England have continually floundered in pursuit of a new centre-half duo. Since the once solid partnership of Chelsea captain John Terry and Manchester United stalwart Rio Ferdinand, the national side have struggled to create a pairing even half as formidable as their predecessors.
Boss Roy Hodgson has called-up Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Joleon Lescott, Steven Caulker and Steven Taylor in the past twelve months, but appears no nearer to a settled and confident pairing at the heart of the defence.
Whilst it appears at current that Hodgson's first choice pairing will prove to be Everton's Jagielka supplemented by Chelsea defender Gary Cahill, there is little to persuade England supporters that it is a pairing that should inspire great faith and confidence in the heart of their defence.
Whilst Jagielka and Cahill have looked fairly comfortable during qualifying, we have often seen England undone by sloppy set-piece marking, something once again demonstrated in Tuesday's slump to defeat at the hands of Germany.
One thing that becomes abundantly clear about this England back-line is that it lacks leadership. The England defence has been lacking a voice, a figurehead, someone willing to take the flak and the pressure and attempt to lead. In fact, since John Terry's permanent absence was ensured by his retirement from international football, England are still no further down the line with finding his natural successor.
Cahill has often been found wanting for both club and country, with poor positional play leaving him to be caught out in Chelsea blue and the white home strip of England. Just last week Cahill was repeatedly exploited, as Phil Jones fought desperately to recover from the errors.
Cahill's lackadaisical approach was perhaps best shown when the former Bolton man, 27, slapped a defensive pass straight into the path of Chilean maestro Alexis Sanchez, who promptly rounded off a lacklustre display for England by grabbing Chile's second goal in a two-nil win.
Jones is young, with many promising attributes, but he himself is no leader. In fact, Jones' best position is still unknown to the majority at international level. Under Hodgson's lead, Jones has occupied the right-back position, centre-half position and also differing variants of the central midfield berthers, even occasionally operating on the right flank.
Chris Smalling has appeared increasingly regularly under Hodgson's lead, and has now clocked up nine caps for the national side. However, he appears clumsy all too often, allowing opponent's to steal in as well as mercifully allowing the opponent to seize possession of the ball and work a shooting opportunity.
Perhaps that's too harsh on Jones and Smalling, maybe one of them can lead England in the future. But with just under 20 caps between them, it's a bit too much to ask at current.
The only other potential option of the current selection is Phil Jagielka. A regular for Everton, Jagielka perhaps ought to be the one you'd expect to break from the pack and nail his colours to the mast. However, whilst he has appeared dependable for England, his leadership skills haven't quite been demonstrated in his twenty-four England caps to-date. Whilst Jagielka almost certainly should be starting in Rio come 2014, doubts still cloud his potential to marshal and command a defensive line.
Which leads me to a question. Why is it that Tottenham's Michael Dawson has reached the ripe age of thirty with just four international caps to his name?
Last called up by England for the fixture with San Marino on the 22nd of March 2013 in which he was unused, Dawson would appear a natural choice to fill the void that has been left in the wake of John Terry's departure from the national set-up. Dawson regularly turns in commanding displays as the captain of Tottenham Hotspur, demonstrating a no-nonsense approach which is well married to his comfortable on-the-ball ability.
All too often it appears that Dawson has slipped under the radar of England managers and fans alike. His injury record may prove questionable, his two-hundred and ninety-four appearances for the North London outfit demonstrate his vast wealth of top level experience. Injury concerns are perhaps a poor excuse for his absence, with Dawson consistently turning out for Villas-Boas's Tottenham outfit since the start of the 2012/13 season. The experiences of Dawson are vastly unrivalled by the young and enigmatic duo of Smalling and Jones, and whilst he has not benefited from the same level of game time for the national side, his uses are all too apparent.
Despite his sizeable frame, dominating personality and vocal leadership, Dawson's England debut only came in 2010 in a friendly against Hungary. A second appearance followed in a tie with Bulgaria, before a knee injury sidelined the Spurs stalwart. England manager Fabio Capello had included Dawson in his preliminary England World Cup squad earlier that summer, only to cut the imposing former Nottingham Forest man when choosing his final twenty-three man squad.
Dawson's last cap came in a qualifying match against Wales in 2011, when he partnered John Terry. How England have gone through a period of upheaval and uncertainty without returning to Dawson in search of assertive displays and dominant leadership is anyone's guess.
Don't misunderstand this. By no means is it being suggested that Michael Dawson is the answer to all of England's woes, but one thing is for sure. For all too long England have lacked a commander in the back four and Dawson would have been able to fulfil the role with immaculate ease, adopting a role he already undertakes with his club side.
Whilst Roy Hodgson has blundered with numerous potential partnerships, his biggest mistake to date may be found in the form of those who he has not afforded an opportunity to. Namely, Michael Dawson.
Is Hodgson seriously suggesting that other than for age, Jones or Smalling are better defensive options than the Spurs skipper? Age is clearly no major concern to Hodgson, with twelve players aged thirty or above featuring in the last twelve months.
So why exactly is it Michael Dawson has continually been overlooked in an era of underachievement and experimentation?
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