We’re not very good at being optimistic about our national football team here in England. And with good reason too. We haven’t got past the World Cup quarter-finals since 1990, and only did so once before that – that’s two semi-final appearances in 13 attempts. The European Championships don’t make for much better reading, with two semi-final appearances in eight attempts, not including the tournaments we didn’t qualify for (I’m looking at you Steve McClaren and your umbrella).
However, FA Chairman Greg Dyke has set a target of reaching the last four of Euro 2020 and winning the World Cup in 2022. A big ask, and something which many people feel is impossible. I don’t think it’s impossible, but at the moment it’s looking very unlikely.
You only have to look at the recent Under 21 European Championships to see that England’s youngsters aren’t performing. Gareth Southgate’s squad crashed out at the group stages for the third successive time, despite being one of the pre-tournament favourites.
On the one hand, you could argue that this is an unrealistic representation as to how we will perform in a few years’ time, when most of the squad will be involved in the senior set-up. One viewpoint is that Southgate didn’t take his strongest squad to the Czech Republic. Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere were all not selected, but if they had of been, they would have probably played every single minute and England may have got further. 2014-15 PFA Young Player of the Year Harry Kane was in the squad however, but had a very disappointing tournament, not scoring once despite having more shots per game than any other player.
Furthermore, the fact that Sweden came out as champions suggests the tournament has no impact on who will win the senior version or the World Cup in three or four years time. I don’t want to rule out Sweden from shocking the planet by doing so, but it’s incredibly unlikely. Having said that, Italy won the tournament in 2004 then won the World Cup two years later, whilst Spain were victorious in 2011, a year before winning the European Championships. You can make your own mind up as to whether we can predict future world or European champions from youth tournaments.
Going back to Greg Dyke’s aim of winning the 2022 World Cup, how many of the current squad will still be realistically available for selection? Joe Hart will be 35, so should just about stay in goal, whilst the defence is actually rather youthful with the likes of Phil Jones, Kieran Gibbs and Nathaniel Clyne all under 25. The midfield also has it’s youngsters with Sterling, Barkley and Wilshere potentially in their prime. Wayne Rooney will be 36, so could still be part of the squad but is unlikely to be starting. Here is how the Three Lions could line up in 2022:
Obviously more young talent will undoubtedly come through (I say in hope), meaning changes will be made. It’s also worth saying that the average age of this squad in 2022 is nearly 30 years old, which is quite high, making it slightly unrealistic.
So can that team, with a few changes, win the 2022 World Cup? As I said earlier, it’s by no means impossible. In St George’s Park we have a state of the art facility that accommodates all England teams and helps them develop in the best possible way. It’s a ‘luxury’ that many countries don’t have, so we need to use it to it’s maximum and greatly to our advantage.
Another much discussed topic is that of home-grown players. Gareth Southgate said that his players weren’t playing regularly enough at the highest level and he’s got a point. Just six of the 23 man squad for the European Championships featured more than 20 times in the Premier League last season. Between 2016 and 2020, the FA want phase in new rules, which will see the minimum number of home-grown players in each 25 man squad increase from eight to 12. Players, irrespective of nationality, will have to be with their club from age 15 to qualify as home-grown , whilst at least two home-grown players must be club trained. We’ve seen that clubs, especially the bigger ones, tend to send their young players out on loan to lower league clubs to gain experience, but I don’t feel it prepares them well enough for competitive, tougher, Premier League and international football. Tottenham’s Andros Townsend had nine loan spells before finally breaking through at White Hart Lane, which suggests that method does work. But then you look at someone like Nathaniel Chalobah at Chelsea, who has had five temporary moves away from West London, but is still no closer to getting into Jose Mourinho’s team. Of course I want to see the world’s best players in our country, but I also want to be excited by young English talent every week. The correct balance needs to be gained.
In my view, our best chance to win the World Cup again has been and gone. 10 years ago, the supposed ‘golden generation’ of the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Owen and Beckham were in their prime, and should really have done a lot better on the international stage than they did, especially with emerging talent such as Wayne Rooney. How Steve McClaren didn’t even qualify for Euro 2008 still baffles me. That aforementioned team is arguably better than the current squad and the possible 2022 team, so if they can’t win anything, what chance do we have in the future?
Of course, I will happily be proved wrong. I want to be proved wrong. If Roy Hodgson’s successor gets the best out of the players, there is potential there for a major tournament victory. As long as we use St. George’s Park to it’s full potential and give our young players as many chances in the Premier League as possible, then Greg Dyke’s vision could become reality. Right now though, we’ll have to be content with the success of the women. More on that in the next few days…