I’ll start off with somewhat of a disclaimer so that when you read the first few paragraphs, you won’t descend to the comments section in a frenzied rage. I will always support England, the players, and whatever results we manage to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll defend our national side until I’m blue in the face and against all manner of arguments no matter how wrong I know I am. But lately, and especially in the wake of England’s 4 -2 defeat to Sweden, I feel the need to point something out, something which many fans have already come to terms with but which the majority have not, and frankly, it’s crippling us from the inside.
England are not as good as we think they are. Nowhere near, in fact.
When Harry Redknapp was tipped to be Fabio Capello’s successor, I, like most other fans I’m sure, supported and advocated his appointment for what dragged on to be a number of months. Other managers were disregarded, and ignored to the point of insanity, because we wanted the man who had shown that he could turn a troubled team around and create a truly special side in Tottenham, after he repaired the damage that Juande Ramos wrought on the London club. But when it was announced that Roy Hodgson had been given the job, I stopped. Just stopped. I thought to myself, actually, he’s perfect for the job. Redknapp would have been a gamble, even if he would have brought attacking football. In fact, probably especially since he would’ve brought attacking football.
Hodgson’s previous experience of international management with Switzerland, the UAE and Finland meant he was more than qualified. More importantly, and with all due respect to these clubs, he showed that he could turn teams such as Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, relatively weak sides in an incredibly strong Premier League, into tough, hard-to-beat teams. Exactly what England were in the Euros, and what they needed to be.
The ‘golden generation’ has come and gone now, with a few remnants of the old guard still hanging on. Granted, there are players such as Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole, who can not only still do a job, but will provide a vital source of experience and leadership when things turn sour, as they often do with England. The younger, more inexperienced players will undoubtedly look up to players of their stature and follow their lead.
But fear not, brave supporters. In my opinion (and I would hope that the vast majority would agree), the next wave of English talent to come through is hardly of a poor standard. These are young players that are talented enough to start for Premier League sides, the most competitive league in the world. Players such as Danny Welbeck, who has shown great pedigree already for the national side with solid performances and a stunning goal in the European Championships this summer. Players such as Tom Cleverly, who Alex Ferguson trusts will be the next Paul Scholes. Players such as Ryan Bertrand, who Roberto di Matteo trusted enough to start in the Champions League last season when the pressure was truly on. Jack Wilshere, the player upon which Arsenal’s hopes for the foreseeable future are pinned on. Oxlade-Chamberlain is also a part of that vision. Kieran Gibbs is there too. The end is not nigh by any stretch of the imagination, nor will it be for at least a decade.
The construction of St. George’s Park, seen by many as the future of English football, is as architecturally impressive as the reasoning behind it. England have followed in the success of clubs such as Barcelona, with their academy (La Masia) ingraining a certain footballing culture and style of play from an early age. They are following the success that other nations, such as Germany, have had by revamping the squad, keeping a few essential seasoned veterans, but trying to bring through the next generation early so as to have a chance in a tournament two, four, even six years down the line. Germany did this roughly half a decade ago, and the quality of their team now speaks for itself. Hodgson has the right idea in blooding youngsters early, with friendly matches in particular being a prime opportunity. Matches against somewhat poorer opposition in the group stages will also be useful in seeing how the younger players adjust to the pressure of playing a competitive fixture for the national side.
In six years time, it will be the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Putting aside any lingering bitterness I have over the fact that we didn’t win the bid, I’m looking forward to seeing how England will have developed. Our team could loosely resemble Hart in net, Gibbs, Smalling, Jones, Kyle Walker in defence, Wilshere and Cleverly in the centre of midfield, the Ox and Walcott as wide players, with Welbeck and a seasoned Rooney completing the attack. That’s not a bad team at all, and given that in 6 years not only will they be playing week in week out in the strongest league in the world, but there’s a chance for other players like Nick Powell and Jack Rodwell to stake a claim too.
I sincerely hope Roy Hodgson will still be in charge by that point. As plenty of domestic teams have shown, constantly changing the manager is hardly ever a successful venture (Chelsea winning the Champions League aside). Only by sticking to a vision, a belief, will England prosper in their dream of nurturing a side capable of beating the world’s finest. Well, that’s the dream anyway.
As always, feel free to leave your comments and opinions beneath, particularly with regards to how you think England will do in the future, and what you think our lineup might be.
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This article was first posted on December 4, 2012