A new start for England

Costa Rica v England: Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney

The 2014 World Cup was one of the most memorable in history. But for England, the tournament was one to forget as we were knocked out in the Group Stages for the first time since 1958, picking up just one point from three games.

Attentions now turn to qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in France, with a visit to Switzerland kicking things off on Tuesday 9th September, whilst a Wembley friendly against Norway is taking place tonight – a new start for Roy Hodgson’s men.

Taking into consideration the quality of our opponents in the qualifying group, we should get through with ease, but it’s never that simple with England. In case you didn’t know, we will face Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino, Slovenia and Switzerland in Group E. In my view, the only team that will cause us problems is Switzerland, and facing Vladimir Petković’s side away from home first will work out well and gets our toughest game out of the way first.

The retirement of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard has left England's midfield lacking experience.
The retirement of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard has left England’s midfield lacking experience.

The Swiss are the only nation in our group above us in the FIFA rankings at 9th (we’re 20th), whilst the none of the other four nations are ranked above 30th. San Marino are traditionally the whipping the boys of European nations, whilst Estonia and Lithuania rarely fair much better, and have no star names in their squads. Slovenia are unlikely to cause too many problems, but will be more of a threat than the three aforementioned lesser countries in Group E .

Looking at the squad Roy Hodgson has picked for the Norway friendly and Switzerland trip, it appears he wants to give youth a chance, naming four uncapped players in his squad: Calum Chambers, Jack Colback, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose. What I hope won’t happen is that we return to a similar selection process to that of Sven-Goran Eriksson, where every in form English player gets a call-up to the national side, resulting in some players earning one cap and then never being seen again on the national stage.

England's uncapped foursome: Jack Colback, Calum Chambers, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose.
England’s uncapped foursome: Jack Colback, Calum Chambers, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose.

I agree with the decision to bring in Chambers and Rose, but I would query the inclusion of Colback and Delph, both centre midfielders, and I suppose meant to replace the retired Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. You would hope that when Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley are fit again, they would fill these roles instead of the the Newcastle and Aston Villa men.

As for the rest of the squad, the average number of caps is 18, whilst the average age is 25. Only three players (Ben Foster, Phil Jagielka and Rickie Lambert) are over 30 years old. Is this a worrying sign or a a signal that youth is the way forward in modern day international football. Players are retiring from national duty at younger and younger ages, so now could be the time where youth takes over.

I see the Norway friendly as a chance to give debuts to all four uncapped players and generally play a very young squad, letting Roy Hodgson know which of the less experienced players he will want in his future squads. A lot of the players around the age of 22 or 23 could be the heart of our team at the European Championships in two years time. For these reasons, this is who I would start at Wembley tonight:

england squad 1
Average caps = 16 / Average age = 23

Meanwhile, in six days time the trip to Switzerland will be a tough test, and Hodgson will want to put up a strong and resolute side to ensure we don’t get our qualifying campaign off to a bad start and make sure all the bad memories of Brazil are banished. If I was him, I would start like this:

england squad 2
Average caps = 27 / Average age = 25

There’s one last thing to discuss and that’s the captaincy. After Steven Gerrard announced his retirement from international football, a couple of candidates appeared in the shape of Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Gary Cahill. It was of course the Manchester United striker who Roy Hodgson chose, and although some fans don’t like the decision, in my opinion, the 28 year old was the obvious choice.

He is the last of the ‘golden generation’ of England footballers expected to do so well and take the world by storm but ended up offering very little, and deserves to wear the armband after wearing it twice before in his 95 caps.

That’s another thing: Rooney’s experience. His 95 caps means that he is 47 ahead of anybody else in this England squad, with James Milner being his nearest rival on 48 caps. Out of people not in the squad, only Glen Johnson has more than Milner, and he only has 55.

Furthermore, Rooney has tournament experience. He may not have performed as well as was hoped in tournaments, but he certainly knows what they are like. After breaking onto the scene at Euro 2004, he has competed at three other major international tournaments. Only James Milner, Joe Hart and Glen Johnson have been to three.

Criticism has been passed both ways between Wayne Rooney and England fans in the past.
Criticism has been passed both ways between Wayne Rooney and England fans in the past.

The Manchester United man has received criticism for his performances for The Three Lions, but it is easy to forget that he is England’s fourth record goalscorer, and only needs 10 more strikes to beat Sir Bobby Charlton, a very achievable goal.

He may not have performed to his best in the past, but the captaincy brings a new responsibility and could lead to improved performances as he looks to set an example to the new set of young players earning their first caps.

It’s a new start for everybody in the England team, and hopefully it’s the beginning of a journey that will bring some much desired and waited for success.

 

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