Wayne Rooney, despite being judged by Fabio Capello to be "calm and relaxed" after his father's arrest, made the extremely intelligent decision last week to kick out at Montenegrin player Miodrag Dzudovic, and now has been banned for three matches by UEFA. In other words, no group stages games for Mr. Rooney, meaning England are going to have to face whoever it is they will face without their best player. The FA will appeal, of course, but when you intentionally kick another player, you should probably expect to be punished. Act now, ask forgiveness later? Not in UEFA's handbook.
So with Rooney gone, who steps into his role for England? The Twitter's all abuzz with mentions of current and ex-Aston Villa players (You're welcome, Three Lions). A front three of Stewart Downing - Darren Bent - Ashley Young? Of course it will work. But it's not necessarily the best option for England.
Instead -- and I might be biased here -- instead I propose bringing Gabby Agbonlahor into the England squad. At 25, he's been capped just three times for his country, a glaring oversight by Don Capello. Granted, Gabby really wasn't at his best last season. But look at him now -- there's absolutely no denying he's the best player in an Aston Villa kit. Something about last season, whether it was life under Gerard Houllier or the realization that Young was leaving or simply the desire to fight back for a true starting role, propelled Agbonlahor back to his very best.
We saw flashes of brilliance from him at the end of last season, particularly his injury-time winner against West Ham. But this season, he's been fantastic right out of the gate. He's had four goals in seven matches, but more than that -- his pace has returned, and he's absolutely terrorizing defenses, but he's also got the strength to power through rather than fall down at the touch of a finger. While not quite as effective leading the attack (there really is a reason we need Bent or, sigh, Emile Heskey) he's great both as a trequartista or on the wing, cutting inside to find the pass or the goal. Just look at the way he dances around defenders to curl the ball into the net.
In effect, he fills the boots of Wayne Rooney. Perhaps not quite as wonderfully, but certainly more effectively than putting Young in the center. Villa fans can give a dozen references from last season why that's not the best use of Ash. For the match against Montenegro, England lined up in essentially a 4-4-1-1, with Rooney slotting in behind Bent, and Young and Theo Walcott on the wing. I'd love to hear the arguments as to why, based on his form this season, Agbonlahor can't step in behind Bent for the group stages of Euro 2012. Sure, together the two have but six goals, while Rooney alone has nine this season, but if you let go of the idea that Rooney could be involved in this England squad, there's no real rational argument for not slotting in Agbonlahor in his place.
Plus, if you think back to World Cup 2010, one of this biggest gripes many had with the England squad was the players looking "tired." Many of them had come off deep cup runs or long campaigns in the Champions League. I think we can trust that Ash will be a bit worn out from both of those. Liverpool, determined to win something, will likely go as far as they can in the FA Cup (this is a team that fielded Luis Suarez against Exeter City, for goodness sake). But you know who won't be tired? Gabby. No European runs for the Villa! FA Cup challenge? Pa, only if we get Blackburn. He'll be fresh and ready to light up the pitch for Euro 2012.