News flash!! England can’t win the World Cup in Brazil 2014!!
Surprising I know. We now have less than 18 months until the World Cup 2014, and, as has been discussed over & over after each failure of the ‘Golden Generation’ over the past decade or more, England’s players simply aren’t technically good enough when it comes to the highest level of international competition.
So what can we do about it? We’re currently looking at the prospect of the same players jetting off to Brasil to be tactically solid, but technically uninspiring, struggling their way through the group stage before ‘bravely’ going out in the early rounds of the knock-out phase – most likely via penalties.
The past two tournaments we’ve competed in (South Africa 2010 & Poland/Ukraine 2012) our players have been clearly shown up as technically inferior to even average international teams, and even the penalty defeat to Italy in the European championships was a humiliation in which we should have been swept aside long before fluking our way to the shoot out.
Don’t get me wrong, Roy Hodgson has done a great job results wise so far, but we don’t have the players, nor a modern style of possession, technique based football to compete at the next World Cup. If the likes of Beckham, Scholes, Campbell, Shearer, Owen, Terry, Gerrard, Lampard etc couldn’t achieve international success why on earth would we be optimistic that the likes of Jagielka, Downing, Osman & Defoe can? No disrespect to those on the latter list, but they’re just not at the level of those on the former.
Also, if the likes of Gerrard, Lampard & Parker at their peak fell short at international level, how on earth can we entertain the idea of these players carrying us in the summer of 2014 when they’re clearly winding down their careers now?
What we need is a group technically good enough to play a continental, possession based game, physically strong & dynamic enough to dominate opponents & produce intelligent offensive plays, with intelligent interchanges of position, in addition to having the individual skill & creativity to beat any team in world football.
What is largely ignored in the discussion about the quality of England’s players is the incredible potential of our young players. What many are unaware of is that professional clubs HAVE been working hard over the past 10 years to catch up with the rest of the world, and there are many exceptional young talents that have broken through to play first team football in the Premier League & the Championship in recent seasons. Unlike past generations however, these are players that have been developed with a much stronger focus on technique than previously, and as such have a much higher potential than their predecessors.
If we continue with the current group of England players we know exactly what to expect in Brasil 2014. We know the players who are good, solid professionals who realistically fall short of the highest level, and we know the players who have been great talents in the past, but are now showing signs of coming to the end of their careers………and who still have almost 18 months to wait until the World Cup!
To stand any chance of developing a team capable of competing with the world’s best, and playing in a modern, continental, offensive style the England manager needs to make bold decisions now. What is needed is complete movement from the old guard to the new, much as Peter Taylor signalled in 2000 when he selected a squad for the friendly against Italy to show incoming manager Sven Goran Eriksson the young talent available to him. It was effectively the game that heralded in that ‘Golden Generation’ which ultimately failed to match international success with all their club achievements.
The following is a suggestion of an England squad for 2014, based on mixing the best of the current squad with the exceptional young talent, armed with a technical ability largely unseen in English football previously. Do we want to go to Brasil with a limited squad, who we know are going to struggle to better or match previous England teams, or do we want to say “If they’re not good enough lets bring in the next generation”?
If we take the latter option we could be taking the first brave steps toward the development of possibly the best England team of the modern era.
The starting 11 is based on playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, now firmly established as the preferred modern formation to allow a team to control & dominate from midfield. Without the ball it provides great solidity through the middle in order to track runners & close down space in numbers. With the ball it provides the base for quick break counter-attacking with numbers arriving unmarked from deep positions, as well as the numerical advantage in centre midfield to play a possession based game, with quick combinations & interchanges of position. It requires dynamic, quick, agile players with a high level of technical skill, game awareness & understanding of modern, attacking football.
JOE HART (MANCHESTER CITY) POSITION: GOALKEEPER CURRENT AGE: 25 CAPS: 27
Certainly England’s best goalkeeper. A world-class player & probably our best since David Seaman, if not before. Hasn’t had a great season, with a few high profile errors, but undoubtedly has the class to overcome this mini-slump.
GLEN JOHNSON (LIVERPOOL) POSITION: RIGHT BACK CURRENT AGE: 28 CAPS: 45 GOALS: 1
Without question England’s best right back. Strong, quick, athletic & technically superb. If he was Brazilian we’d rave about him, and in the past 2 seasons has dramatically improved the defensive side of his game for which he has been so criticised in the past. He’s as good as any right back in the world, and will be an important senior player in Brasil.
ASHLEY COLE (CHELSEA) POSITION: LEFT BACK CURRENT AGE: 32 CAPS: 99
Ok, this is my one exception. The one member of the ‘Golden Generation’ i’m keeping for Brasil. Anyone who’s watched Cole this season knows that love him or hate him, he’s still right there amongst the best left backs in the world game. There is also no obvious successor behind him who looks to have the potential to reach his level right now. If he can maintain his current fitness & performance levels for another 18 months there really are very few players in his position anywhere in the world who can match him.
GARY CAHILL (CHELSEA) POSITION: CENTRE BACK CURRENT AGE: 27 CAPS: 13 GOALS: 2
Since his move to Chelsea Cahill has proven himself as good as any centre back in Europe, and the natural successor to John Terry. I really can’t fathom how the solid, but limited Jaglielka has been preferred to him in Hodgson’s recent England teams. Few international caps, but he’ll be another important senior player, who should be at his peak in 2014.
CHRIS SMALLING (MANCHESTER UNITED) POSITION: CENTRE BACK CURRENT AGE: 23 CAPS: 3
Strong, athletic, quick and technically good enough to play in a team based on possession football, as his ability to also play at RB shows. Injuries have stalled his progression since signing for Manchester United, leading to some unfair criticism of his ability (Give the boy a chance to play 30-40 consecutive games before you criticise his performances when he’s making his way back from the treatment table!) but he has everything needed to become one of Europe’s best defenders.
JACK WILSHERE (ARSENAL) POSITION: DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER CURRENT AGE: 21 CAPS: 6
Wilshere is one of many technically gifted young English players that seem to be forgotten about in the ‘England aren’t technically good enough’ argument. Since coming back from a long serious injury he’s slotted right back into Arsenal’s team and must be a shoe-in for a place on the plane to Brasil. Looks very much like a young Xavi, with the ability to find the creative passes to make the England team tick, but also with a good tackling ability & mobility to help protect the back 4.
JONJO SHELVEY (LIVERPOOL) POSITION: DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER CURRENT AGE: 20 CAPS: 1
Shelvey is a long way from the finished product right now, but it’s often forgotten by those criticising him that he still qualifies for the under-21 squad! Strong as an ox, and a powerful tackler, he still has to drastically improve his passing ability, both long and short range, but he offers a huge defensive presence in front of the back 4. Could we be looking at a future Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira quality player here? Not sure about that, but playing in a possession based team on Merseyside can only help him &, as a result, the national team.
TOM CLEVERLY (MANCHESTER UNITED) POSITION: ATTACKING MIDFIELDER CURRENT AGE: 23 CAPS: 7
The jury may still be out on Tom Cleverly, but he has now cemented his place in a Manchester United team currently dominating the Premier League. England looks desperately short of creative players in the Scholes/Iniesta/Zidane mould, but Cleverly is the most similar we have right now. He definitely has the ability to unlock defences with his passing ability & awareness, but perhaps is not consistent enough at present. He has nearly 18 months to improve & is in the right place to do it.
ADAM JOHNSON (SUNDERLAND) POSITION: RIGHT WINGER CURRENT AGE: 25 CAPS: 12 GOALS: 2
Some suggest a poor attitude meant Adam Johnson was reduced to a substitute’s role at Manchester City, but what can’t be in doubt is the man’s ability. He offers something completely different to almost any other England player, and certainly to the more regular England internationals in his position: The ability run at pace with the ball at his feet, beat players with skill, and he scores regular goals from outside the box when he cuts in from that right wing and lets fly on his left foot, not unlike Messi & Villa did on their respective wings so regularly for Barcelona a couple of seasons back. After a slow start to his Sunderland career he’s now proving an important attacking player for them. I was shocked he didn’t move to a bigger club, and for me he’s one of the most under-rated players in the whole of Europe, with the potential to be a world-class match winner.
ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN (ARSENAL) POSITION: LEFT-WING CURRENT AGE: 19 CAPS: 9 GOALS: 1
Arsenal have found a real gem who can go on to be an England regular for the next decade or more. Incredible athletic ability for a 19 year old – Strong, fast, agile. He has it all, but his technical ability is exceptional too. His ability to beat players 1v1 with pace or skill is superb, and as he develops at Arsenal you have to expect him to add an end product more regularly too. This kid is scary good, and can undoubtedly become a world-class player.
WAYNE ROONEY (MANCHESTER UNITED) POSITION: STRIKER CURRENT AGE: 27 CAPS:78 GOALS: 32
Rooney is quite simply the only world-class player we can count on in the striker position right now. Others like Defoe & Bent have proven themselves fine goal poachers, but Rooney is alone as the player we can rely on to win a match for us out of nothing in a tight game against the best in the world. He can play as a lone striker at the head of the team, or can also drop deeper into the false number nine role. Is equally good on the ground with Cleverly & Wilshere feeding him through balls or combining with the wide players from the wings as he is in the air if Adam Johnson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Glen Johnson & Cole can provide him with quality crosses from wide. Along with Johnson & hopefully Oxlade-Chamberlain as he develops, Rooney provides us with a world-class match winner.
STARTING 11: Hart, Glen Johnson, Cole, Cahill, Smalling, Wilshere, Shelvey, Cleverly, Adam Johnson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney (Captain)
SUBSTITUTES & STANDBYS (CLUB, POSITION, AGE, CAPS, GOALS)
JACK BUTLAND (BIRMINGHAM, GK, 19, 1) Looks a great prospect. Superb at the Olympics. Definite international potential.
FRASER FORSTER (CELTIC, GK 24, 0) Proven in Celtic’s CL run this season that he is worthy of a place in the England squad.
KYLE WALKER (SPURS, RB, 22, 4) The Spurs RB looks a great prospect and eventual successor to Glen Johnson.
MARTIN KELLY (LIVERPOOL, RB, 22, 1) Injuries keep stalling his progress, but he’s strong & dominating with good technical ability, and looks like a player that could move into the CB position without a problem.
LEIGHTON BAINES (EVERTON, LB, 28, 13, 1) Ashley Cole’s understudy is having a great season, and will be at his peak in 2014. Still nowhere near the level of Cole, but a fine squad player to have in Brasil.
PHIL JONES (MANCHESTER UNITED, CB, 20, 5) Strong, dominating CB has the technical ability & potential to be one of Utd & England’s most important players for years to come. What depth a squad with Cahill, Smalling & Jones to call on would have!
STEVEN CAULKER (SPURS, CB, 21, 1, 1) Now a Spurs first team regular, is making great strides and you imagine will be a definite squad member in Brasil.
JACK RODWELL (MANCHESTER CITY, MID, 21, 2) Like Wishere has all the qualities of a great all-round midfielder. Hopefully he’ll get the playing time at City to fulfil the undoubted potential to be a world-class player that had Manchester United sniffing around in 2011.
JAMES MILNER (MANCHESTER CITY, MID, 26, 32, 1) I’ll admit i’m not a big Milner fan, but as limited as he is he offers the versatility to play on the wing or in central midfield, and an aggression & work-rate that makes him a good substitute option to help protect a lead or participate in a physical battle if need be.
ASHLEY YOUNG (MANCHESTER UNITED, LW, 27, 27, 6) A player who has his critics, but he has an excellent assist record at every club he’s played for. He can cross the ball, beat a defender & can also play as a support striker. He’ll be another important squad member in 2014
RAHEEM STERLING (LIVERPOOL, LW, 18, 1) The Liverpool winger still has a lot to learn, and needs a more regular end product, but when you consider he’s only just turned 18 his potential is scary. What a squad with Sterling, Adam Johnson & Oxlade-Chamberlain gives you is a weapon we arguably haven’t had since the 1990 World Cup with Waddle & Barnes: Individual ability & unpredictability in 1v1 situations. It’s something which, to our disgrace was under valued & under developed in English youth coaching for many years, but we now look to have a great future in this area.
THEO WALCOTT (ARSENAL, RW, 23, 30, 4) Walcott’s pace is still his biggest weapon, and his crossing still needs to improve, but his scoring exploits this season for Arsenal show he is improving his all round game, & is a genuine option as a striker, as well as on the wing.
WILFRIED ZAHA (CRYSTAL PALACE, RW, 20, 1) With pace, technical skill & the ability to play as a striker or on either wing Zaha is an exciting prospect who looks set for a move to a big Premier League team, whether Palace get promoted or not this season. Yet another winger with enormous potential who looks set to end the horrific lack of individual ability & creativity suffered by England teams for far too long.
AARON LENNON (SPURS, RW, 25, 20) Like Theo Walcott, Lennon may rely more on his incredible pace than individual dribbling ability to beat players, but his sheer athleticism and good technical ability means he could still have a lot to offer the national team.
ANDY CARROLL (WEST HAM UTD OWNED BY LIVERPOOL, STRIKER, 23, 9, 2) In a possession based team there’s no way i’d start Andy Carroll. He’s just not mobile or quick enough, but as something different off the bench if we need a goal in the knock-out phase of a World Cup he could be invaluable. With the crossing ability our wingers & full backs have he’ll be an absolute handful for any defence in the world……….the temptation of course is to return to the dark days when a player like him is in your team. Just use him in the box & don’t start launching it to him from inside our own half please!
DANNY WELBECK (MANCHESTER UNITED, STRIKER, 22, 14, 5) Welbeck still has some way to go to prove his international class. He’s clearly way behind Rooney, Van Persie & Hernandez at Utd, but he’s strong, quick & technically solid, as well as having the versatility to play on the wing. You suspect the regular playing time needed to develop into a true international player may become limited at Old Trafford with the quality in front of him.
DANIEL STURRIDGE (LIVERPOOL, STRIKER, 23, 4) Liverpool’s new striker was identified as a future England player a long time ago when he progressed through the Manchester City academy. Since his move to Chelsea he’s never really fulfilled the potential, either through injury, or not having the opportunities. His loan move to Bolton provided him with his only regular period playing as a central striker week-in, week-out, and he scored a lot of goals. Both Liverpool & England need him to now live up to his billing as a future star, because we severely lack world class options up front, with Rooney the only exception. A lot has changed since we could choose from Owen, Shearer, Sheringham, Fowler, Ferdinand, Ian Wright & Andrew Cole!
Over the next 12 months we’re likely to see one or two surprises pop up too…….hopefully they’ll be world-class strikers!
Thanks for reading. Remember, this is all based on the ‘If they develop’ factor, but I much prefer that to depending on players already proven to not be good enough. Comments welcome!