star of the future following loan spells with Plymouth Argyle and QPR but has disappeared into the ether and rarely features.

Israel international Ben Sahar has also become lost at Portsmouth following a successful loan period at Sheffield Wednesday last term. And Jimmy Smith, also now at Hillsborough and coincidentally impressive at QPR previously, looks unlikely to make the breakthrough.

Mancienne and Franco Di Santo are Chelsea's great hopes for the future but it's a long time since any player came through the Chelsea ranks to be an established Premier League name. Mancienne must now prove his meteoric rise into the England squad is not a one-off.

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