IN years gone by, the fact an England squad contained only five players with World Cup experience would have sent a shudder down the spine. Not anymore. Out of Roy Hodgson’s chosen 23, only Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, James Milner and Wayne Rooney have played on the biggest stage, but rather than fill the nation with dread, the new-look squad instead fills us with hope and optimism not just for the future, but more importantly for this summer’s tournament.
Twelve months ago England fans would have struggled to conjure even a hint of excitement after the debacle that was 2010 followed by the predictable quarterfinal exit on penalties at Euro 2012, butwhile it would be foolish to suggest the Three Lions can be crowned world champions in Brazil, you feel the squad is better equipped than ever to spring a surprise.
Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley are the youngest at 18, 19 and 20 respectively, while Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Welbeck and Jordan Henderson are also new to the World Cup fold.
The latter three were part of Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, but this time around they are hardly wildcards having performed solidly for their clubs over the past two years.
What is more refreshing is that these youngsters are not simply being included to gain ‘valuable experience’ for the future: fitness permitting, at least five of them will have high hopes of starting England’s opener against Italy on June 14.
Former England manager Glenn Hoddle believes this summer’s tournament “is about the experience that the Barkleys and the Wilsheres can get under their belts”
ahead of Euro 2016. There’s no doubt the experience will stand them in good stead in four years time, but the likes of Shaw, Sterling, Barkley and to a degree Lallana, have an incredible amount to offer England now and they shouldn’t be omitted simply because of their inexperience.
Shaw’s inclusion ahead of the reliable Ashley Cole was the biggest surprise when Hodgson announced his squad last month, but despite having a single cap to his name, along with the five shared by Sterling and Barkley, there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to these three youngsters.
Shaw is a left back of immense promise. Neat, tough and precise going forward. Barkley has the grace and strength of a natural attacking ball-carrier of the sort the English game seldom produces and such has been his impact at Everton the teenager is already shouldering comparisons to Paul Gascoigne.
Youth suits England. A collective lack of pace was exposed four years ago by Germany, a lack of guile was toyed with – if not so ruthlessly – by Italy in 2012. Heading into Brazil 2014, the Three Lions have both in abundance.