By Matthew Bostock
We are now less than 100 days until the start of the Fifa World Cup, and England’s manager, Roy Hodgson, faces dividing the nation in picking his squad to take to Brazil. He plans to announce his provisional 23-man squad (with 7 standbys) on 13th May, with his final selection being made by 2nd June. It’s fair to say that Hodgson faces a difficult selection process ahead, as many of England’s younger players are making a good case for their inclusion. Many England supporters will be hoping that the national team will represent their country with more pride and passion than in the previous World Cup. In South Africa, England crashed out of the finals with a 4-1 defeat to the old enemy, Germany. However, with a host of promising new English talent emerging, there is reason for optimism -Hodgson should look to Germany’s youth system as the blueprint for success.
The average age of the team that dismantled England four years ago was 24, whereas England’s average age was 30. With the exception of Gerrard and Rooney, many of that team have either retired from international football, or now feature less regularly in the starting line-up. This presents a rare opportunity for the likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling to stake their claim for a place in England’s starting eleven. All have had fine seasons with their respective clubs and are deserving of at least a seat on the plane to Brazil, whilst Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and James Milner have all performed well below par for the majority of games at club level. Germany adopted this approach of giving youth team players match experience after their disastrous Euro 2000 campaign and are now reaping the benefits. In the past three major tournaments, Germany have reached the last four; including a narrow 1-0 defeat in the final of the European Championships to Spain in 2012.
Of course, English football fans are allowed to dream of winning the World Cup this summer, but realistically England is far behind Germany and Spain in terms of becoming a footballing superpower. However, injecting the current national side with some young talent could help Hodgson lay the foundations for years to come. If Germany’s example is anything to go by, then the World Cup could provide these players with vital experience for their development into top quality footballers. They could also potentially surprise themselves if given the opportunity to showcase their talents. It is highly doubtful this group of extremely talented youngsters will produce the same dismal display as the previous group in 2010. A pitiful total of three goals in four games highlighted the lack of attacking threat England posed. For the first time in a long time, a group of English players have attacking flair in abundance, and it’s key for Roy Hodgson to utilise this strength and push on from it.
Brazil can be the perfect platform for England to develop their young stars, and against opposition such as Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica it would provide invaluable experience for future tournaments. England supporters have cause for excitement and Hodgson should approach the tournament with plenty of enthusiasm, something that has been lacking in England’s recent ventures. No doubt the players mentioned above will eventually get their first team opportunities, and it would be wise to start this transition sooner, rather than later.
Matthew is currently in his second year at MMU studying History and looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. He has a keen interest in all things football and Manchester United-related. Follow him on Twitter @mattybostock