On the surface, this is what many England supporters wanted to see; new faces, chances being taken on players who are not in the mainstream, and more youngsters being given a chance by Roy Hodgson. As I have said in many a previous article, England are bringing plenty of talented young players through the ranks, and all they have to do is look across the Channel or the North Sea to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to see exactly how it’s done; but is this just all smoke and mirrors.
It is true that many are pleased with the likes of Fabian Delph, Calum Chambers and John Stones being called into the England squad for their September friendly against Norway, and then the opening match of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against fellow group heavyweight Switzerland. The question that must be asked, however, is if Hodgson would have made the same choices if the national team pool was not struck with injury.
The list of current crocked players is rather lengthy; Kyle Walker, Ross Barkley, Theo Walcott, Glen Johnson, Luke Shaw, Michael Carrick, Jon Flanagan, Adam Lallana, Chris Smalling, Kieran Gibbs, Jay Rodriguez and Andy Carroll are all unavailable for selection, but all have played parts in Hodgson’s previous plans.
The current squad signals a sign of hope and a reminder that the future could indeed be bright for the Three Lions, but will we see similar choices when fitness is a non-issue?
Let’s take a look at the squad in full, and see what the chances are of seeing a similar trend in the coming months – I’ll get to Rooney being named captain in a bit, don’t you worry.
England squad in full
GK: Joe Hart, Frasier Forster, Ben Foster
DF: Leighton Baines, Danny Rose, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Calum Chambers, Phil Jagielka, John Stones
MF: Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Jack Colback, Fabian Delph, James Milner, Raheem Sterling, Andros Townsend, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
ST: Wayne Rooney, Rickie Lambert, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck
Potential starting XI
Hart; Baines, Jagielka, Cahill, Jones; Henderson, Wilshere; Sterling, Rooney, Chamberlain; Sturridge
Now, there’s no reason to get into what expectations come with the squad or my views on what the XI may well be, the point here is to look at if further squads similar to these (or at least along similar lines) can be expected in the future; let’s have a look at that now.
To be honest, this is what we can all expect regardless of fitness issues. In Hart, Forster and Foster, it’s the three best options you’ll come to find in the country at keeper. The only question you could really raise, is if Forster can beat out Hart for the number one job come Euro 2016 in two summer’s time; much of that will depend on Willy Caballero pushing Hart at City however. In the long term, Queens Park Rangers signing highly rated Alex McCarthy from Reading poses the only potential monkey wrench, with many tipping him for big things down the road.
At current, Kyle Walker, Kieran Gibbs, Luke Shaw, Jon Flanagan and Glen Johnson are all crocked and unavailable. Still and yet, the choices Hodgson made were more or less spot on. It still does my head in completely that Nathaniel Clyne has yet to get a shout (he’s arguably the option for England at right-back, but playing for Southampton clearly works against him).
When everyone is fit however, Luke Shaw should remain out of the side till he proves himself at United under Louis van Gaal. Flanagan will find it hard to get time now that Liverpool bought everyone under the sun, Kyle Walker will have competition from both Eric Dier (he’ll be getting a look eventually surely) and DeAndre Yedlin.
As for Glen Johnson, he belongs no where near the England team, and Kieran Gibbs remains first-choice at Arsenal, but it’s unclear if he still has a role to play for England. Many will prefer Shaw in the long term, but he could still at least continue to make the squad.
Danny Rose has certainly benefited the most of players missing in action, and I suspect he’ll fall back out of favor once everyone is fit. Lastly, Calum Chambers and John Stones offer plenty in the long term for England, but was it wise to call on young and relatively inexperienced players, especially for the opener against Switzerland?
Steven Caulker and Curtis Davies are both more experienced, and playing just as well in the early goings, and while a look to the youth has long been needed, there still needs to be a bit of balance. England certainly are not lacking defensive options, which cannot be seen as a bad thing what so ever.
This will be where all the questions will be asked. Roy’s selection was what you’d expect and all of the call-ups were deserved (though you could argue that Milner doesn’t belong, I have been singing that tune for a few years now). The question going forward however, is will England have to rely on too much youth and/or inexperience in midfield in the long term?
Remember this; Ross Barkley, Theo Walcott, Michael Carrick and Adam Lallana are not in this squad via the injury table, so where would Roy go from here once his options are all fully fit? Both Barkley and Walcott will surely be considered critical components, while the majority of England fans will shout the same for Lallana – such notions suggest that Chamberlain, Townsend will be sacrificed, but having that sort of player pool to dip into is what you want for the national team set up.
However, Hodgson has shown favor in both Chamberlain and Townsend, and should they still progress under him, does that mean the ax for Walcott? Barkley’s place is undoubtedly safe, while Lallana is likely to be included if for no other reason than the chemistry many hope he forms at Anfield with Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, not to mention the existing bond with Rickie Lambert.
All in all, England will have plenty of attack minded options in midfield in the coming years, something they’ve truly lacked for a while, so we can all do a happy dance.
As for Fabian Delph and Jack Colback, it was about time. While James Milner’s inclusion brings that little extra bit of work rate you want to see, Colback and Delph bring even more of it to the table – this has lacked in England’s midfield for as long as I can remember.
While Delph and Colback are not the creative types, they do not have to be. With Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere the likely preferred midfield pair, Delph and Colback bring the energy and will to drive forward that Hodgson can call on in a match where England need to get a result when being down, or when they need to hold on to a lead.
Many will miss Gerrard and Lampard, and all the creativity they brought, but there is something to be said for a hard working midfield that wins the ball and turns it over to the forward players to do the rest, and that is exactly what they bring. Michael Carrick could well come back into the fold, and if that happens, it needs to be the point where Hodgson calls time on Milner’s involvement.
Okay, first things first; how in all that is sacred and holy is Danny Welbeck STILL being included in the squad?! There was a time where it was acceptable to call on him when a lack of options was an issue, but that is however no longer the case. If Welbeck did not make it clear before the World Cup that he does not belong, surely this summer proved once and for all that his selection smacks of lunacy.
While I understand that Walcott and Lallana are unavailable, why not bring one more experiment into the side for the Norway friendly? Off the top of my head, I can think of Tom Ince, Nathan Dyer and Saido Berahino that offer more quality in a wide player role than Welbeck does at current.
More to the point, these players play week in and week out while contributing in positive ways for their clubs, while United supporters do nothing but complain about Welbeck’s very existence – this has to stop. If his name is anywhere near the squad when injuries are not an issue, Hodgson deserves to be sacked on that basis alone.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, we can turn to Rickie Lambert. His move to Liverpool was thought to do nothing but solidify his England selection, as he was expected to be playing along side Lallana, Sterling and Sturridge – and then the move for Mario Balotelli happened.
With Lambert likely to play second fiddle to Super Mario, it’s time to look elsewhere; Harry Kane comes to mind. Likely to see more and more time under Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs this season and being a good all-round option at striker, integrating him into the England fold makes far more sense than Lambert, who is his elder by a decade.
On the whole, this is a squad that can be further built upon. The stepping stones are there, and once injuries are a non-factor, England could well field a side that could truly reach some level of expectation in two years time. Though, my thoughts still remain that Roy is not the man to take England to a new level, but that’s another story entirely
Wayne Rooney’s captaincy
Sigh…where to begin? Okay, it’s understandable that many would want their nations most recognizable footballer to be awarded the captaincy, but this was arguably the worst decision of Hodgson’s England career. No? You disagree, well let’s look at the facts.
It can be argued that Wayne Rooney is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of the national team. Absolutely brilliant at club level for United (to the point where he’s on the verge of over-taking Thierry Henry for third all-time on the Premier League scoring chart), but he’s a massive failure for his country. Five goals in major tournaments, but four of them came at Euro 2004 in the form of two braces – since then? One goal that was not in a friendly or in qualifying.
Is Rooney a leader? You can perhaps argue that he leads by example, but that stops at how hard he is willing to work. Are other England players also not willing to work? Do other England players not have a commanding personality? Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka instantly come to mind when I think of who deserved the arm-band more than the golden boy of English football. This is an appointment that plays into that age old English habit of picking someone based off popularity and not if they are truly qualified.
Yes, Rooney has been saddled with responsibility of the arm-band at United, but at United he is not only a legend, but he’s a different player in their kit than for England. I don’t have to go into the many disappointing performances on his CV in tournaments for his country, but if that is what you want in a captain, then so be it. I will simply leave you with this; ability and popularity do not translate into leadership – if you can tell me what leadership qualities he truly brings to the table, I am all ears.