JT - England

What is England’s first choice central defensive partnership?

Posted on September 24, 2012 by Joe Plewes

There are a lot of things that come to mind when John Terry’s name is mentioned, but the two most important things in a footballing sense are that he is a truly excellent defender and a great leader.

His departure from the international scene now leaves a seventy-eight cap sized hole in the centre of England’s defence and he retires as (arguably) the best defender available to the Three Lions, however much he polarises opinion. As a footballer he is extremely difficult to replace, although you get the feeling those in charge of PR at the FA may be feeling rather relieved.

His position may have been made truly untenable in the near future, with the FA disciplinary hearing taking the retirement decision away from the Chelsea man amidst media outcry (471 of 473 FA cases found the defendants guilty last year).

And with that in mind the days of a Terry/ Ferdinand partnership seem like a long time ago! The two dominated the backline for the best part of Terry’s nine year international career. Could a different duo muster a similar long term reign at the centre of England’s defence?

The Runners and Riders

Gary Cahill

The Cahill-Terry-Ashley Cole triumvirate had looked like the best way to go for Roy Hodgson, and almost certainly would have been the backline at Euro 2012 until Dries Martens cynically shoved the former Bolton man out of the tournament.

And Cahill has looked the part at Stamford Bridge despite early hitches in his move to West London. The transfer rumbled on for weeks after a fee had been agreed, and he began his Champions League career in Chelsea’s Naples horror show, where a hapless David Luiz performance made for a true baptism of fire.

His performances against Barcelona’s false nine system and then Bayern’s stellar front line have since proved his worth, and Cahill offers more technical ability and raw speed than some of his rivals. Crucially at 26 he also offers a long term option, too.

Joleon Lescott

Lescott proved an excellent replacement for Cahill at the Euros, and offers balance as a left footed defender who can also deputise at left back. The 30-year-old has established himself at the heart of the Man City defence – the meanest rearguard in the country last season – and it also helps that he has a good understanding with England’s number 1.

Lescott may face competition from new boy Matija Nastasić if he is to continue alongside Vincent Kompany, but he is likely to maintain his position in England’s side in the short term at least.

Phil Jagielka

Jagielka sort of comes in a package with Lescott, for want of a better description. The former Sheffield United defender was only a standby at Euro 2012, but unlike several others he was delighted at his eventual call up and managed to avoid throwing the proverbial toys out of his pram.

Jagielka was rewarded with a cap against Ukraine earlier this month, and is certainly a far safer pair of hands off the field than the likes of Terry, although he perhaps lacks the added quality of Lescott or the technical prowess of Cahill.

Phil Jones

The huge wave of optimism that surrounded Jones’ introduction at United has been tempered somewhat amid injury concerns as well as positional frailties. Whether he is truly the answer at centre-back may be a question that runs over the next decade or so, as both Ferguson and Hodgson will have to make decisions over where best to accommodate his burgeoning talent.

Utilising the Preston-born man at centre back would curtail his devastating surging runs as well as his keen eye for a pass, meaning a defensive midfield role might instead be the way to go.

Steven Caulker

Caulker is undoubtedly one for the future, but he needs to establish himself at Spurs before he can be considered as an England regular. Villas-Boas appears to prefer him to Michael Dawson and at Swansea he showed that he could fit into a side that played good football. With that in mind, he is certainly one to consider sooner rather than later.

Other Options

The departure of John Terry might be the true acid test of whether Hodgson left out Rio Ferdinand on merit in the summer, but it’s difficult to see the England boss making the awkward call and bringing Ferdinand back to the England fold. Questions continue to exist over his long term fitness, at 33 he’s hardly one for the future, and he isn’t exactly good at avoiding controversy himself. His reaction to his non-selection was unedifying at best, and he has spent more time on twitter than on the pitch in recent times.

His teammate Chris Smalling may instead be an option, although his career has so far seen him used at a mix of central defence and right back. The 22-year-old has struggled with a metatarsal problem at the start of this season, but he offers an athletic and physically strong option despite injury concerns.

Another name to throw into the hat might be that of Micah Richards, but he did not make the summer squad and has proved to be rather fallible at centre back – not least during the Olympic tournament. With Maicon now at Eastlands he might have to worry about playing for City before playing for England, although at 24 he still has plenty of time to force his way into the England fold.

The Verdict

Cahill and Lescott look to be the best options over the next few years, although both will have to make sure they are first choice at their respective clubs first! Hodgson preferred Jagielka to the former earlier this month although doubts must remain over the Everton defender’s ability to do it at the very top level.

With a few injuries or a loss of form for any of the three then Smalling and Caulker are waiting in the wings, and those two truly look like the long term option at centre half. Either way, it’s the end of an era with both Terry and Ferdinand out of the picture…

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