A POINT of interest amid all the Wayne Rooney hoohah this evening – Manchester City created a little piece of club history. For the first time ever, there were six City players on the pitch for England at once.
Rooney actually played a little part in creating that history. When he was substituted with 11 minutes to go, a goal to his name and a slew of more positive headlines to look forward to, the man who replaced him was Shaun Wright-Phillips, the sixth City player to enter the fray.
Adam Johnson had already come on as an early replacement for the injured Theo Walcott – and scored his second goal in two England games – while Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and James Milner had all started the match.
Lescott’s inclusion as the replacement for the injured Michael Dawson surprised a few people – perhaps Lescott included. The 28-year-old isn’t even a first-choice centre-back at Eastlands this season, with Roberto Mancini so far preferring to partner Vincent Kompany with Kolo Toure. Lescott’s appearances at club level this term have come at left-back, deputising for the injured Aleksandar Kolarov.
Fabio Capello, though, was looking for someone to play alongside Phil Jagielka – with whom Lescott enjoyed a very successful centre-back partnership at Everton. Capello’s decision was vindicated tonight as his side won 3-1, but then we already knew the England coach was good at qualifying campaigns.
Barry and Milner, meanwhile, have posed Capello a question as to who to pick when Frank Lampard returns to action after groin surgery, which he is expected to do against West Ham on Saturday. Does Capello try to accommodate all three alongside Steven Gerrard, as he did in a less-than-convincing first half against Hungary last month? If not, who does he drop?
Capello, remember, did manage to accommodate all four in their final two matches at the World Cup in South Africa by playing Gerrard on the left and Milner on the right. It worked against Slovenia. The less said about Germany, the better.
Johnson’s progress is one of the more exciting football tales of the new season – and vindication for two former England internationals who picked him out for stardom when he was still at primary school.
His mum Sonia tells a story of how the late Johnny Haynes spotted Johnson playing for Peterlee Schools in a seven-a-side tournament at Wembley back in 1998. Haynes told the then 10-year-old: “You’re a great little player. You’ve got a lovely left foot.”
Sonia also remembers how the young Johnson won a football skills competition at Butlins run by the late Emlyn Hughes, who responded by telling him: “Your left foot is great.”
Although Johnson turned 23 over the summer, he is only just starting to give the impression that he looks at home at the top level. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising, given that he finished 2009 playing for Middlesbrough in a Championship defeat at Barnsley.
Johnson’s may be stronger on his left foot, but Mancini is just as likely to use him on the right, with Milner on the other flank. Those two have restricted Wright-Phillips to 67 minutes of Premier League football this season. Just as he was a substitute for England tonight, Wright-Phillips’ is most likely to be used in the same way by his club this season. Of the six, he had the least time to impress Capello tonight, and made the least significant impression.
The fact that City have so many current England internationals on their books is a sign that they are prepared to buy the best homegrown talent. Many stories were written about how Mancini would trim his first-team squad to 25 to comply with Premier League rules, but meeting the eight-player minimum homegrown quota was never going to be an issue.
Indeed, if you throw in Wayne Bridge and Micah Richards, City have eight players with full England caps on the playing staff – something they have never managed before.
The closest they have ever come to that was in 1977/78, when they had eight England internationals on their books during the course of a season. But only two of them, Peter Barnes and Dave Watson, were England regulars at the time. And Barnes only won his first cap in November 1977, by which time another of the eight, Joe Royle, had departed for Bristol City.
Indeed, there was a time when it was rare for any City player to win an England call-up. Between Trevor Francis’ departure to Sampdoria after the 1982 World Cup and David James’ arrival from West Ham in January 2004, a measly five caps were awarded to players on City’s books at the time – three to Keith Curle and one to David White in 1992, and another to Trevor Sinclair in 2003.
While City had plenty of former England internationals at the club during that period, and even a future one in Andy Hinchcliffe, all won their caps while elsewhere. For more than two decades, the phrase “Manchester City and England” was rarely inserted after a player’s name.
For that reason, the record for the greatest number of City players on the pitch for England at one time stood for more than 30 years at three – when Joe Corrigan, Mike Doyle and Royle all faced Italy in New York in 1976.
That was surpassed when Bridge, Lescott, Barry and Wright-Phillips all started against Brazil in Qatar last November. And the quartet of Hart, Barry, Milner and Johnson figured against Bulgaria on Friday.
A new record was set tonight. City will hope it’s not the only reason they have to celebrate this season. But it’s a start.
And for those of you who want to know, the highest number of players any club side has had on the pitch for England at any one time is SEVEN.
Arsenal had seven starters for England’s 3-2 win over Italy at Highbury in November 1934 – Frank Moss, Eddie Hapgood, Wilf Copping, Ray Bowden, Cliff Bastin, George Male and Ted Drake.
And Manchester United had seven players on the pitch at the end of a 3-1 World Cup qualifying win over Albania in Tirana in March 2001. Gary Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Andy Cole started, while Wes Brown came on in the 29th minute and Teddy Sheringham in the 84th.
The only other club who come close to matching that record are Liverpool, who had six starters for a friendly against (would you believe) Switzerland at Wembley in September 1977 – Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Terry McDermott, Emlyn Hughes, Ray Kennedy and Ian Callaghan. They also had Kevin Keegan in the starting line-up, but he had just left Liverpool for Hamburg.
Liverpool may have been league champions at the time, but it did little good – the game ended 0-0.