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England comment: Youth and success need not be mutually exclusive
WHEN it became clear that Roy Hodgson would be selecting a youthful England squad yesterday afternoon, plenty of observers concluded, ‘Well if you aren’t going to win anything, you might as well pick the kids’. But why should the two things be mutually exclusive?
Hodgson has not selected the likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling because he wants to turn this summer’s World Cup into a glorified field trip. He has selected them because they have been three of the best players in the Premier League this season. In terms of planning for the future, the fact they are all 20 years old or younger is merely a bonus.
This might be an inexperienced England squad – only five of the 23 players have played at a previous World Cup finals – but that does not necessarily mean it has to be an unsuccessful one.
If recent tournaments have taught us anything, it is that the tried and tested formula of sticking with the same group of players is fatally flawed.
So out go the likes of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole, and in comes a new core of youngsters eager to make their mark at international level.
There are exceptions, most notably Steven Gerrard, who remains as influential as ever, and Frank Lampard, who has clung on to his place despite his limited involvement with Chelsea this season, but this is a squad imbued with the elixir of youth.
The hope is that that will guarantee pace, energy and attacking verve, characteristics that were glaringly absent as England muddled their way through the 2012 European Championships.
Two years on, and Hodgson has thrown off at least some of his shackles, although the make-up of the starting XI for the opening group game against Italy could yet see the England boss at least partially revert to his more conservative type.
In truth, once Theo Walcott, Andros Townsend, Jay Rodriguez and Kyle Walker became unavailable because of injury, he didn’t have a lot of choosing to do anyway.
The identity of the second-choice left-back was always going to be a controversial topic, but while Ashley Cole was a superb servant to England over the course of his 107 caps, it is unarguable that his best days have been and gone. Shaw will either sink or swim if Leighton Baines breaks down.
With Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and even James Milner providing defensive versatility, Hodgson has opted to take just seven natural defenders to Brazil. It is a bold move, but it also reflects a lack of talent in that area. With Terry and Ferdinand rightfully discarded, England are hardly spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting centre-halves.
There is a much deeper talent pool in midfield, and by dumping Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley onto the standby list, Hodgson has proved he cares more about form than reputation. Neither Manchester United player can justifiably complain about their exclusion.
Jordan Henderson’s fine season with Liverpool made him a much more sensible pick, and it will be interesting to see whether the former Sunderland trainee is paired with Gerrard in a repeat of their club relationship at Liverpool.
Further up the field, another Liverpool player, Daniel Sturridge, is a guaranteed starter, and while some would have preferred Andy Carroll to Rickie Lambert as England’s fourth striker, the reality is that there is precious little to choose between the pair. If we’re heading into a World Cup game relying on either, then we’re probably already in trouble.
One name has been absent from the analysis so far, but it is the one that is still most likely to make the difference. Wayne Rooney has performed poorly at his two World Cup finals to date, but he remains England’s likeliest match winner and the player that opponents fear most.
A succession of England managers have failed to get the best out of the Manchester United striker – now it is Hodgson’s turn to try. Rooney is likely to start in the hole behind Sturridge, and England will hope his movement takes him into positions where he can hurt an opposition back four. Plenty has changed with the current squad selection, but England’s reliance on Rooney remains unaltered.
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