So a couple of weeks ago I was writing about Harry Kane’s leading role in the future of English football. This was just after an epic performance in the North London derby and capturing the imagination of the league as the most natural English goal scorer we have seen since Alan Shearer. In fact, even the Geordie icon said Kane has more subtlety to his game than he ever did. No longer is Kane a youngster who deserves his chance over the bigger names in the squad, but is the leading man at White Hart Lane and more English players need to be given that opportunity at international level. Aside from occasionally making the squad and a brief cameo to replace a tired Wayne Rooney in a friendly, players need to be forced into responsibility and grow up as an international calibre player as I really have faith in this new group of English players to produce something worth investment of time.
The squad doesn’t need Jagielka, Lambert or Carroll, it needs fresh players who are getting regular time at Premier League clubs and putting in consistently impressive performance; I’m looking at you Southampton. To really move on the squad requires more than a facelift but a manager who is given carte-blanche to change. Investment in the game at lower levels and a more visible sign of progress from the junior ranks to making it into the senior squad. Endless talk of TV money is not relevant on this topic – however much the tabloids love to get into that – rather we should be looking to reallocate the money already in the game.
Quotas can be talked about all we like, although it makes the most sense to improve the quality of the English youngsters by other means as the last couple of seasons have shown that the game time is available if you are good enough. Bringing in requirements for clubs to name a set number of English players, as championed by the vocal Stan Collymore, would surely be more likely to bring the standard of the English game? Ideally we want to retain/improve the quality of the league and see English youth improve on the same trajectory. The moves for Micah Richards and possibly Danny Ings abroad would be a welcome change to a pattern that largely sees English players short on technical ability and ambition to want to test themselves in a different league. Anyway, that tangent rant isn’t what this article was meant to be about.
11 of the England squad were picked in the last article, just the midfielders and forwards are left (and the minor issue of a management change). So far we have: Hart, Forster, Foster; Clyne, Walker, Shaw, Cresswell; Stones, Dier, Chambers, Jones. 12 men left to pick for the next squad and a plethora of forward going talent that is available to Hodgson for his next squad with several men starting to show form that should be rewarded.
The midfield, then. A holding midfielder of quality is a tricky area for England right now with Carrick unable to play regularly at United and Gareth Barry’s career on a rapid decline. Jack Wilshere has been employed as a regista in a 4-4-2 diamond recently although he can’t seem to stay fit or away from smoking headlines long enough to get anywhere near the potential that has been talked about for years. England are crying out for a Patrick Vieira-type player to appear from nowhere and give a solidity to the midfield that allows the skilful options to play in front. Mark Noble is a man who can’t seem to do anything to get himself a chance for England and at just 27 could definitely do a job in front of the back four. Noble certainly deserves his chance after his work in the West Ham midfield that has shot them to a certain top half finish and his controlling role in the midfield just needs to be the spring board for attacks.
For me, if Wayne Rooney is to continue in the England side he has to adapt to being a central midfield player otherwise he will be blocking the development path of several strikers, most importantly Kane and Ings. Whether he can fit into the squad or not is debateable and 2018 seems a long way off for the 30-year old. Wilshere and Henderson make their way in, the engine of Henderson makes him versatile and has even been used as a right wing-back under Rodgers that gives flexibility. Wilshere still has the potential to become anything, whether he sees his career developing from a deeper role or as a 10. Playing in the 10 seems unlikely with the number of brilliant 10s at Arsenal. The final central midfield slot goes to another one from the remarkable production line at Southampton.
James Ward-Prowse provides exceptional set piece delivery and can be moved around the midfield having been brought up with the midfield fluidity at St Mary’s. Whether in a 4-2-2-2, Ward-Prowse can play as a deep-lying playmaker or a 4-3-3 can play in a more advanced role and utilise the electric pace in front of him. The midfield may be inexperience, but that’s the nature of a squad who has held onto Carrick, Barry, Lampard and Gerrard’s international careers for years too long. The lack of a high calibre deep midfielder is worrying for now, but England’s future must look to the attacking talent and give fans a reason to want to watch rather than scraping a 2-1 against every side they ever face. As a massive James Milner fan, his inclusion would usually come ahead of Henderson’s.
Ward-Prowse, Wilshere, Henderson, Noble
Now the joy (not sarcastic this once) of England’s future with attacking midfielders. They seem to be coming out from all over the place with even Jordon Ibe putting him some mature performances for Liverpool lately. Ross Barkley’s injuries and lack of a consistent position have damaged his development somewhat, being thrown out wide or tried deeper by Roberto Martinez he is crying out to be behind a striker in a 4-2-3-1. Barkley may also be struggling with playing behind a similarly inexperienced and immature player in Romelu Lukaku; England would still be foolish to alienate him from the squad. Raheem Sterling still has his long-term future as a wide man or a 10 despite doing well to fill in for Daniel Sturridge recently and his England position needs to be used to stretch the game with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other flank. Chamberlain is another who has struggled for regular minutes or to find form or consistency and England needs to be his platform for experience at the highest level. Walcott has begun to make his return from injury and the additional goal threat he offers warrants a place in the squad as England look to play at a higher tempo and expose the lack of pace in international defences.
Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley, Walcott
The next generation has such a spread of talents that the Championship can boast, too. Will Hughes will be hoping to make his name in the Premier League soon (would be tempted to give him an England opportunity regardless) whilst Nathan Redmond’s quick feet have attracted the attention of many potential Premier League suitors.
Now, to avoid boring you all to tears further I will save the debate on the strikers for a fortnight’s time. Pretty sure you already know one of them and the shape of the side, with versatility as important as anything.