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Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

World Cup scouting: right-backs

By Lee Dixon
BBC Sport pundit

After my assessment of England's left-backs last week, I'm turning my attention to the other flank - and things do not get any easier for manager Fabio Capello when it comes to the right-back spot.

Fresh from starting for England against Egypt last week, Wes Brown injured his foot in Manchester United's next match against Wolves and is out for six weeks.

And Liverpool's Glen Johnson is only just getting over a knee injury which has kept him out since the end of last year.


So not exactly ideal, but I guess it is a measure of the problems across the England defence.

While we have the likes of Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines pushing Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge at left-back, the back-up options in my old position are less numerous.

That said, there is one veteran waiting in the wings who could be of benefit to England should Johnson or Brown be unable to prove their fitness in time for the provisional 35-man squad on 16 May.


A lot has been written about Johnson and his abilities as a defender but many expect the 25-year-old to be first choice for England when fully fit. I would go along with that but he is by no means the all-singing, all-dancing full-back everyone wants him to be.

At his club, he is encouraged to get forward because Liverpool tend to play quite narrow in midfield. He excels doing that, but he has still got a lot to learn defensively.

The international stage has a harsh way of punishing players for mistakes they might get away with at club level. Don't forget, Johnson hasn't played in a major international tournament either.

Gary Neville
England is out of my hands. It has not happened for two to three years and I am not holding out for a call but I have not retired

Gary Neville

Brown, on the other hand, has played right across the defence, knows where he needs to be on the field and rarely gets caught out.

Brown might be the better option when you consider who might play in front of him on the right of England's midfield, too. With Theo Walcott a favourite of Capello's, do you need an attacking full-back behind him?

As for other options, they are a bit thin on the ground.

At one stage, Manchester City's Micah Richards was the next big thing in the number two jersey. But his career has been a bit bumpy for a few seasons now.

Problems off the pitch, injuries and the loss of centre-half Richard Dunne to Aston Villa have all contributed to his slide. Richards is great at winning the ball, which you need to do as a defender, but he can be naive from a positional point of view. Dunne helped him in that respect.

Which leads to a discussion I was having the other day with former England striker Les Ferdinand. The subject? Gary Neville.

Strange as it might seem given he is now 35, the vastly experienced Manchester United defender could work his way into the England set-up if Johnson has a relapse or Brown doesn't recover.

I've had my run-ins with Neville on the pitch and he can wind players up, but his desire and ability to play at one of the biggest clubs in the world for the length of time he has should not be underestimated. Then there are the 85 caps under his belt, too.


As I said, there has been lots of talk about Johnson's defending but what exactly is it that needs sorting? There are a couple of areas where I think he can improve.

Funnily enough, I see in him some of the weaknesses I had in my game. If he sorts them out, he's got everything going for him. He's an athlete, he likes a tackle, he's not bad in the air, he's great going forward, he can cross a good ball and he scores goals now and then.

Gary Neville might be a good guide for Walcott. He did that for years with David Beckham

Lee Dixon

Sometimes, though, he can have problems with one-on-ones. Like I said last week, one of the biggest jobs as a full-back is to stop crosses, and I think Johnson can get sold by the dummy a bit too much.

There seems to be a gap in the time it takes him to readjust to these feints. Before he knows it, the ball has been delivered into the middle. I think he needs to reassess how he goes about stopping those crosses.

In open play, Johnson can also get caught on the inside. He can find himself a little bit too tight to the winger when the ball is in the middle of the pitch. As a result, the ball can get played between him and the centre-half.

I used to get caught out like that but over a period of time you learn to hold your position closer to your centre-back. Then, once the ball is played, you can make up the ground and get tight to him. It's almost like you are encouraging the midfielder to pass it to the winger.

Johnson is not getting caught out all the time, it's just little bits of his game that need sorting defensively. He needs to master his position and get to a point where he is dominating his opponent.

Glen Johnson and Wes Brown
23 - Club appearances - 29
10 ---- Clean sheets ---- 13
2 --------- Goals --------- 0
20 - Total England caps - 23

Brown obviously doesn't get past his opponent like Johnson does, but maybe he doesn't need to.

If Walcott plays, the need for a full-back who can overlap and deliver a cross is not such a priority. There aren't too many players who can overlap someone like Walcott anyway!

Brown has good positional sense but he is also a good tackler and good in the air. He might be a better partner for Walcott than Johnson.

As for Neville, positional sense is also a huge part of his game.

Even now, he can get himself out of so much trouble by the great positional play he's learnt over the years. He is one of England's most consistent full-backs.

He might also be a good guide for Walcott, having helped David Beckham for so many years down that right flank. There he was, 10 to 15 yards behind Beckham, ready and waiting to receive the ball or win it back for him.

If Walcott wants to learn how to shift a left-back around the pitch, then I don't think there is anyone better than Neville for helping him do that.

He will certainly be able to talk him through any game situation because he has played in every scenario there is possible. In my opinion, it's not an unforeseen situation that, with all the injuries, Neville could be drafted in to the England squad.


The simple way that Johnson and Brown can make an impression on Capello is by proving their fitness.

The irony is that Brown's injury means Neville might get a run of games at club level - and Neville certainly make a good contribution in the Champions League victory against AC Milan on Wednesday.

Let's be clear, though. If Brown comes back, I cannot see Neville overtaking either his club-mate or Johnson in the pecking order.

It would be nice to have both Johnson and Brown fit and have the option to pick either of them.


Johnson and Brown offer different options, but there is a strong argument to use Brown in some of the tighter games as the World Cup progresses.

But Johnson was the one who was starting for England before his knee injury, and I would see no reason to change that.

Lee Dixon was talking to Alistair Magowan

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see also
World Cup scouting: left-backs
02 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
Lille 1-0 Liverpool
11 Mar 10 |  Europe
Johnson faces month out of action
31 Dec 09 |  Liverpool
Man Utd's Brown out for six weeks
09 Mar 10 |  Man Utd
Neville unsure of Man Utd future
01 Mar 10 |  Man Utd

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