Former England striker Michael Owen’s row with Alan Shearer and criticism of David Beckham have spiced up the international break this week.
Owen was criticised by Shearer for comments he made in his new book about joining Newcastle United, before he hit back by questioning his former club and international team-mate’s loyalty to the Magpies.
In his new book, Reboot – My Life, My Time, Owen says he still holds some resentment towards Beckham for getting sent off in a World Cup last-16 match against Argentina in 1998, which England lost on penalties.
BBC Sport asked Owen to name his best England XI – since his debut in 1998. The 39-year-old didn’t pick himself, but read on to see whether Shearer and Beckham made the cut – and have your say at the end of the article.
I would definitely go for a 3-5-2 because for a long time now England players have suited that formation. Look at Euro 96 under Terry Venables and in France at the 1998 World Cup, when we were a brilliant team and probably should’ve gone further, with Glenn Hoddle as manager. Then we went through a bit of a disastrous period and it coincided with 4-4-2 and variations of it.
I remember playing for the England team and we had Paul Scholes as a left midfielder and things like that. It was strikingly obvious that 3-5-2 is the formation that we should have adopted and who knows how far we would have gone in certain eras.
At the last World Cup, Gareth Southgate went back to 3-5-2, so we are suited to it. Glenn Hoddle would be the manager, no question, because he plays 3-5-2 as well.
Goalkeeper – David Seaman
This is probably an area where we haven’t been at our strongest for some years. I would say David Seaman is the best goalkeeper over the past couple of decades. He was a very safe pair of hands. At Euro 96 he excelled. He was a top-class goalkeeper.
On pure ability, someone like David James has got more – but Seaman’s consistency is what made him a very good goalkeeper. I was only with him for a small period but he was a calming iNFLuence.
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Defenders – Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry
Sol Campbell: Sol was an excellent player. He had pace, strength and a great reading of the game. I’d say he wasn’t as good on the ball as the other two but, in terms of defending, not much got past him. He was very brave, very good in the air and could score goals from set-pieces. He was as solid as a rock as a centre-half.
He is reasonably serious but you can have a joke with Sol as well. Everyone’s different. When you meet up with England there are normally 23 players, so you don’t get everyone alike. He certainly could defend and rose to the big occasion.
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Rio Ferdinand: If you are talking about classy players then one of the first people you think about is Rio Ferdinand. He was the Rolls-Royce of the footballing game really. He made everything look effortless, a little bit like Liverpool centre-back Virgin Van Dijk now in that it’s almost like he is not even trying and is in second gear all the time. He could’ve easily played in midfield, he was that good on the ball. He was exceptional.
He wasn’t one of those that used to lunge his body in and make a great block on the line like a John Terry. Every single performance was measured and composed – nine out of 10 all the time. He scored in the second round against Denmark at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea – but it was definitely an own goal and I tease him about it all the time.
He didn’t score too many goals and, if I could criticise Rio in one way, it was probably that. I don’t think coming up for corners and sticking his head in where it hurts was his forte but, in terms of everything else, he was a well-oiled machine.
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John Terry: John was an amazing player. He didn’t possess was pace but you never saw him get caught out. A great reader of the game, left-foot, right-foot – just a joy to watch. You would train with him and he would almost take your breath away how good he was for a centre-half. I’m not being patronising to centre-halves but, in general, they were not as good on the ball as he was.
John would throw his body into everything. He would block, he would win every header. He was just a really aggressive centre-back who was brilliant on the ball. Sometimes I actually think he was under-rated. He was absolutely outstanding.
He was definitely one of the bubblier characters, certainly a leader. He was always talking and encouraging and, in the changing room before games, he was the loudest voice.
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Wing-backs – David Beckham, Ashley Cole
David Beckham: It was difficult to leave Gary Neville out because he was fantastic. But I’m going to put David Beckham in because, well, just look at his England record, his caps and some of his great moments. Of course, he was a very famous person off the pitch but, in the dressing room and around the squad, he was one of the lads.
He perfected a skill that was quite unique at the time: the way he crossed the ball; the way he had that shape of whip and dip. He had almost a top-spinning bend on his free-kicks and corners. He wanted to take a touch and cross it quickly, which is all you want as a centre-forward.
In my book, I praise him to high heaven but if I said to you asked you if David Beckham did the right thing in 1998 by kicking someone what would you say? Of course he didn’t. He got sent off. It wasn’t my fault, the fans’ or yours. He made a mistake.
All I said in the book is that he made a mistake and that harmed our chances – it did. However, that doesn’t mean he’s not a great player and isn’t going to get in my team.
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Ashley Cole: Ashley Cole was regarded at one time as probably the best left-back in the world. Everybody remembers the time he marked Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2004 European Championship – he was just outstanding in that game.
He was that modern day wing-back: a brilliant defender who can also get forward. He had the energy and legs to be able to do that, and wing-back probably suited him as well. He was talkative without being in your face. He wasn’t the John Terry-leader style, but he was certainly reasonably vocal. He was an absolute pleasure in the squad.
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Midfielders – Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard
Steven Gerrard: I played with some great players – Zinedine Zidane was off the scale in terms of natural ability – but, if I was playing the biggest game of my life tomorrow, the first person I’d probably take into battle would be Stevie. He could do everything. He was massive, his stride was huge and he just used to devour ground.
He was too big and too strong for his opponents, an amazing passer of the ball, he could dribble, score goals, defend, tackle and head. There wasn’t anything really that he couldn’t do. The only thing you could expose him with is if you ask him to sit in midfield because he’s just too good for it.
I can’t give him any higher praise than that.
We were big mates. I joined Liverpool at 11 and we played in the same team right the way through. We just grew up playing alongside each other. We know each other’s games possibly more so than anyone else. We had that sixth sense between us. I think he’s genuinely one of the best England payers to have lived.
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Paul Scholes: Everyone says Paul is a genius of a player and he played on a different level to most. You’ve got to really understand the game and the nuances of disguise for you to play well with Scholesy, because he is forever looking the other way. You think he has not seen you and then he whips one around the corner into your feet.
You’ve just got to be on you toes with Scholesy. He is thinking a step ahead of most people – and you could make him look a bad player because he will end up giving the ball away as you are dreaming about something else!
He was supremely gifted, scored goals and had a radar of a pass. He was so unassuming. He was always first off the training ground at the end. Once I finished training, I was wanting to get in the shower, have my lunch and get home – but by the time I had got into the dressing room, Scholesy had already had a shower and gone. He was quite elusive.
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Frank Lampard: Frank’s goalscoring record is phenomenal. To have a midfielder scoring that amount of goals is very rare and, for that alone, he gets in my team. He deserves the highest praise for dedication and getting the absolute most out of his career, rather like Beckham in many ways.
He practised and practised. While you have got Scholes, who is just a natural genius born to play football, you’ve got people like Frank and David who were there after training hitting balls and perfecting their skills.
Unfortunately, loads of people questioned whether the Lampard-Gerrard partnership could work together, and it was probably because they were both too good. It was too tempting for them to get forward that we didn’t have as much discipline in the centre of midfield.
If we had an extra body, like a Scholesy, then I think they would have flourished – Scholesy almost sitting and playing the quarter-back role and then Frank and Steven, who just love to get forward and score goals. That three would’ve been brilliant.
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Strikers – Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer
Wayne Rooney: I guess the main centre-forward mantle for England passed from Alan Shearer to me to Wayne Rooney. I had the pleasure of playing with Alan, but then, as he got a bit older, I took over the shirt and had it for a few years. Then this young lad called Wayne Rooney started coming on the scene and I played second fiddle to him for a while before fading into the wilderness.
When Wayne came into the squad I saw a little bit of myself in him in terms of him being fearless. His first training session, when he was only a pup, he was chipping the goalkeepers and things like that. Even though you can do it you tend to be a bit more respectful to senior England players, but he was just so naive and such a free spirit that it almost left you with your mouth open thinking: ‘Wow, the confidence of this kid.’
He could back it up with performances. He was a brilliant player and has gone on to break the goalscoring record for England. He’s very talented, a good goalscorer and he had loads of ability outside the box as well – he could assist as well as score.
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Alan Shearer: When I was growing up I would’ve been looking at Alan thinking: ‘What a player.’ I managed to muscle my way into the team to play alongside him at the 1998 World Cup and then played with him up front at the European Championship in 2000 as well. We scored plenty of goals together.
He was then a big iNFLuence in me going to Newcastle United and we were big mates at that point. On the big stage, if you’re thinking, ‘I need someone to finish or take a penalty’, he had absolute nerves of steel. He had a huge amount of self-belief and confidence.
In recent years, you can’t mention England centre-forwards in general without mentioning him.
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