England must overcome inexperience and lack of proven goalscorers at Euro 2024

Cole Palmer playing for England
There is little doubt that Cole Palmer deserves his spot in the squad but, like many of his team-mates, he lacks tournament experience - PA/Bradley Collyer

As Gareth Southgate’s England players board their flight to Germany on Monday, almost half of them will be stepping into the unknown. For 12 members of the 26-man squad, this summer will represent their first experience of a major tournament and their first serious test at the highest level of the international game.

Between them, England’s players for Euro 2024 boast a combined total of just 651 caps, compared to 830 caps in their squad at the 2022 World Cup. More than half of the appearances in this year’s squad have been made by just five players: Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, Declan Rice, John Stones and Harry Kane.

With Southgate driving England on towards a bold new future, the seasoned players such as Kane, Pickford and Walker have, in some ways, become the outliers. They are accustomed to leading this team, to setting the example, but they must know that their experience and guidance will be more important now than at any other point in their international careers.

Depending on your view, England’s lack of experience is either a concern or an exciting sign of the huge amount of promise in Southgate’s squad. Cole Palmer, Kobbie Mainoo, Eberechi Eze and Anthony Gordon have made a combined 14 international appearances, for example, but few supporters will be fretting about what they can offer. The potential is too exciting, the talent too obvious.

It is striking, though, that more than half of England’s outfield players have never before experienced an international tournament. How will they handle the pressures of it? How will they deal with life in camp? How will they gel as a group? Southgate and his coaching staff will have strong ideas, of course, but no one can truly know the answers to these questions until the tournament is under way.

Third youngest squad at the Euros

Kane, for his part, insists that there is no need to worry about the newbies. “I think we have more than enough experience,” he said. “Especially a lot of players who have played in two or three tournaments now.

“There are always going to be new players, players who deserve to be here, players who are in their first tournament. It is about making sure they feel comfortable and they feel at ease when they are training or on the pitch, just to be themselves. We have more than enough.

“The lads who have played in a lot of tournaments have to step up and be there for the ones who need a bit of help.”

Of the 24 nations competing in this summer’s tournament, only six will land in Germany with fewer combined caps than Southgate’s England. Even more eye-catchingly, only two teams (Turkey and the Czech Republic) will arrive with younger squads.

Nine of Southgate’s players are aged 24 or under, although in this case age does not necessarily equate to experience: Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden are young guns but they are seasoned internationals compared to 32-year-old Lewis Dunk (six caps), 28-year-old Ivan Toney (three caps) and 27-year-old Jarrod Bowen (eight caps).

Kane: Southgate couldn’t ignore players’ form

Time will tell whether the absences of Harry Maguire, through injury, and Jack Grealish will shake the foundations of this England squad. Between them, those two players have played 99 matches for their country. Maguire, especially, has consistently proven he can thrive under the unique pressures of a major tournament.

“For those boys it is really hard, tough to take,” said Kane of Maguire and Grealish. “For Harry especially, being injured. I know how much England means to him and how much he loves representing his country. Of course it is sad to see them go but ultimately that is what you get for playing for England. The manager has to take tough decisions. Everyone here has earned the right to be here and has proven they deserve to be there.

“Everyone brings something different to the team and we are going to need all 26 players if we are going to be successful. There are a lot of fantastic players – players who have had really, really good seasons. You can’t ignore that. Players at the top of their game, on high form, deserve to be playing for their country.

“Being England manager is not easy; you have a lot of tough decisions, a lot of players to pick from. You can only choose 26. We have done that and I think we have a fantastic squad. But as always, it is about how you handle the games and the tournament, how you handle the pressure. We are going to have to deal with that in the weeks to come.”

Only Albania have as few proven goalscorers

For Kane, the twin demands of leadership and goalscoring have never been a burden. If anything, they have proven to be the opposite during his time as captain. But this year the pressure on him is even more intense than usual, partly because of the youthful nature of the squad and partly because there are so few players who have experience of scoring goals for England.

Of Southgate’s chosen 26, only Kane and Saka have scored more than four goals at international level. When compared to the other teams at the tournament, England have the joint-lowest number of players with five or more international goals, alongside Albania. Of the 100 goals scored by the current England squad, 74 were converted by Kane and Saka.

Once again, it points to the same theme: that this is an England team picked on what might be possible with talent and promise this summer, rather than what has been done in the past. It is certainly an adventurous and exciting approach by Southgate. Now the time is coming for his players to prove it can work.