by Daisy Cutter
So here it is, after a fierce Twitter debate on the merits of Gerrard over Gazza and who should be given the right-back berth from Armfield, Cohen and Rat-Boy, the Cutter finally presents its greatest England side of all-time.
The notion of putting together such a team has been done to death so the temptation was to err towards controversy and pick a few unusual choices. We’ve resisted that and instead gone the other way – attempting to forge a balanced side rather than simply picking the eleven best ever players. For this reason Matthews is demoted to the bench despite being infinitely superior to Keegan (and in our opinion marginally better than Finney) whilst a cornucopia of gifted midfielders – Haynes being one – miss out to Scholes.
Being England naturally we’ve gone for a standard 4-4-2 and it goes without saying that each player is selected at their peak.
1/ Gordon Banks
Shilton’s idol and mentor and generally considered the second best custodian of the nets the world has ever seen. Only the supreme Lev Yashin pips him. Was capable of making the stupendous appear ordinary with an agility rarely seen outside of a circus tent but it was his positional sense and razor sharp instincts that truly set him apart – Banks knew where the striker was putting it before he did.
2/ Jimmy Armfield
Contrary to popular belief there were in fact two Blackpool Towers. One adorns a million slabs of rock and hosts summer seasons featuring Cannon and Ball; the other appeared 569 times for the Tangerines in a career that spanned 17 years.
Armfield was voted the best right-back in the world following the 1962 World Cup and was cruelly deprived of immortality through injury in ’66. A powerhouse going forward and solid as a stick of the aforementioned rock at the back. Though this isn’t pertinent to his selection he is also possibly the nicest man in football.
3/ Ashley Cole
My heart says Pearce, Wilson, even Trevor bloody Cherry; anyone but the most loathsome individual to have ever laced up a pair of boots in an England dressing room. But however dislikeable the man is there is no question that Cole has been a leading practitioner of the full-back role in the modern age. In fact, after Maldini’s retirement he is arguably up there with only Lahm as the best around in recent years. Was routinely England’s most impressive performer in otherwise disappointing major tournaments.
4/ Paul Scholes
For a small nation we’ve been truly spoilt with an abundance of majestic midfield talent and it’s noticeable that our first genuine superstar of the centre-circle Johnny Haynes is absent here. However, when it comes to the ‘holding role’ England have a shortage of world class fare. Essentially there was Nobby Stiles and that’s about it. As tigerish as Stiles undoubtedly was – capable of man-marking any legend into anonymity – we’re looking for a bit more style at our team’s heart so have plumped for the deep-lying latter-day Scholes.
5/ Billy Wright
The first man to reach a 100 caps he was England’s elegant leader throughout the 1950s and one of the game’s finest ever ambassadors. Consequently it is scandalous that William Ambrose Wright has not been awarded a posthumous knighthood. Captained his country on 90 occasions and his career stats would be all the more remarkable had he not taken seven seasons out to serve as a sergeant in the army through WWII and beyond.
6/ Bobby Moore
The human incarnation of what this country once was and aspires to be again. Possessing the cool chic style of a Fellini protagonist, the classy libero calm of a Latin giant, yet as English as a Spitfire pilot eating a ploughman’s lunch on the Buck House balcony. As a staunch anti-royalist I’m tempted to say here is my royalty; this was my king. But Bobby would disapprove. So I won’t.
7/ Paul Gascoigne
Moved to the right flank to accommodate an other-worldly talent forever undone by the flawed man in possession of it. Gazza was our Cruyff, a genius who time and again reduced the cynical to awestruck adolescence. His demons may have finally defeated him in retirement but during his playing days they were balanced precariously with a natural flair this country has never before or since come close to producing.
8/ Bobby Charlton
All Roy of the Rovers thunderbolts and athleticism Charlton was the creative piston that won England the World Cup with a Werther’s Original tucked into his sock (probably). Arguably the only Englishman who can look Pele and Beckenbauer dead in the eyes and not blink in deference, he never needed to rely on showboating trickery to beat a man, instead entrusting a pragmatic footballing brain like no other.
I once met a guy who swore blind that Willie Morgan was a superior talent to Wor Bobby. I backed slowly out of the room as if talking to a man stroking a puppet made from bombs.
9/ Kevin Keegan
Two European Player of the Year awards yet admittedly a slightly contentious choice here pushing out front line luminaries such as Lofthouse, Lawton, and Mortensen not to mention modern-day goal-machines in Lineker, Owen and Shearer. But as previously stated we’re seeking a perfectly balanced side and Keegan partnered with Greaves is a partnership made in harmonic heaven. SuperKev was a ferocious bundle of qualities all wrapped up in one permed package and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that had he not been injured in ’82 England may have gone on to win their second World Cup.
10/ Jimmy Greaves
Quite simply the most natural finisher we’ve ever had, for the ex-Spurs, Chelsea and Milan marksman nothing else mattered save for banging them away at a phenomenal rate. 44 in 57 for England. 366 in 528 at club level at a time when defenders had free reign to chop you down at the merest sight of goal. It should have been Greaves terrorising the Germans in ’66 and one thing is for sure – there would have been no ambiguity over the second strike as it smacked into the far corner of the net.
11/ Tom Finney
Why eulogize about the Preston Plumber when others have already done so far better?
“If all the brains in the game sat in committee to design the perfect player, they would come up with a reincarnation of Tom Finney.” Anonymous.
“Aye, he’s as good as Tommy – but then Tommy’s nearly 60 now.” Bill Shankley when asked if a top player of his day compared.
“To dictate the pace and course of a game, a player has to be blessed with awesome qualities. Those who have accomplished it on a regular basis can be counted on the fingers of one hand – Pele, Di Stefano, Maradona, Best and Tom Finney”. Sir Stanley Matthews
If this was an entirely personal list then Frank Swift would have been favoured – my granddad’s hero and a sublime talent. There is just something that is indefinably unappealing about Shilton. Perhaps it’s his self-serving insistence on throwing his bloated carcass around Leyton Orient’s goalmouth to reach 1000 appearances? Whatever the reason the undeniable truth is this – for well over a decade the ex-Leicester and Forest man came damn close to being the perfect number one.
There is an argument to be made that the Derby centre-back is the most under-valued player in English history. Yep, I’ve just written that. Were it not for injury limiting his England appearances to a meagre 28 I would not have had to.
A marauding one-man army in club colours but all-too-often a disappointment on international duty. There is no disputing however that in Gerrard we’ve come closest to merging our traditional values – the lung-busting whole-hearted commitment – with the touch, technique and class we hope to one day be associated with.
This is as good an opportunity as any to quote my favourite ever football line. On being asked by an interviewer to recreate his famous body-swerve the Wizard of the Dribble politely replied, “Sir, I cannot do it in cold blood”.
Should this team need rescuing with a late salvation who better to bring on than the perma-tanned poacher who bagged one shy of half a century for his country. Lineker had little time for selfless endeavour or team spirit – for him it was all about personal glory and living and dying by the striker’s code – and thank goodness for that. He remains the only Englishman to win the Golden Boot at a World Cup and got us out of the kharzi on countless occasions.
Disagree with our choices? Tell us on Twitter @TheDaisyCutter1