EPL biggest suppliers of stars
London, May 22:
England will be the most conspicuous of absentees from the party but that will not prevent the English Premier League from being the biggest suppliers of star quality to Euro 2008.
Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo will make his case to be regarded as the world’s finest player in the colours of Portugal, Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas will be pulling the strings for Spain counting on the predatory instincts of Liverpool’s Fernando Torres to fire them to a long-overdue triumph in a major tournament.
Another Gunner, William Gallas, will be at the heart of France’s defence while the chances of the Czech Republic could hinge on the leadership of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech now that another Arsenal star, midfielder Tomas Rosicky, has been deprived by injury of a chance to captain his country in the June 7-28 tournament.
Germany will be led by Cech’s Chelsea team-mate Michael Ballack, Newcastle’s Emre provides the creative spark for Turkey and Portsmouth midfielder Niko Kranjcar is being tipped as a potential star for Croatia.
And so it goes on, and on. Such is its strength as a magnet for talent, it is quite possible to envisage England’s top flight providing the entire team of the tournament - especially if the form of world champions Italy mirrors the recent withering of the country’s clubs’ influence on the European stage.
That fact, it has been argued, is intimately associated with England’s failure to make it to the finals of a major international tournament for the first time since the 1994 World Cup. The influx of foreign talent into England has undeniably reduced the pool of homegrown top-flight players available to the national team’s head coach.
But it is also possible to argue the English players who do emerge from the finishing school that an increasingly competitive and cosmopolitan environment provides will be better-equipped to thrive on the international stage.
To take one example: it is hard to see Wayne Rooney getting complacent about his prodigious
talent as long as he is striving to keep up with Ronaldo’s exploits at United.
With the likes of Poland and Romania having managed to make it to Austria and Switzerland, it will not only be English football fans who will be scratching their heads in wonder at how Rooney and company managed to miss out.
With hindsight, a qualifying group that included rapidly maturing Croatian and Russian sides was always going to be far more difficult to negotiate than had been initially anticipated.
But a glance down the list of English players on the lists for the Champions League final between United and Chelsea suggests it was a task that, under the leadership of a more accomplished coach than Steve McClaren, England should have been able to complete.
For Rooney and the Chelsea trio of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry, EURO 2008 will make painful. But perhaps the individual who will be most haunted by a feeling that he should have been there will be Rio Ferdinand.
The United centreback’s form this season has made him a credible candidate for Fabio Cannavaro’s mantle as the finest defender in European football.
But having missed out on Euro 2004 as a result of a ban for missing a doping test, Ferdinand now finds himself deprived of another chance to perform on the biggest stage at a time when, at the age of 29, he is performing at a level that he may be struggling to maintain by the time the next major tournament, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, comes around.