The Wrongs of Roy’s England Squad

The Wrongs of Roy’s England Squad

Roy Hodgson was never going to please all the people with his England selection heading into this summer’s Euros. The first to be displeased would have been the omitted fringe players, followed by fans who have their own varying opinions. Before dissecting his choices, it should be noted that the England manager has an embarrassment of riches in certain areas and scant choice in others.

The area where England has plenty of choice is in attacking roles. The most notable inclusion is Marcus Rashford. After suffering injury in the FA Cup final, the debate may have been shelved, Roy’s final choice unknown forever. That aside, his selection does need examination.

There is no doubt Rashford looks like the real deal and has more to his game than just explosive pace and an eye for goal. Whether by fluke or invention, Louis Van Gaal has unearthed a gem. The question has to be if 18 appearances for United warrants a place in the final squad that heads to France.

The national team has a history of young stars bursting onto the scene at major tournaments, the best example of such an impact is perhaps Michael Owen at France ’98. Could France in 2016 be Rashford’s time. It’s this sort of thinking that has made Roy choose him over experienced poacher Jermain Defoe.

The accusation of favouring big clubs has inevitably reared its head again. Defoe bagged 15 goals feeding off scraps but his two-and-a-half-year absence from the England scene means Roy doesn’t see him as a potential shoe-in now. Andy Carroll would have been another that could have offered something different but like Defoe, was never in the running.

There has been a suggestion Rashford’s selection is about acclimatising to the England set-up but he won’t make the final cut. Managers have done this before. Bobby Robson took players in his Italia ’90 provisional squad that weren’t in the running to be selected but he wanted to help blend-in the next generation of players.

If this is Roy’s thinking, then why waste a space on a player that couldn’t even make the first friendly? He could have let Defoe prove his worth.

The midfield debate has largely centred on who missed out. Theo Walcott will spend the summer reviewing his career choices. He needed to nail down a place in this season’s Arsenal side. He didn’t. After declaring his intention at the start of the season to be a centre forward, Walcott failed to convince Arsene Wenger he could be entrusted with the role.

That failure led to him floating in and out of the side. The Gunners had a disappointing campaign overall. Finishing runners-up masks a missed opportunity to challenge and take the Premier League title. If Walcott can’t become a mainstay in an Arsenal side requiring extra spark, he can’t expect to head to France.

Some have argued Jack Wilshere shouldn’t be there based on lack of game time. Roy hasn’t helped himself with the excuses he used for dropping Walcott (a lack of starts) when Wilshere has been absent so long with injury. Hodgson is effectively allowing club managers to dictate who is a good player, rather than compare those in his squad based on his own experiences with them. But Wilshere’s lay-off could be a blessing; it’s not often a player goes into a tournament fresh.

Wilshere has been on the radar because many believe, including here at The Reflective, that Mark Noble should have been included. If Roy was worried too many new faces in midfield roles (Drinkwater, for example) would upset his squad harmony, he should have used one of the extra three places to test the theory with Noble.

Wilshere shouldn’t be the man people look to axe for Noble, the midfield is full of charlatans waiting to be found out. Picking Andros Townsend should be applauded, but by the same measure, placing him in the squad should have been the axe for Raheem Sterling.

If Walcott was dropped for lack of games, how can a player that has only started once for Manchester City in their last 11 games is baffling. During that period, if not before, his form and confidence faded. There has never been a better example of a player needing the summer off to reset their batteries.

The attention on Sterling allows Barkley to slip without inspection after indifferent form, Fabien Delph to snake in, and Jordan Henderson to take his place alongside the industrious, if not always effective, James Milner.

When you closely examine several players, Mark Noble has every right to feel annoyed he missed out.

Defence is an area where Roy did have his work cut out. But that doesn’t mean we’ll go easy on him. Only taking three centre backs is understandable considering the riches elsewhere, and if injuries or suspensions played a part, Eric Dier could slot in as a makeshift replacement. It’s his choice in the trio that should have people worried.

Question marks will hang over Smalling and Cahill’s ability at the top level, this being the case the best course of action is to include an experienced – if underwhelming – alternative. That player exists at Everton but Hodgson opted for the understudy instead.

John Stones appears to be there thanks to the early season hype, his recent performances cannot be the reason he makes the squad over Phil Jagielka.

Like all elephants in the room, he has been left until last: Wayne Rooney. For experience and influence, he has to be on the plane. That was never in doubt. The problem is, as pointed out by Alan Shearer and voiced around the country for months, he isn’t England’s first choice striker anymore. He isn’t even second or third in line. His performances in deeper roles haven’t convinced he should start there either.

So Roy is left with two awkward choices: start a player based on his assumed psychological benefit to those around him, or have a disgruntled captain taking a seat on the bench.

We all know Hodgson will go with the former and play Rooney from the start. Whether this resides England to their usual fate or if the captain has one last moment of magic he’s been saving, only time will tell.


First Action Hero

First Action Hero

To say the movie market is over saturated with superhero films is an understatement. When they attempt to add depth, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, they face a backlash from critics and fans for not following the simple Marvel formula. If too many stick to the tried and tested, people become bored. Deadpool can’t be placed into either pigeon hole. So what is it?

The common line is it’s the R rated violent superhero comedy, that isn’t really a superhero film. All that is true. From the opening credits it’s clear the movie is very self-aware and the jokes are going to be aimed at everyone, including themselves. Having no fears about where the gags fly proves to be very liberating for the makers.

As in the comics, Deadpool breaks the fourth wall. The level as to which he does it here is surprising. When being dragged to the X-Men mansion he asks: “Stewart or McAvoy? I can never keep track of these alternate timelines.” Gags and nods come thick and fast, many leaving Easter eggs for those with knowledge of the character’s history. Others are just for pure laughs, like poking fun at Ryan Reynold’s turn as Green Lantern.

If that was his failed attempt at a superhero franchise, playing Deadpool has been his redemption. Admittedly, he’s had to take it to an adult level. This tone is set very early on. The plot moves along with the present day Deadpool flipping back to his past. There, he was in love with Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa, a prostitute he meets in his local bar.

These early exchanges between Reynold’s as Wade Wilson and Baccarin teeter on a level of cringe that would lead most movies to fail. Thankfully it lasts for ten minutes before their relationship is advanced and the more natural humour once again litters the scenes.

Having the origin story as a series of flashbacks prevents the script from stalling. It allows the laughs to flow while the heart of the characters slowly takes shape. Wade is diagnosed with cancer and then offered a cure from a man dressed as Agent Smith from The Matrix. What appears like a legitimate superhero programme turns out to be the world’s number one torture destination.

Their method is to inject a serum that stimulates latent mutant genes while exposing the subjects to high degrees of pain. The theory being stress will make the mutant strands activate to protect the host. It’s a case of death or super-powers, whichever comes first.

It’s no spoiler to say Wade Wilson survives, otherwise we’d have no film. He’s left with regeneration powers similar to Wolverine, with the ability to regrow body parts. The bad news is he is scarred to the point he doesn’t think Vanessa would take him back.

What follows is a revenge plot. He wants to find the man that caused the pain and visual damage. What stands in his way is the X-Men. Well, actually just two. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Their interference allows the British bad guy, named Ajax, a chance to realise who is after him and then capture Deadpool’s woman.

It’s all pretty simple but that plays to the film’s strengths. It’s not trying to be a philosophical superhero film and its adult themes means it doesn’t have to pander to the younger Marvel audience. The action sequences benefit from the removal of violent restrictions. And it becomes clear what type of film it really is.

It’s not a grown-up superhero flick. It’s a modern action film.

In the eighties, before the modern craze of super-powers and capes cluttered the box office, action men were kings. Like the westerns before, the niche market found a way to rule. Like the current superhero phase, over saturation became the norm.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis are just some of the big names from an era that stretched into the next decade of film making. After that, more actors took on roles in simple action movies, with varying degrees of success.

Once you realise that Deadpool isn’t a true superhero flick, the category it best falls into is action. The jokes are reminiscent of the cheesy humour people like Schwarzenegger would use. Except the humour here is noteworthy and the action sequences have caught up with the times. Long after superhero films have been shelved again, it’s easy to imagine Deadpool still fighting his way through enemies and cracking off edgy jokes.

The weakest part of the movie is how the X-Men have been shoehorned in. Obviously Wade Wilson is part of that universe, a failure to mention this would have been unthinkable. But Fox, the rights holder to these particular Marvel characters, would have been better advised to make this a standalone affair.

Their desperation to have something akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a painful imitation. Deadpool should be allowed to find his place in the movie landscape, freed from the shackles he spends nearly two hours making jokes about.

Yes, he has mutant powers, but we can accept that and move on. Allow him to face foes in standardised action flicks. Leave superheroes, like the X-Men, to deal with their own impending apocalypse.

Greatest Achievement in League Football

Greatest Achievement in League Football

Leicester City winning the English Premier League completes a dream season for a club that battled to survival only twelve months previous. This unexpected success still belies belief, for months so-called experts have struggled to give reason for their insurmountable lead. A common denominator is that other teams have failed. This denies The Foxes the full credit they deserve.

The obvious comparison people have gone for is between the current Leicester side and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Clough’s side gained promotion from the old First Division and went on to win the title as the new boys. Throughout that season they had many doubters. It was deemed unlikely they could maintain the pace and stay at the top.

Sound familiar?

Of course, Forest went onto greater success but this initial title win has been the watermark for all underdogs in English football. Until now. Football was a different game back then. The gap between the haves and the have nots has never been greater than it currently stands. Massive clubs like Liverpool – who are the third highest spenders in Premier League history – have still yet to win their first Premier League title.

Clubs of Leicester’s stature are supposed to be happy with Premier League survival – nothing more. But they haven’t read the script this season, even after a bad start at Arsenal. It’s imperfect beginnings that laid the way for this journey.

Unlike Forest in 1978, who came up in good form and were full of confidence, they should have been riddled with doubts. A great escape didn’t mask their deficiencies. Sacking their manager, Nigel Pearson, after a series of explosive moments could have upset a fragile dressing room. Then they brought in The Tinker Man.

Claudio Ranieri, a man that had never won a top flight championship, was hired to ensure they reached 40 points. Many pundits claimed his arrival would send Leicester down, whenever anyone questioned this they were reminded his Greece side lost to San Marino.

As a polar opposite to Brian Clough, he remained a man happy to be in the shadows. Humble rather than full of Clough’s bravado. He was living the dream along with his fans. His humility sowed the squad together. He protected them from pressure, maintained expectation.

It was a case of all the pieces coming together at the right time. A manager with years of experience, a bunch of players with a point to prove, and the bigger boys struggling for one reason or another. That latter point shouldn’t be used against The Foxes. If teams failed to meet their personal targets for the season it doesn’t take away from Leicester’s success.

The league table never, ever, lies. Only three defeats speak volumes in a season where so many teams have struggled for form and stability. Some of the big guns may have been shy, but somebody had to take the chance. It was Leicester that came out head and shoulders above the rest.

A man that once tinkered stuck with familiar players. Unlike so many current managers, that claim to have an “ideology” or “project” as a cover for stubbornly sticking to rigid tactics, Ranieri evolved along with his players. They started the season almost playing like a Sunday league side, fast on the counter, looking like grinding out results was above them and it was only a matter of time before they became unstuck. Rather than become stale, they morphed into a side capable of chalking up one-nils.

It proves that cash doesn’t guarantee victory. The football goliaths should hang their heads in shame. Extensive scouting networks and the best facilities in the land have continued to show snobbery and fail to give talent within the lower leagues a chance. How many more Jamie Vardys are hidden, waiting for someone to take a gamble?

Naysayers have pointed to Leicester’s summer transfer spend but it is small fry compared to the likes of clubs expected to finish in the top four. With the new TV money coming into the game next season they now have the ability to spend. The sad fact is they will probably have to with the extra European games filling up their schedule.

Even if they do now splash the cash, it will be brought about because of success, not the pursuit of it.

The fear with Financial Fair Play was that football would be plunged into a status quo. That the dreams of fans up and down the land, clubs big and small, would be extinguished unless a rich benefactor spent billions. Leicester may have the new rich owner but it is good old-fashioned on the pitch ethics that have brought about the fairy-tale title.

The gap between the top and bottom has never been so high, the scope for daring to dream the impossible so low, but Leicester have changed this. Winning the Premier League is an achievement unlikely to ever be matched. Unless they go onto further success in Europe next season. But that can’t happen . . . can it?

It’d be a brave person that placed any restriction on hope following this triumph.