Andros Townsend and Leighton Baines have made strong cases for selection, says Sir Trevor Brooking
Sir Trevor Brooking says he does not envy Roy Hodgson as the England manager assesses his options ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
The FA director of football development believes England’s recent victories over Montenegro and Poland allowed a series of players to stake their claims for places in Three Lions first XI - with the cases for Leighton Baines and Andros Townsend among the most compelling.
Talking on BBC 5 Live’s Sportsweek, Brooking said: “We fielded an attacking line-up which over the two games provided us with lots of chances but also caused one or two nervous moments at the other end.
“But I think the best thing, having got the six points, has been everyone’s reaction: the fans enjoyed watching the games. There was quite a buoyant atmosphere afterwards with everyone looking positively – hopefully – towards next summer.”
Brooking was impressed with Baines’s performances at left-back, and admitted that the Everton star is a serious rival to Ashley Cole, who missed the last two internationals through injury.
“I feel a lot happier than Roy because he has to make the decision and choose between the two. Leighton will have put a lot of pressure on Ashley, and Kieran Gibbs trained with the squad last week and looked really good.
“There are a lot of good options at the moment. At right full-back I think Kyle Walker has done well recently but then you’ve got Glen Johnson to come back in so wherever you look now there are starting to be real choices that Roy is going to have to make.”
“Between now and the summer you always have some decisions made for you but if everyone is available for the squad of 23 there will probably be some surprise omissions because we are getting into that position where the depth is growing.”
Brooking also added his voice to the many enthused by Townsend’s first two performances in an England shirt.
The winger scored a debut goal against Montenegro and was equally impressive in the 2-0 victory over Poland last Tuesday.
“He has got one foot on that plane,” Brooking said of Townsend’s hopes of securing a World Cup berth. “He was fearless – he’s one of those who loves running at defenders and taking them on.
“Although he plays on the right and quite often comes in off the wing on to his left foot, the key thing for him against Montenegro is he crossed the ball for the first goal and he hit a great cross in for the second with his right. As a defender you can’t show him outside because he can go either way.
“He must now feel confident, after doing it in two games in a big atmosphere, and there is nothing to stop him doing it again. He’ll have his quiet games when it doesn’t come off but he’ll feel confident and more than anything that’s the big plus going forward.”
With Theo Walcott hoping to return to the England fold as he recovers from an abdominal injury, Brooking has not ruled out the prospect of Hodgson selecting the Arsenal flier on the opposite wing to Townsend.
Brooking said: “Theo can come back into the team but you’ll remember when Danny Welbeck tracked back a few times during a sticky spell against Poland and won the ball – so you probably do have to track back otherwise you encounter trouble against better teams.
“What was good about the four attacking players selected was that with Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney dropping back, and Daniel Sturridge and Andros Townsend, when we lost the ball they worked really hard at pressing and winning it back.”
He added: “Against one or two of the other sides you will have to make the decision in midfield. Can you get away with two – in a 4-2-3-1 formation like some countries play – or do you play with three and two wide players with Wayne or Daniel Sturridge in attack? Obviously Daniel Sturridge and Wayne can play in different positions and you have to make sure your midfielders don’t get overrun.”
Brooking did, however, express the need to develop experienced cover at centre-back, in case injury befalls either Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka.
“One player that will be needed is Phil Jones. He has shown that he can play at right-back and in central midfield but also at central defender, where he and Chris Smalling were outstanding at Under-21 a few years ago.
“In case Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka suffered injuries then you would want to have given Jones and Smalling some time in the forthcoming friendlies against Chile and Germany.”
Brooking has, however, urged fans not to get carried away at England’s World Cup hopes.
“I think we just have to keep our heads down. Expectations have gone up a bit but you have to remind yourself that no European team has ever won in South America so it will be hard for the likes of Spain and Germany let alone ourselves.
“But let’s have a good tournament – a positive tournament. Once you get a bit of momentum who knows? But the most important thing is to take a lot of positives out of the tournament.”