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The great weight of expectation on England’s shoulders

The Boot Room

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As I watched Milivoje Novakovic slide his shot past Joe Hart one man in the pub with a wry smile stated to his friend ‘Well there goes my 4-0 bet.’ Two things immediately struck me. Why is this guy betting on England to win against Slovenia 4-0 and why is he not that bothered that England are losing?

Let’s examine the first question. Now England have been no stranger to a big win in qualifying campaigns. Their last win by four goals was back in March at home to Lithuania who are 96th in FIFA World Rankings and they beat San Marino by five last year who are 192nd. Slovenia though are ranked 48th and played out a 3-1 defeat at Wembley and have a goalkeeper, Samir Handanovic who is good enough to be linked with Man United to replace the potentially outgoing David Dea Gea. This is England though, the home of football, where it all began, home of the Premier League, the best league in the world and where the hell is Slovenia?

I do fear irrational patriotism clouds the judgement of abilities and plain ignorance of countries which are not popular holiday destinations leaves teams completely underestimated. Therefore, expectations on the national team are far too high. Yes, we should be doing better, but we don’t have the players nor do we have the coach.

All but one of the starting eleven play for top six teams but lets’s look at those in detail. Joe Hart is no doubt a top keeper but isn’t quite in the elite. This is probably a high point. The back four is consisting of a left back who is back up at his club to a man that’s the back up for their national team in Kieran Gibbs. A right back who is center back and also a figure of fun on social media.  Gary Cahill plays for the best team in the country but is secondary to John Terry and Chris Smalling currently plays centre half for a team constantly linked with numerous new centre backs.

Forward to the midfield, Jordan Henderson is a reasonably bright spark in a team that finished 6th in the league the equivalent to Villareal, Genoa or Schalke. Jack Wilshere had his best game in an England shirt but wouldn’t get in the Arsenal first team. Fabian Delph plays for Aston Villa and isn’t really considered good enough for a top four team. Andros Townsend is second choice behind Erik Lamela, enough said, despite Lamela’s obvious potential. Raheem Sterling has had a lot more negative headlines than positive recently and Rooney hadn’t scored since April 4th before the game. Should this team be beating Slovenia 4-0? I don’t think so but that man in the pub represents the average football fan and he is being let down because England should be better, should have better players but we must accept we don’t and we must do our best and that most likely will be another quarter final at the Euro’s next year.

I remember when Tottenham were going through a really bad spell back in November and someone on a spurs podcast said; ‘The worst thing a club can do is make the fans not care.’ That is exactly what has happened to many England fans, many fail to even know when a game is to be played, who the opposition is or just simply don’t care anymore. This is Roy’s responsibility, we need an exciting England a team who plays quick attacking football but that is also versatile and may actual beat some of the real big boys because we aren’t one anymore. We beat Brazil in a friendly back in 2013 but you have to go back to 2002 when David Beckham’s penalty defeated Argentina 1-0 to when England beat a top team in a competitive match, now that isn’t good enough but don’t expect it to change any time soon.

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England

World Cup One To Watch: England’s 24-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford

The England international will be a player to keep an eye out for in Russia.

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Jordan Pickford
Photo: Getty Images

After an impressive Premier League season for Everton, it perhaps comes a little surprise that Jordan Pickford has been named as England’s first choice goalkeeper for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

At a time when the country’s goalkeeping options have never looked stronger, the Everton number one has emerged as Gareth Southgate’s preferred option ahead of this month’s competition in Russia.

The 24-year-old, preferred to Stoke City‘s Jack Butland and Burnley‘s Nick Pope, now has the opportunity to build on an outstanding season at club level.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

Who is he?

Jordan Pickford became the most expensive British keeper in history after Everton paid £25 million – rising to what would be a club record £30 million – to sign him from Sunderland last summer.

A product of the Black Cats’ Academy, after joining the club aged eight – he has had spells on loan at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End.

Despite a turbulent season for the club as a whole, Pickford enjoyed an impressive debut campaign at Goodison Park, which saw him named the Toffees’ Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season.

Playing every minute in all 38 Premier League fixtures for the Blues, the 24-year-old has quickly begun to repay what had previously been considered a hefty price-tag.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

What is his international experience/record?

Having represented England at all levels from Under-16s, Pickford his senior bow in a 0-0 draw against world champions Germany in November 2017 before keeping a second clean sheet in a 1-0 away win against Holland in his second appearance for The Three Lions.

The 24-year-old made only his third international appearances when he started in a 2-1 friendly victory over Nigeria last weekend before he was all-but confirmed as Southgate’s number one shot-stopper ahead of the summer competition.

It is suggested that his superior ability with the ball at his feet and distribution is more conducive to the possession-based pressing style the relatively inexperienced England boss wants to implement.

Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?

“I was really pleased with what Jordan did,” Gareth Southgate revealed, as per BBC Sport, full of praise for Pickford after his performance against Nigeria.

“Normally, when you play for England, there’s not an awful lot of opportunity to produce a lot of saves. But his decision making on crosses, the punch he made, his distribution and calmness to slide passes into midfield… that was really important to the way we want to play.”

Pickford’s form will be absolutely key for an England side that has struggled for creativity in recent years.

The Three Lions’ progression from Group C – competing with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama – is likely to come down to the slimmest of margins and, in keeping goals out at the other end of the pitch, the 24-year-old will be instrumental.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

What is his future after the World Cup?

While many Premier League fans would initially consider Pickford content to stay at Goodison Park, an impressive showing in Russia could prove a springboard to even greater things.

According to recent reports by The Sun, Bayern have been scouting Pickford in recent months as they look to bring in a new long-term first-choice goalkeeper.

The former Sunderland favourite’s progress since his £30 million move means the Bavarian giants have identified the 24-year-old as a top choice for succeeding club icon Manuel Neuer.

Ahead of the World Cup, Bayern will surely not be the only side monitoring his future, with assured goalkeepers becoming increasingly difficult to lay hands on.

Involvement in Russia could result in an unexpected and somewhat premature Goodison exit for Pickford. Watch this space.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

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Three reasons to be optimistic about England’s World Cup chances

Could Gareth Southgate have assembled the tools for success in Russia?

Martyn Cooke

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England
Photo: Getty Images

With just a matter of days remaining until the 2018 World Cup starts in Russia there is a sense of excitement building among football supporters across the globe.

This year’s tournament will be the largest international football competition in history, with a record 32 teams participating, and countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France and Spain are once again being touted among the favourites to win the competition.

But, what about England?

Recent history has indicated that the team are no longer one of the leading international sides in world football, as ruthlessly highlighted by their exit from Euro 2016 following an embarrassing defeat against Iceland. In fact, England have not won a match in a World Cup since 2006 and, quite rightly, expectations are not particularly high going into the tournament.

Here, The Boot Room provides three reasons why England fans should be optimistic about their team’s chances at the World Cup this summer.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Harry Kane

In order to win a major international tournament you need to possess a prolific goal scorer and there is none better in the world right now than Tottenham Hotspur forward Harry Kane.

The 24-year-old has scored 135 goals at club level across all competitions over the previous four seasons and has emerged as the most prominent striker of his generation in England. Not since Alan Shearer has a forward produced such quality and consistency in front of goal over a prolonged period of time.

Quite simply, Kane guarantees goals.

Regardless of whether he has been actively involved in the game or is playing well you always fancy him to find the back of the net if half a chance arrives. He scores a wide range of goals and is equally as likely to finish from close range as he is to unleash a long-range thunderbolt.

At major international tournaments, when the difference between failure and success is so fine, a proven goal scorer could make all the difference.

A core group of talented young players

There were some raised eyebrows around the country when it was announced that the Football Association had appointed Gareth Southgate the permanent England manager.

The 47-year-old had performed well with the under 21 side and had steadied the ship somewhat after stepping into the senior team on a temporary basis following Sam Allardyce’s unsavoury departure. However, his failure at club level with Middlesbrough still remained at the foremost of many people’s memories.

Southgate has gradually developed a squad that is new, fresh and is built around a core group of young, talented individuals. Only five members of the team who are heading to Russia in the summer were involved in England’s previous World Cup campaign whilst senior figures, most notably Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, have been gradually fazed out.

This new-look England should be a source of excitement. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, John Stones, Marcus Rashford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander Arnold are all under the age of 24 and will bring pace, energy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, they are still all developing and have not reached their peak.

More importantly, many of these players will be unscarred from previous England campaigns at major international tournaments. These fresh attitudes and sense of fearlessness will be key to ensuring that the team progress to the latter stages of the tournament.

A better structure and more suitable system

In the past, England have arrived at major international tournaments deploying traditional, rigid formations that often lacked balance and restricted the freedom of creative players. In short, the systems used have rarely allowed the team to flourish.

However, it appears that Gareth Southgate is opting to go down a slightly different route this summer by utilising a 3-4-3 formation.

The system suits the players that he has at his disposal. The attack-minded nature, pace and quality of Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Ashley Young makes them perfect wingbacks. At the other end of the pitch Harry Kane will be supported by Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, who will be given the freedom to roam and be creative influences.

Southgate appears to have provided the England team with a clear structure that has transferred into positive results on the pitch. The side have been harder to break down and more defensively resilient whilst still retaining a concise attacking threat going forward.

There is an abundance of pace throughout the team which will make England equally as effective playing on the front foot or looking to sit back and counter attacker more superior teams.

It is a refreshing change to see an England team enter a major tournament with a clear structure and plan in place with a system that suits the players available.

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Gareth Southgate’s Harry Kane decision was the first of a hopeful campaign for England

Max Cohen

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Harry Kane
Photo: Getty Images

England National Team manager Gareth Southgate announced Harry Kane would be the country’s next captain on Tuesday, much to the delight of the 24-year-old striker.

Kane expressed his appreciation on Twitter, posting a picture of himself shaking hands with Southgate and describing it as “a very proud day.”

The Tottenham Hotspur star is a fantastic choice to captain England in this summer’s World Cup, as the country’s best player is known to lead effectively and serve as an immaculate example for his teammates.

Although Kane does not wear the captain’s armband at club level (that honour goes to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris), the Englishman nevertheless has all the characteristics of an impressive skipper.

Some may argue that the captaincy should go to defenders or central midfielders rather than attackers, yet if a player has the passion required, their position is irrelevant.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Kane is a player who undoubtedly loves playing for the Three Lions and has an excellent record of 12 goals in his 23 caps.

He might not be the most vocal and animated of leaders on the pitch, but his work ethic, desire, and knack for scoring crucial goals are all attributes his fellow Englishman can look up to.

The Tottenham forward is certain to be one of the first names on the teamsheet in Russia, and this consistency is crucial for Kane’s captaincy.

Southgate recognised these ever-present qualities as vital parts of Kane’s character, commending the striker’s diligence and determination.

“Harry has some outstanding personal qualities,” Southgate told the Evening Standard. “He is a meticulous professional and one of the most important things for a captain is that they set the standard every day.”

The Tottenham Hotspur striker will surely reward his manager’s faith by serving England proud as captain this summer, and Kane will be remembered as a legend if his goals can fire the Three Lions deep into the tournament.

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