The search for England's spearhead


Last updated at 21:05 27 March 2008

Sound the alarm. Send out a search party. Scour the country. The mission is

simple: where are the English centre forwards?

England manager Fabio Capello has the dilemma of Wayne Rooney having to grow into a position that does not bring out the best in him, or rip up the international coaching manual and concede that England have to play 4-4-2 while the rest of the world has changed.

Enlarge   england strikers

Striking impact: Keegan, Shearer, Ferdinand and Lineker provided the impact up front Capello is desperately searching for

Now that most teams are playing with one striker, it is the sought-after position for any coach. 'Find me my leader of the line,' every

scout is being told.

Where is the English Emmanuel Adebayor? The modern game demands that this player must be strong, fast, powerful, can play with his back to goal or run the other way on to balls being played over the top, bring others into play, will score and make goals, work both centre backs and run into the channels.

He will be clever and brave, mobile and able to deal with close marking. Another Didier Drogba, in other words.

It's the hardest position on the pitch — lonely, sometimes soul-destroying; needing hard work, stamina, understanding and, crucially, close support from team-mates.

Take Rooney as the example. Capello believes he can play as England's No 9. He can because he's such a good player but at Manchester United he has Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez coming through to join him. They are close to him, feed off him and support him. Where were the England players doing that in Paris?

Where United have Ronaldo coming from the right (or left), England had David Beckham hitting angled balls to the front. Beckham did OK on his 100th appearance but there was no attacking pace to share the load with Rooney who consequently grew frustrated and there were a few awkward moments when he went into unnecessary tackles.

The English alternatives to Rooney are limited if the coach persists with playing one-up. English strikers have traditionally hunted in pairs.

You could see Rooney playing with Michael Owen, or Owen and Peter Crouch, or Rooney and Crouch. Then there's Jermain Defoe at Portsmouth, who has scored six goals in six games for his club but he too needs a partner and 4-4-2 is almost extinct in the modern game.

Each English striker has a different quality but only Rooney can play as the spearhead, even if that does not suit his game.

Rooney could be England's Franck Ribery, the bright little Frenchman who was the best player on Wednesday night with his clever movement, passing and freedom to run at

England from any area.

Rooney's strength is in being the link man, between defence and attack, where he can create magic and mayhem, score his goals and make chances.

Instead, he was the lone ranger with the thankless tasks of running the line, where he is more easily picked off by centre backs. He can't drift out wide, collect the ball and then find an opening. He has to wait for the opening to be made for him.

In the top five clubs, the only English striker starting regularly is Rooney. Of the strikers playing regularly in the Champions League, the only Englishman is Rooney. You can see why Capello is determined to persevere.

Most clubs prefer 4-5-1. To some, it is a formation born out of fear, but it works because it floods the key midfield area and still retains two wide players to block the opposition full backs from advancing. What Capello needs is a 22-year-old Les Ferdinand. I played with and against Les and he could tear you to pieces. He was frightening.

Casting my eye over the strikers available — and I still think Owen will do a job for Capello in a pair, whatever anyone else says — you end up drifting towards Emile

Heskey of Wigan and West Ham's Dean Ashton.

Heskey has had a difficult season with injury, after being recalled against Russia. The argument against my former Liverpool team-mate is that he isn't getting enough football against top-class defenders and he too is more effective with a partner, such as Owen.

Ashton has a great incentive to overcome his injuries and his dip in form. He was in the England squad at the start of last season before breaking an ankle, and currently seems a long way short of his best form despite scoring in the last two Barclays Premier League games.

So with the manager believing he can make it work, both Rooney and Steven Gerrard will continue to be played out of their best positions.

It's true that Gerrard can play almost anywhere and he is a willing lad who will do so without complaint. Maybe that's his problem. At Liverpool, when he first came into the team he played at right back . . . and he was the best player.

It was the same when he moved into the defensive midfield role, as it was when he was the attacking midfielder and again when he was on the right. Now he is playing in front of two holding midfielders for his club and he has enjoyed a good run of form there, albeit against weaker opposition and at Anfield.

At Old Trafford last weekend he didn't have his best game and he didn't look to enjoy the experiment in Paris. He is being wasted there, and is too good to be wasted. England need to get the best out of the players they have.


Geoff Hurst

49 caps (1966-72) 24 goals

The only man ever to score a

hat-trick in a World Cup Final, this

tall, elegant striker was deadly in

the penalty box and was a key

component of the most successful

England team under Sir Alf Ramsey.

Kevin Keegan

63 caps (1972-82) 21 goals

The ultimate 'fox in the box', this

two-time European Footballer of

the Year was a tireless worker and

the perfect foil to any towering

striker. A nightmare for defenders

the world over.

Gary Lineker

80 caps (1984-92) 48 goals

The arch poacher, no defence

could relax when he was around.

Top scorer at the World Cup in

1986, his England parternship with

the inventive Peter Beardsley

became the stuff of legend.

Alan Shearer

63 caps (1992-2000) 30 goals

Feared the world over for his

power and bravery, his style

would have made him perfect for

today's game — even though he

was at his most lethal when in

tandem with Teddy Sheringham.

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