Some would argue that in Fabio Cappello England have their best manager ever entering a major tournament. They may be right, but the country famously underestimates everybody, and if England don't win 4-0 every time out and look good doing it, the second guessing starts and the doubt creeps in.
But that is enough armchair psychology, let's look at the squad. I will start with the attack, then handle the defense in Part 2. In England's attack, one name stands far above all others, that of Wayne Rooney. If Rooney is fit and on form, England could go a long way in this tournament. The big question on the lips of the Limeys is, "Who, if anyone, should partner Rooney?" Peter Crouch? Emile Heskey? Jermain Defoe? Or should England play a 4-5-1, with Steven Gerrard and/or Frank Lampard pushing up behind Rooney?
My choice would be a 4-5-1 with Gerrard pushed up almost next to Rooney. Why? Steven Gerrard is a formation killer. He has no discipline, and cannot be counted on to fulfill any defensive responsibilities. He has to play, as does Lampard. Even Cappello would not drop one of them. But when Gerrard gets pushed out to the wing, left or right, he still wanders all over the field. This leaves one of England's attack-minded fullbacks (Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole) exposed, and neither of them has the defensive acumen to succeed in that position.
What will be interesting is finding out who plays on the wings for England. Joe Cole was a big part of the last World Cup on the left wing, but he is unlikely to make the squad this time around. Gerrard may be pushed out to the left, but as I stated earlier, that creates other problems. Aaron Lennon, Theo Wolcott, and James Milner are all right-footed, but capable of playing on the left.
The real wild card here is the left-footed youngster from Manchester City, Adam Johnson. He is quick, has very good technique, loves to cut inside and shoot when playing on the right, and is very aggressive when he is on the pitch. There is no guarantee he will even make the final twenty-three man squad, but if he does, he could have a big part to play in South Africa.
That leaves the right wing, wide open for the first time in 15 years after David Beckham suffered a long-term injury while playing for AC Milan. Beckham has always had his detractors, critics eager to show their daggers when given even the slightest chance. I don't belong to this group. I think Beckham has been an outstanding servant for club and country, and he will be sorely missed at this World Cup. But someone must fill his position. The early favorite seems to be Aaron Lennon. I will be honest, I don't rate him very highly. I think both Wolcott and Milner are better players. Out of all the candidates on the wing, Milner is the most versatile and has the most complete game. It will be surprising if he doesn't have a big role to play throughout the tournament.