Monday, 14 June 2010

The Ultimate England Saints XI

The World Cup is here at last, and what better way to while away the time between matches than by engaging in pointless speculation as to which former Saints players would make the current England XI (more than previously thought given the result on Saturday).

To that end, I have compiled what I consider to be the ultimate England Saints XI. The only condition for selection was that the players won their England caps while playing for Saints – and 27 players qualified under that criterion (hat-tip to Nick Illingsworth’s Saints Preserved for help with research). But there was only room for eleven, and while some players were instant choices, it was hard to fit others into a workable system – particularly up front, where the wealth of exciting attacking players Saints have been blessed with over the years gives the side a hugely offensive flavour.

Having said that, the centre-half pairing of Mark Wright and Dave Watson in front of Peter Shilton means the side has a solid core, with Steve Williams holding in midfield. Heaven knows he will have his work cut out with Le Tiss, Keegan and Paine alongside him.

The Ultimate England Saints XI

GK: Peter Shilton (49 caps won while at Saints)

The most-capped England player only had Tim Flowers for competition in goal. ‘Shilts’ is currently flogging a truly dreadful World Cup single – welcome to your future, David James (Robert Green will struggle to sell anything after Saturday).

RB: CB Fry (1 cap)

Something of a sporting and political legend around the turn of the century, Fry won his only England cap in 1901, although he also represented the country at cricket. Later rose to notoriety for different reasons through his friendship with Adolf Hitler.

CB: Mark Wright (16 caps)

Rock-solid central defender won his caps between 1984 and ‘87, and is one of eight players to have played for Saints and captained England.

CB: Dave Watson (18 caps)

Completing a strong-looking centre-half pairing, Watson also captained England.

LB: Wayne Bridge (12 caps)

An automatic choice at left back, ‘Bridgey’ appeared in the 2002 World Cup match against Argentina while at Saints, before his career was prematurely ended by the actions of his philanderer captain.

RM: Terry Paine (19 caps)

Saints legend Paine played an important role in England’s successful 1966 campaign, though the narrow ‘wingless wonders’ formation used in the final meant Alan Ball and Martin Peters were preferred against Germany. I envisage Paine hugging the touchline, providing service for the front two.

CM: Steve Williams (6 caps)

Lining up alongside three flair players, the onus will be on Williams, a Saints legend during the eighties, to sit and hold in midfield while they go wondering.

LM: Kevin Keegan (9 caps)

Keegan was the hardest player to fit into this side, but his was a necessary inclusion after joining Saints at such a high-level moment in his career. Mostly due to the greater demands on places from other players I have stuck him on the left, albeit in a roaming role ala Steven Gerrard. He would be given free rein to cut in and create, opening up the overlap for Bridgey.

AM: Matt Le Tissier (8 caps)

I am one England manager who will not overlook the brilliance of Le Tiss. As Alan Ball did at Saints in 1995-96, I would build my England side around ‘Le God,’ sticking him in the hole and ordering others to pass it to him.

ST: Mick Channon (45 caps)

Making up the trilogy of all-time Saints heroes in this England side (alongside Paine and Le Tiss), the first user of the iconic ‘Windmill’ celebration would occupy an orthodox target-man role, feeding off Paine’s service.

ST: Alan Shearer (3 caps)

As an England legend, Shearer has to go in (although his skills as a pundit leave a lot to be desired). The ‘best finisher I have ever seen’ according to my flatmate.

As for the manager, who else but Sir Alf Ramsey, who was capped for England while playing for Saints in 1948? And for those of you disheartened by England’s performance on Saturday, just remember this: England drew the first game of their successful campaign under Ramsey in 1966. It's not over just yet...

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