Everywhere I turn, whether a newspaper, a radio station or even twitter, I hear from all angles how the structure of English football is flawed. Claims that England will never build on their World Cup success of 1966 unless the whole system is reformed is a common belief among fellow pessimists. Now there is plenty of evidence to suggest that England will simply maintain their current level of mediocrity on the International stage for many years to come. For a start, the Under 21 European Championships in Israel in 2013 was a resounding failure, with England failing to progress from the group stage. Not just this, but the performances of the players who made the trip verged on embarrassing, scoring one goal and failing to earn a single point. Add the recent World Cup campaign (or should I say failure?) into the mix, and the future does not look particularly bright from the outside looking in.
The condensed quality of young players in the country is due to the fact that the percentage of home grown players playing regularly in the Premier League has been declining for many years. Although it is great to see world class players from all corners of the globe on our televisions week in week out, it is doing English Football no good in the long run.
The German Bundesliga made radical steps around the year 2000 to resolve a similar problem. To obtain a license to play in the Bundesliga and the Bundesliga 2, the German FA (DFB) made it a requirement that a club had to run an academy – known as an ‘education camp’. The leagues spend a combined €75m every year on these academies, providing a footballing education to over 5,000 players aged between 12 and 18. Players under the age of 23 now make up around 18% of all players in the Bundesliga. In 2000 when this system was introduced, only 6% of players were under 23. Maybe this would be a much more suitable proposition, as opposed to Greg Dyke’s idea of Premier League ‘B’ teams filling the lower leagues.
Despite this being England’s worst World Cup showing of all time statistically, Roy Hodgson does deserve some credit for his selection of some of the younger or more internationally inexperienced players, namely Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling. This is something which will bode well going into future tournaments, with Euro 2016 on the horizon. Following England’s exit, plans will already be in place going ahead to Euro 2016. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to predict a possible Starting XI for England going into the tournament in France.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Joe Hart is rightly seen as one of the best Goalkeepers in Europe. After a dip in form in the middle of last season which saw him on the bench, Hart came back to his best and finished the season as a crucial member of Manchester City’s title win. Hart will be entering his prime years of his career going into Euro 2016, and will surely remain be England’s number one for many years to come.
Right Back: Jon Flanagan
Flanagan came from nowhere it seems to become a regular in Liverpool’s surge to the Premier League title that fell just short last season. His aggressive tackling and tireless work rate, as well as his versatility in being able to play both left and right back lead to calls for Roy Hodgson to pick him for Brazil. While this major tournament may have just come too soon, Flanagan could be one of the first names on the squad list for France should he maintain his late season form.
Centre Back: John Stones
When an injury to Sylvain Distin looked to put Everton’s Top 4 ambitions on hold for the season, few could have expected John Stones to step up to the mantle quite as spectacularly as he did for the Toffees. The 20 year old looked like a seasoned veteran the way he read the game at the back, not to mention his numerous attack-starting dribbles out of defence. It is rare you see a Defender with such composure and confidence on the ball as Stones has. In two years time he could well be an England regular.
Centre Back: Gary Cahill
While Gary Cahill might have had a World Cup to forget, his performances week in week out for Chelsea are as consistent as they come. For a Defender especially, his technical ability is outstanding. Cahill is another, like Stones, who is not afraid to dribble out from the back should the opportunity present itself. He can also carry an aerial threat from set pieces, and chips in with the odd goal along the way too. Cahill would bring much needed experience to the side, being aged 30 by the time the European Championships come around.
Left Back: Luke Shaw
Left Back is a position which England has had a multitude of talent over recent years, and Luke Shaw looks like continuing that trend. The 18 year old became a regular starter in Southampton’s blossoming side under former Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino, before becoming the most expensive teenage footballer of all time. He is very much a modern day Left Back – solid defensively but blessed with great pace and loves to get forward. It will be interesting to see how Shaw adapts to being a small fish in a big pond at Manchester United next season.
Centre Midfield: Jack Wilshere
Jack Wilshere, the2011 PFA Young Player of the Year, has done so much already in his career, despite being slightly blighted by injury. Arsenals youngest ever league player (aged 16 years, 253 days) has now made 20 appearances for England, and comfortably over 100 appearances for Arsenal too. Praise for Wilshere (and criticism in more recent times) has come from all corners. Steven Gerrard has said that without adding pressure, he expects Jack to become one of the best players in the world. Arsene Wenger summed up Wilshere’s style, saying: “Jack has Spanish technique with an English heart.” Now 22, Wilshere will be hoping to stay injury free ahead of the new season, and prove some long standing critics wrong on the way.
Centre Midfielder: Ross Barkley
Ross Barkley is a bit of a freak in the nicest possible way. He is huge, standing at just under 6 ft 3, excellent with both feet, can see a pass – and play a pass, and possesses hulk-like strength. Barkley was expected to make his league debut in 2010, however, a collision with Andre Wisdom resulted in a compound fracture of his leg, halting his breakthrough. Upon return to team training, Tim Cahill described Barkley as the most talented footballer he had ever worked with. We were lucky enough to see glimpses of what Barkley can do in an England shirt in Brazil, but it remains to be seen whether he can now nail down a regular berth in the national team.
Centre Midfield: Jordan Henderson
Few could have predicted the fate of Jordan Henderson before the start of last season. The forgotten man’s fantastic season with Liverpool resulted in a World Cup starting spot in midfield alongside Steven Gerrard, just like at club level. Henderson will have gained some invaluable experience from one of England’s finest ever players in Gerrard, but it remains to be seen whether he can carry out the role on his own, with the England Captain’s International future still in question.
Wing: Raheem Sterling
After his real breakthrough season, few argued with Brendan Rodgers when he said Raheem Sterling is the best young player in Europe. The 19 year old was a key figure in Liverpool’s great season, and like Henderson, earned a World Cup start. Despite an England defeat, Sterling was arguably the best player on the park bar Andrea Pirlo in England’s World Cup opener against Italy. It will be interesting to see how Sterling follows up such a season – and I for one am excited to see how he fares in the Champions League too.
Wing: Theo Walcott
Despite the performances of Raheem Sterling, the forgotten man Theo Walcott was certainly a big miss for England out in Brazil. While he was criticised in the past for lacking a final ball, Walcott finished the 2012-13 season with 21 goals and 15 assists in all competitions. An injury hit following season was topped by a devastating Cruciate Ligament tear against Spurs which put him out of the World Cup. I think I speak for all fans when I say I hope to see Walcott back to full fitness sooner rather than later – and working his way back into the England frame too.
Striker: Daniel Sturridge
In a season where Chelsea desperately lacked a goal scorer, ironically it was Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge who stepped up to show his old club why they made a mistake in letting him go in January 2013. 22 goals this season added to 11 the previous season means Sturridge has an outstanding record of 35 goals in 49 Liverpool appearances. Roy Hodgson made Sturridge England’s number 9 for the World Cup too, starting all three games out in Brazil, scoring one goal. Champions League football this season will give Sturridge the platform he so desires to mix it with the world’s best.