There was a time, under Sven Goran Eriksson, when England friendlies were pretty meaningless affairs. He’d pick a dull and predictable team, never experiment or look at fresh options – and then change the complete side at half time so you learned even less.
Now it’s a whole different scene. Fabio Capello’s biggest priority when he took charge nearly two years ago was to instil a more ruthless attitude into the star players he inherited. And that means every match has to count for something.
What will be interesting is how he uses it to look at his options to play against Croatia. The 4-1 win Zagreb last year remains the defining game of his reign so far, the match that lifted spirits, gave confidence in the new regime, and destroyed in one night the myth of Slaven Bilic as a great manager.
The key man that night was Theo Walcott, with his devastating pace on the right that gave England a whole new dimension. The Arsenal youngster is missing this time with yet another niggling injury, but Capello only had to go down the road from The Emirates to find a perfect replacement in Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon.
When he went to the last World Cup, Lennon was billed as the future for England’s right wing, the man to end the David Beckham era. It never worked out that way, not only because Beckham refused to disappear but because Lennon went backwards with the same pace he normally reserves for going forwards.
Bizarrely used as a left-winger by Martin Jol, he lost his way totally once Juande Ramos took over, and it was a clear for a while that Harry Redknapp wasn’t convinced.
But Redknapp has done what he does best, putting Lennon into his best position and encouraging him to play to his strengths. And the tiniest player in the Premier League – he’s just 5ft 5ins – is now walking tall again. For good measure he’s even started scoring goals with two in Tottenham’s last two matches.
“I scored five last season which was my best total, but I am definitely capable of ten so I’ll look to get that this year,” he tells the Daily Express today. “I guess the England coach wants his wingers to score and get assists, so that will only help me.”
Lennon’s skippy runs down the wing could add an extra dimension to the Slovenia game if Capello decides it’s time to look at the 22-year-old. If he’s used only as a substitute later in the game it could open Slovenia up and bring a glut of goals.
Five things you might not know about Aaron Lennon:
1. Adidas made him the youngest player ever to have sponsored boots when they signed him aged 14. Didn’t buy them loyalty – he now wears Nike
2. Elder brother Anthony was also at the Leeds Academy, but never quite made it. He now plays for Halifax
3. When he made his Leeds debut in August 2003 he was the youngest player to appear in the Premier League
4. He’s been seen out with model and actress Brenda Mengot, but both refuse to discuss whether they are dating
5. His grandfather was a county 400metres hurdle champion, and 16-year-old cousin Leigh Lennon has represented England in the Commenwealth Junior Championships as an 800metres runner
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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