Are Roy Hodgson's England set for a bright future?
Eyebrows were raised following the most recent England squad announcements when some surprising faces made the cut.
Tom Heaton, Charlie Austin and Jamie Vardy were all called up for a friendly against the Republic of Ireland and a European Championship qualifier away in Slovenia.
There is no disputing that current circumstances have allowed the uncapped trio to be called up by Roy Hodgson. With first choice striker Daniel Sturridge injured and Harry Kane, Danny Ings and Saido Berahino in the U21 European Championship squad, it has given Vardy and Austin the opportunity to show Hodgson what they can bring to the table.
Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck is a fitness concern, leaving Wayne Rooney as Hodgson’s only fit forward so it looks likely that the QPR and Leicester City frontmen will be given international minutes.
Both Austin and Vardy have had successful seasons, despite playing in sides who have spent the majority of the season battling at bottom end of the Premier League table.
Their call ups are refreshing to see, as for many years a criticism of England selection is to pick those with established names, regardless of whether they are in form or not.
They also highlight the strength in depth England have at their disposal. Harry Kane is the only Englishman to score more goals than Austin in the Premier League this season.
The fact that Austin has had to wait this long to get his shot at international football is testament to the strength in depth England have at their disposal.
Hodgson has admitted that the former Burnley forward’s call up is partly down to the England’s U21 squad for the European Championships, which is arguably the strongest of any nation at the competition.
A plethora of young and exciting prospects from both Premier League and Championship sides fills manager Gareth Southgate’s European Championship squad, which will be cut down from 27 players to 23 prior to June’s tournament.
Looking at that squad as an England fan got me very excited, because we have so much potential for the future.
The majority of those players at Premier League clubs have been regulars over the season, and some have even gained senior England caps.
And when you look at other nations who have been successful in recent years, England seem to be making the right noises.
Those who have done well on the international stage take the U21 tournament very seriously. It provides players with a chance to experience tournament football which is a vital part of their development.
For example, six of Germany’s starting eleven who won the 2009 tournament became World Cup winners in 2014. There is no doubt that taking the U21 Championships seriously can benefit the senior side in the future.
There was a lot of hype surrounding England at the last tournament in 2013. Under then manager Stuart Pearce, the Young Lions won a record ten games in a row without conceding a goal prior to the Israel tournament, but fell at the final hurdle and crashed out in the group stages after losing all three games.
This time, things are different. Southgate’s men look more organised and compact, and there seems to be a better atmosphere in the camp, all the players seem to get along well with each other.
Another key difference going into this summer’s tournament is that there is more transparency now between the U21s and the senior side.
Southgate has been allowed to take players such as Kane, Berahino and Jack Butland off Hodgson for the benefit of English football.
In previous years it seemed almost sacrosanct to not select a player who could feature for the U21s if he was already in the senior squad. But now under Hodgson and Southgate, things are different.
The two seem to have a solid working relationship and respect for each other, something which hasn’t been the case with previous managers.
When Greg Dyke became FA Chairman in 2013, his opening speech seemed to highlight the lack of quality English youngsters we have in the game. The future looked very bleak, but now things are exciting and positive. Who knows, we could be talking about England glory this summer…
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