Could England’s young guns brighten up Brazil?

The Rio Report

View gallery

England’s provisional 30-man squad for the upcoming friendly against Denmark is notable for its relative youth.

The inclusion of Southampton left-back Luke Shaw, 18, made the headlines, along with a recall for Raheem Sterling (19) and the continued presence of two 20-year-olds in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley.

Such is their profile, you would be forgiven for forgetting that Jack Wilshere, Daniel Welbeck, Andros Townsend, Jordan Henderson, Kyle Walker and Steven Caulker are all under 24 and thus would be eligible for ‘young player’ awards.


It is a refreshing change from the old guard which attended the 2010 World Cup which, at 28 and seven months, was more than two years the senior of this 2014 vintage. Spookily, it is only a few months shy of the average age of Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 world beaters - and that could drop further, with Toronto’s Jermain Defoe, West Brom’s Ben Foster, Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and even Chelsea outcast Ashley Cole among the thirtysomethings set to miss out on Brazil.

What is more refreshing is that these youngsters are not simply being included to gain ‘valuable experience’ for the future: fitness permitting, at least seven of the 10 will go to Brazil and a handful will have high hopes of starting matches.

When Roy Hodgson was named England manager in the build-up to the 2012 European Championships, there were high hopes he would make a clean break with the past – a past which was dominated by a collective delusion of superiority, egos which fractured team spirit and ultimately undermined Fabio Capello.

Capello is from a football culture where senior players can usually be counted upon to lead by example, to foster team spirit and behave with the utmost dedication and professionalism.

Some of England’s veterans fit this brief – Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard spring to mind as examples of older pros that have shed the baggage of youthful indiscretion – but others remain divisive and, in some cases, poisonous. Names need not be named, but aptitude for club football does not necessarily determine suitability to the national game.

Hodgson, a pragmatist above all else, would have seen the folly of cutting loose with a team of teens in Eastern Europe two summers ago. The weight of expectation may have reduced, but it remains a danger to expose England’s foals to the harsh reality of a pressure-cooker tournament camp.

Instead he has eased them in progressively, all the while taking every opportunity he can to cast the also-rans adrift, regardless of their reputations or perceived excellence.

And so we have the result – a 30-strong squad that is half man, half boy, with a delicate balance of experience and enthusiasm.

Youth suits England. A lack of collective pace was exposed by Germany nearly four years ago; a lack of guile was toyed with – if not so ruthlessly – by Italy in 2012.

The personnel and style of English football requires the team to play direct, counter-attacking football with precision and speed. For the time being, England will never match Latin teams for possession, but there are enough midfielders comfortable on the ball to at least create a stable nucleus around Gerrard – Henderson, for example, is accustomed to playing alongside the Liverpool man, and has been a revelation playing Rodgers-ball this season.

But it is that front-line which should remain England’s focus. The form and fitness of Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge and Welbeck for once provides options aplenty in this department, even if ‘secret weapon’ Townsend has faded this season. Even without the stricken Theo Walcott, there is depth and variety in England’s front-line.

However, Hodgson must resist the temptation to follow the blueprint of many successful international teams by building his team around his best player.

View gallery

Wayne Rooney remains the most talented English player of his generation but, as we all know, talent isn’t everything. His mercurial form and fitness make him enigmatic to say the least; he can huff and puff his way through Premier League matches when short of both, but in the summer heat, with the world watching, he can and does find himself wanting at times.

Of course, Rooney will remain England’s main man in Brazil. But Hodgson must be prepared to upset the £300k-a-week man as, if he is not firing on all cylinders, it would be negligent to ignore the calls of Sturridge and the rest.

Is Hodgson brave enough to mould his team around a system and not a player? Probably – although he would seek to reassure Rooney that he is still his number one, with the Manchester United striker prone to sulking when he doesn’t get his own way.

Ultimately though, this latest squad solidifies a marker that was laid down when Joe Hart was dropped some months back, despite comfortably being England’s best keeper – reputation is nothing, form is everything.

All this is positive stuff, but let's not get ahead of ourselves - par for England at this tournament would be to get out of an incredibly tough group, containing Italy and Uruguay, and boasting some energy-sapping trips to unfamiliar climates; success would be a run to the quarters or semis. Winning it is not on the horizon just yet.

But what Hodgson's young guns could really provide is simple youthful entertainment. That is all we can ask for.

View comments (41)