In a time where everything so quickly turned from good to bad, and bad to worse, Premier League football was taken from the hands of the people like sweets from a child. So, with weeks no longer spent tinkering our fantasy teams, constructing our accumulators that (even if this time you promise it’s coming through) inevitably will fall at the last, and weekends spent religiously in front of the TV, hoping for a win that will keep you cheerful until the next time Martin Tyler declares “AND IT’S LIVE”.
But, we cannot forget, of course, it remains a game: it really is our rather large, enthralling and ever-changing chocolate that never became too sweet. So, in this XI, I hope to take you back to times and memories of moments that weren’t so good and remind you why football, albeit very rarely, should not be missed.
GK David James
The England goalkeeper was a mainstay in the team that contained the ‘golden generation’ of the 2000s. It is easy to become nostalgic of what-might-have-been when the mind rolls back to a midfield of Gerrard, Scholes and Lampard, a defence that really should never have conceded, and an explosive, barrelling young scouser who was described as the brightest talent since Pélé.
And yet, with no international medals to show, one naturally turns to the one part of the team that was less golden, more murky brown. Perhaps unfair on a man who, until recently, had accumulated the most premier league clean sheets of all time, it still seems no surprise that the triad of great ‘keepers of this generation (Buffon, Casillas, Neuer) all went on to life the World Cup for their respective countries. However, with Jordan Pickford floundering, Henderson unproven, and others past their best, maybe the David James-Paul Robinson dilemma wasn’t so bad after all.
RB Glen Johnson
The man regrettably billed as the next Dani Alves, in turned out, was anything but. Despite a long career, time spent at both Chelsea and Liverpool, and 54 England caps, it was never a joy to watch Glen. His international career took place alongside the decline of the aforementioned golden generation, and he was, without doubt, one of many reasons why the International Break suddenly became a time of desperation for all England fans.
Paling in comparison to the current array of options for England at right back, it might be because of this that he springs to mind, with possibly memories seeming worse as a result. Overall, being a scorer of the some of best goals English football has seen, he is certainly unlucky to make the team.
CB Richard Dunne
Sent off 8 times, even more than ever-angry, would-punch-his-own-son former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, and with a net Premier League goal tally of 0 (10 for, 10 against) Richard Dunne, for the fans of the other 19 teams in the league, was a marvel.
But for those who supported Queens Park Rangers, Dunne was a constant source of anguish. Breaking the record for the most own-goals against Liverpool earns him a spot, since there is nothing worse than gifting a goal to the opposition, especially when it comes from a member of your own team.
CB Ryan Shawcross
As the captain of the team who, arguably, played the least attractive football of recent times, Shawcross must both play and lead the side. As more and more fans become advocates of the high-pressing, possession football increasingly seen in England, Pulis, Shawcross and co. were a throwback to old times.
Despite his leg-breaking tackle on Aaron Ramsey, an England appearance that saw the team humiliated by Ibrahimovic in one of the great one man shows in football history, what we remember most of the original slab-head are his slapping headers that remain meat and drink to this iconic Potter.
LB Jose Enrique
When full backs today more and more play as flying wingers or auxiliary central midfielders, it seems strange to hark back to a time when fans would laud their managers for deploying uninspiring, resilient banks of four that were set on doing anything other than maintain shape.
Therefore, there is not much to be said about Jose Enrique. As is commonly said in football ‘he does a job’ but with football more expansive than ever, doing a job just wont cut it now, no matter how effective that job may be.
CM Karl Henry
Rather like Richard Dunne, it seems like Q.P.R. fans will feel as if their club never saw the best of Karl Henry. Similarly resilient, while rarely exciting, he was accused once by Joey Barton, who was no beacon of tranquillity, of trying to hurt people.
Despite calls that the game has gone too soft, if offered the choice between Kevin De Bruyne and Karl Henry, it is likely very few fans would choose the latter, even if we do secretly miss him ambling around, passing from full back to full back, waiting until he gets another go at snapping into his opposite man again.
CM Mohamed Elneny
In terms of sideways passes, not even Karl Henry came close to this Egyptian midfielder. It was as if Arsène Wenger had spent his pre-match talk instructing that, in no uncertain terms, was Mohamed Elneny to pass the forward at all during the game, and he dutifully obliged.
Worse yet, was the fact that despite every man and his dog calling for Arsenal to sign a different type of player, as repetitive as that demand had become, Wenger still returned to his prototype player that had started with Fabregas and never shifted. Fans are still dreaming that maybe Arteta will buck the trend that seemed exacerbated under Emery.
CM Marouane Fellaini
“Send it up to the big man” is to any expressive, forward thinking football fan what Tomato Ketchup is to any creative chef. Yes, it works a lot of the time. But there are so many better, more exciting and more experimental ways to enjoy your fish and chips.
This made it all the more surprising when Manchester United, on the back of a Premier League championship, forked out almost £30 million for this large archetypal, Belgian ‘big man’. After long years of misery for fans of all other teams, this signing seemed like United’s way to ‘give something back to the community’. And it did.
RW Theo Walcott
Any Arsenal fan that grew frustrated with Elneny, definitely will have suffered ten fold with Theo Walcott. He formed a group, alongside Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and others, who for a long time had promised so much, and for some reason, are still in the promising category despite being in their late 20s/early 30s.
With many goals and many more misses, Walcott will still spark happy memories for Arsenal and England fans, but will certainly not be jealous of Everton for having him on their books. There remains a feeling of regret after early comparisons to Rooney never came to fruition.
ST Shola Ameobi
Next comes Shola Ameobi, formerly the most benched footballer in Premier League, until being overtaken by the ageless Peter Crouch. However, Ameobi has not scored 100 Premier League goals, nor does he have a signature dance that inspired a nation.
He makes the team almost as the honorary substitute that for once, to his great surprise, has been given a start. To construct a team with Ameobi starting feels strange, and possibly acts as a reminder of the times we are in, and the madness to which some of us have been driven.
LW Ashley Young
When the bird shat in Ashley Young’s mouth, many fans around the country smiled, and probably are still smiling. Another player unlucky to make the team, still enjoying an illustrious career, having played for England’s biggest teams and successfully fooling defenders with a simple body feint throughout, there is something a little bit Mr Hyde about Ashley Young. He is just annoying.
He also missed a penalty in the shoot-out defeat to Italy in 2012 and so maybe that alone earns him a spot, with England now, at last, over their penalty hoodoo.