Football: We don't need another hero.. what will Mac do with those missing stars? EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland ENGLAND 3 RUSSIA 0 QUALIFYING GROUP E, FROM WEMBLEY.
HERE'S an awkward question for Steve McClaren in the midst of the all the euphoria that rightly accompanied last night's superb victory over Russia.
What do you do with all the heroes, Steve? What do you do with the men who saved your bacon last night and put the pride back into English football?
What do you do with Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey, and Shaun Wright-Phillips and Micah Richards, the stand-ins who brought about this wonderful mood change?
What do you do when Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Owen Hargreaves come knocking on your door, reminding you that they're fit again now, thank-you very much, and they expect their places back?
Do you discard the heroes of Wembley. Do you abandon them and push them back into the shadows? Do you wave the big boys back in through an open door?
McClaren will probably trot out the old line about it being a nice problem to have. And in some ways, of course, it is.
In other ways, though, it's a hell of a call to make. Because the wrong move now risks ruining all the progress England have made.
Because the great escape isn't over yet. The rescue is only halfway through. There's still time to make a right royal mess of it in Moscow next month.
If McClaren drops Barry, Heskey and the rest, what sort of message does that send out to men who have excelled under incredible pressure? A managerial decision like that might puncture the balloon that floated out of Wembley last night filled with hope and renewed self-belief.
Through a mixture of good luck and good judgment, McClaren and Terry Venables appear to have hit upon a formula that has liberated this England team.
Barry played so well last night that he outshone even Steven Gerrard in central midfield. It was the same against Israel on Saturday.
More importantly, England finally appear to have found a player who can complement the Liverpool captain at the heart of the side. They fit well together.
And that brings us to Heskey. Michael Owen has never made any secret of how much he loves playing with Heskey - and how it showed against Russia.
Like Teddy Sheringham with Alan Shearer, Heskey is content to be Owen's foil and his provider. It was his knockdown in the 31st minute last night that set Owen up for the dipping shot which made sure of England's victory.
Heskey has unlocked something in Owen these past few days. He's given him the platform to embarrass all those Premier League managers who didn't hammer down Newcastle's door in the summer.
Sir Alf Ramsey, famously, did not pick the best 11 players in England in 1966. He picked the 11 players that worked best together as a team.
Now McClaren has got the same dilemma. Can he possibly leave out Rooney when England play Estonia here on October 13 and then move on to Moscow four days later?
Can he leave out players of the calibre of Lampard and Hargreaves, players of proven international class. Can he stand firm or will he pick his team on reputation?
It is hard to see how he can leave out Barry, in particular. Equally, it's hard to see how he can ignore a Rooney who is fully fit and raring to go. That's no reflection on Heskey, who must surely have redeemed himself with all those who doubted him after this performance.
It's just that Rooney is a genius who possesses pace and power and cunning and vision and work-rate. If Owen's fit, too, it's hard to see how they can fail to succeed together.
Richards must also keep his place. There's no debate about that. The tricky part for McClaren is where to play him.
Because if Gary Neville's fit, you want him in the team, too, for his experience, his excellence and his organisational ability.
There's one obvious solution: play Neville at right back, move Richards into the centre and drop Rio Ferdinand, who, once again, had his fair share of dodgy moments last night - despite his late goal.
Finally, there's Wright- Phillips, who was very disappointing. His delivery from wide positions was appalling and he is still unproven at international level.
He could be vulnerable, too, if Beckham is fit again a month from now because Beckham proved when he was recalled to the England set-up in the summer how much quality he still has on the right.
McClaren deserves much credit. He deserves even more for the way he has turned this troubled Euro 2008 qualifying campaign around.
He has come through an ordeal by fire, overcome problems with injuries and fading belief that might have consumed lesser managers.
Now he's got to prove he can make the really difficult decisions. He's got choices and he must get them right.
Otherwise, all the efforts of the heroes of Wembley, the superhuman efforts of the understudies and the bit-part players, could yet go to waste.
HESKEY: So strong; OWE-OWE-SEVEN: Owen is licenced to thrill as he shoots past Malafeev after just seven minutes; NOT JUST A STAND-IN: Barry has proved his worth; FUTURE LOOKS WRIGHT: Shaun Wright-Phillips is quick to celebrate with scorer Owen
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Sep 13, 2007|
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