If you’re looking for controversy, you don’t often have to look much further than an England World Cup squad selection. However, it seems that Roy Hodgson has got this year’s choice spot-on, and has generally based his picks on form.
It’s clear that England are prone to picking their players based on their name, rather than their form. Take Emile Heskey in 2010 for example, the man who scored seven goals for his country in 62 games – the same amount that René Higuita, the Colombian goalkeeper, managed in just five extra matches. Hodgson has done well to move away from this slightly with the inclusion of Luke Shaw, although Frank Lampard inexplicably will be on the plane to Brazil, at 36 years of age and having sat on the Chelsea bench for the majority of this season.
Which brings me to the point; youth has to be the way forward. Is there any point giving four or five players aged 30-plus a third World Cup, having failed miserably in their previous attempts?
The only two players attending their third tournament with any vindication of being selected are Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. It cannot be debated that without Rooney, Manchester United’s season would have been even more disastrous, having scored 17 goals in just 27 starts in the Premier League, as well as having 10 assists. Similarly, Liverpool wouldn’t have had as good a season as they had, needing Gerrard’s nerves from the penalty spot on 11 occasions, and his vision from midfield is superb. A balanced squad is obviously essential at a World Cup, so some experience is needed to assist the youth.
I would argue, though, that more youth is needed than experience. Germany’s 2010 squad had an average age of 25, with only one player over 32, who was their third-choice goalkeeper. They were only denied a spot in the final by a Spain squad who were the best in the world at that point, but a semi-final place with a squad that young suggests that it can work, with a 4-0 trouncing of Argentina part of their run. Thomas Müller also won the Golden Boot with five goals and three assists.
Germany are therefore a prime example of the positives of giving young players a chance on the big stage. Significantly, many of those players are now aged 24 to 26, with experience of hugely important games, both at international and club level. Which is why Germany are amongst the favourites to win the tournament this summer.
Hodgson, seemingly, has recognised this. Players like Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling have excelled for their clubs this year, and deserve to be in the squad. Sterling scored some crucial goals for Liverpool in their title push, along with a stunner at Norwich, and was heavily involved in their counter-attacking style. Even more stunning is Barkley’s rise, having been frozen out at Everton over a year ago by David Moyes and sent on loan to Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday. To have become a central figure in the team in just one season shows the ability that Barkley has, and validates Hodgson’s decision to pick him.
Luke Shaw is another interesting, yet correct, choice by the England manager. It was brave of Hodgson to leave out Cole, particularly with some of the press still believing that he is the best left-back in the world, let alone England. However, Shaw has clearly overlapped Cole this season, and he has played a huge role in Southampton’s improvement. Although Hodgson has already named Leighton Baines as his first-choice, the experience that Shaw will gain in Brazil will be vital in the future, as he is sure to be Baines’ successor. Manchester United’s £27million bid for him illustrates how highly Shaw is rated at such a young age.
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson also had to be picked by Hodgson following his form this season, and like Barkley, he has a case for starting for England this summer. His importance to the Reds was proved by their dip in form against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, for which he was absent through suspension, and they struggled past Norwich without him too. Henderson’s work-rate could be essential to England’s success, and his pace on the counter-attack could give the team a different tactic when playing against Uruguay and Italy. A midfield with the pace and vision of Henderson and Barkley would certainly give other teams more to be fearful of than one consisting of Lampard and Wilshere.
If there’s one player that was missed in the 23, it has to be John Stones. Hodgson went for the Manchester United pair of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, despite the latter’s injury concerns. There are clear arguments to suggest that Stones would’ve been a more useful choice, having deputised excellently for Phil Jagielka while the Everton captain was injured. He’s also played in big games against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and United, so should Jagielka and Cahill get injured, Stones would have been a dependable option to replace them. He has been selected for the stand-by list, which is exceptional considering the fact that he hadn’t played a single Premier League game this time last year.
Clearly, this England squad has a more youthful aspect than any in recent years, which could be hugely important given the ‘no-fear factor’ that Steven Gerrard spoke of them having this week. Despite the lack of experience of international tournaments, this England squad has the best chance of success at a World Cup than any other since Italia ’90, with some of the best young talent in Europe. If selected, and they play to their maximum potential, players like Ross Barkley could be a part of history this summer in Brazil.