Wednesday, 28 May 2014

England - A squad for the future; Ready to make an impression on the World stage

Over the past two weeks, since the end of the domestic season, we've seen Roy Hodgson pick a very young and exciting England squad. I for one was absolutely delighted with his positivity.
Known for his conservative nature, it would have been easy for Roy just to play to type by including the usual middle of the road dross.
The players he left out, Cleverley, Carrick et al have had their numerous chances (and on occasion have been useful to be fair), but are nowhere near dynamic enough to make an impression at the very top. Rather, let's go with youtheful, exciting, unpredictable players like Barkley and Sterling, players who are bang in form, and who have years at the very top ahead of them.

The goalkeepers other than Hart really could have been names out of a hat for me. Hopefully we don't have to call on any of them, as the drop in class from big Joe is considerable I'd suggest (Forster is a bit of an unknown quantity, but he does play in the Dog and Duck league, so...). I've actually always been of the opinion that you could easily gamble at only taking 2 keepers in your 23. When has the 3rd keeper ever been required in the World Cup? A risk I would take personally. We could always stick James Milner in nets if worst comes to worst.

In defence, Smalling for me has not done enough this season, and Jones too has not lived up to the potential that we saw just a few years ago (when he's not crocked). I would have taken Stones (a ball playing centre half, and a future England captain whose calmness belies his tender years) and the tenacious and versatile Flanagan (as back up to Johnson), in their place. Lest we forget, these are players that excelled for their respective clubs throughout successful seasons, kept established performers out of their teams, and showed no sign of nerve or inexperience in the process. They are players who will undoubtedly be in the squad come the next qualifiers, and with likely 25-35% of those selected never getting any game time in Brazil, why not get these players involved now? I'd have every faith that they would perform to the required level should they be needed. Certainly much more than I would 'Bambi on Ice' Smalling!
At least Walker was injured as I'm not sure I could have watched him face anyone other than the Costa Rican left winger, and even then I wouldn't fancy him in that battle to be honest.
The inclusion of Shaw was both brave and necessary. This boy is already at a standard where he would walk into virtually any team in the world in his position. At 18 it's quite remarkable how composed he is, and how many matches at the top level he already has under his belt.
I can't help but think that overlooking England's greatest ever left back is an error. Unlike other players, Ashley Cole's age has not affected his performances, and only Mourinho's stubborness led to his lack of minutes this season. He's been put out to pasture one tournament too soon. You only have to look at his level of performance and fitness towards the end of the season in key matches to see he is still as good as ever. Ask yourself this; if Leighton Baines was released on a free transfer, would the likes of Madrid, Liverpool, Monaco, etc be clamouring to sign him? I think not. Steady domestically, but he has never been and never will be world class. And tellingly has never been picked ahead of Cole in a competitive match. Shaw will usurp him for the next tournament, and Cole is better than him now (and should be starting against Italy). I'd suggest that Baines has only been included on the strength of his set plays and penalty taking,

The midfield threw up little surprise to me, and it looks a really strong area. Sterling, Barkley and Henderson are all rewarded for terrific seasons, with the latter in with a real chance of continuing his solid club partnership with Gerrard in the starting XI.
You could argue that Jack Wilshere is a little lucky after a particularly disappointing season, albeit one which was beset by injury (nothing new there). Is he robust enough for tournament football? Is he even fit enough? He has unquestionably got the ability though, and is clearly a favourite of Roy, so I wouldn't bet against him starting the first game.
Lampard's inclusion raised some eyebrows, but I'm not entirely sure why? Never let his country down, some much needed experience, and essentially back up to Gerrard incase of injury or suspension. He will be useful to bring on late in games when, in boiling conditions, we will be required to hold on to the ball, ie. not play 'Hollywood' passes.
Lallana is the player that I find interesting. Where does he fit? Will he start? I really don't know. Maybe he'll get more minutes the deeper we get into the competition (assuming we play more than 3 games!) a la Platt in Italia '90?
Walcott's absence is a huge blow, and we will miss his pace and finishing. There have been few players as unfortunate as him when it comes to the big tournaments; picked in 2006 at the age of 16 but no appearances, didn't qualify in 2008 (the dark days of McClaren), dropped in very strange circumstances by Capello in 2010 (better off out of it to be honest), and then struggling for fitness in 2012 (although he did score the equaliser  and set up the winner in 15 minutes against Sweden). Townsend too would have been a useful addition, and by rights did as much as anyone to get us to Brazil. However, both these players will get their chance again.

In attack, the lineup pretty much picked itself; Rooney and Sturridge, with Welbeck included due to a lack of viable other options. The only vaguely interesting choice was Lambert over Carroll, but Roy got this bang on for me, and there wasn't really a choice to be made. Lambert is clearly the better footballer, plus a team player who will be 'good  to have around the camp', whereas Carroll spent the majority of the season injured, and then returned late in the season to be nothing more than a big lump who doesn't score goals but does make a nuisance of himself. With shit hair.

So, as you can see, I am very excited and positive about this attacking and youthful squad. It really could make a mark in the next few weeks. And if it doesn't, these young Lions will have got further vital tournament experience that should stand us in good stead going forward. Potentially a great time to be an England fan!!

What do you think? Are you happy with the squad? Would you have made any different choices? Do you agree/disagree with my opinions?
Please leave comments below, or contact me via Twitter @russellheaps

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