Football: Are You Taking The Chris?

25 Sep 2001 14:04 GMT

NOW Sport's Andy McKenzie reacts with disgust at the thought of Chris Sutton in an England shirt.

Chelsea reject
Sutton: Say it ain't so
©Graham Chadwick
When I first read about it, I thought it must be one of these terrible Internet windups. Like the Queen Mother dying or Nostradamus' theories being reworded.

Then came the chilling words from Sven Goran Eriksson's assistant coach Tord Grip: "It's possible Chris Sutton could be in the England squad for the Greece game because he's good enough for international football."

The only time I thought I'd ever hear the words 'Sutton', 'England' and 'international' in the same sentence again would be when accompanied by 'former' or 'never should have been'.

Of course the last time most people in England saw much of Sutton he was missing open goals and squandering golden chances in the Premiership for Chelsea. He'd arrived at Stamford Bridge from Blackburn for a fee of 10 million (US$14.5 million), supposedly one of the final pieces in the Blues' title-winning jigsaw.

Despite playing in one of the most attack-minded and creative sides in the league, Sutton found the going a little tough. His excuse was his game was not suited to Chelsea's free-flowing style. Stick it in the box, he urged his teammates.

After the goals failed to flow, he was moved to centre-back before being dispatched to Scotland at the end of the season, Celtic shelling out 6 million (US$8.76 million) to take him off Chelsea's hands. That was the last we heard, other than the occasional mention as the Parkhead club strolled to the Scottish title.

Now all of a sudden, Sutton's name has re-entered the frame. With Michael Owen out injured, it appears England are considering replacing him with a man whose sum total of goals in his last season in England could be counted on one finger.

Eriksson: More sense?
Eriksson: More sense?
©Phil Cole
And all this at a time when the England manager has the most talented and youthful group of players at his disposal for years. Gone are the days when we were forced to field the likes of Gordon Cowans and Geoff Thomas in midfield. No longer do we need to cling onto aging stars like Alan Shearer and Paul Ince after they've passed their best-before date.

The country's brimming with young, hungry and dynamic players desperate to get a glimpse of the big stage and confident enough to shine when they get there.

England's recent success under Eriksson has been largely attributed to the injection provided by the likes of Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and the captaincy of David Beckham. They showed in their 5-1 demolition job in Germany what can be achieved with a side overflowing with energy and devoid of fear.

Missed chance
Sutton: Storming Scotland!
©Mark Thompson
Apparently Sutton has enjoyed something of a renaissance as a player north of the border, but let's have a look at the facts a bit more closely. While Swedish international striker Henrik Larsson was helping himself to 53 goals last season, Sutton managed to bag a gob-smacking total of 14 for a side that romped to the league title by 15 points. Sutton's outstanding sum consisted of goals against the likes of Raith, Kilmarnock and St Mirren. Impressive stuff!

This season Sutton has apparently started the season off "bang in form". In fact, the Nottingham-born forward has managed a whopping three league goals – the same as household international superstars like Stephen Crawford, Tom McManus and Jim McIntyre and only one less than 35-year-old journeyman forward David Kelly.

Many will argue Sutton's role is as a creator for others. But England already has enough creativity with Scholes, Beckham, Barmby and Gerrard in the team to do without resorting to this lanky lump.

Some may say Sutton deserves to be given his chance. After all, he was once a very promising centre-forward who helped Blackburn to the English Premiership title in 1995. I would argue he was given his chance. In 1998, he was handed the opportunity to show the nation what they'd been missing when he was selected for the England B side not long before the World Cup. He decided playing at such a level was beneath him and skipped the chance to put on the white shirt.

And now the England management are considering giving him another chance when there are players who would give their right foot to play for their country - at any level.

Fowler: Time for a shot?
Time for a shot?
©Ben Radford
Robbie Fowler, Andy Cole and Kevin Phillips are players desperate to be given a chance to prove themselves in Owen's absence. All three have two things that Sutton lacks, pace and a proven scoring record.

Alan Smith and Francis Jeffers are two of England's next generation who are ready to make the step-up, while Marcus Stewart has shown in his brief but successful flirtation in the top flight he knows where the goal is.

If a more physical player is what Sven the Swede is after then he already has England regular Emile Heskey or the evergreen Teddy Sheringham, who not only put themselves about, but unlike Sutton, know the difference between the back of the net and row Z.

The game against Greece on 6 October is a do-or-die affair, one that will need players mentally strong and up for the job. The only involvement Chris Sutton should have is in watching it on TV like the rest of us. My hope is that Sven and Tord are just using this visit to Sutton's adopted home as an excuse to dabble in a bit of Glaswegian culture. From the sounds of it, they've already received a few too many blows to the head.

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