So let’s start by accepting an uncomfortable truth – if you’re looking for an example to follow in world football right now then you need look no further than Germany. Both domestically and internationally German football is thriving. The Bundesliga features 78% home grown players and has provided 4 of 8 teams to compete in the Champions League final since 09/10. Since Euro 2008 Germany have finished among the final 4 teams in the last 3 major international tournaments. In the same period the average age of their squad has reduced by more than 2 years from 26.78 in Austria and Switzerland to 24.52 in Poland and Ukraine. Quite simply it is time for us to follow their example.
For years we English have laboured under the misapprehension that we could (should?!) win a major international tournament and the team has wilted under the pressure of that expectation. The golden generation had its chance and they didn’t do it. For the first time in decades England will go to Brazil in hope rather than expectation – and with that hope should come opportunity.
Realistically no one is expecting England to win next year’s world cup so we need to start thinking about what would constitute success. For me, it would be using the world cup stage to build a platform. To bring big game, big tournament experience to a promising, young group of players and show that we can play a fast, modern, exciting brand of football. If you can do that and get past the group stages then whatever happens we will have gained something and we will have sent a message to the world that football might just be about to make its way home.
Here is the 23 man squad I would take to Brazil (ages accurate at time of writing):
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (26), John Ruddy (27), Fraser Forster (25).
Defenders: Kyle Walker (23), Micah Richards (25), Chris Smalling (23), Phil Jones (21), Gary Cahill (27), Leighton Baines (28), Luke Shaw (18).
Midfielders: Andros Townsend (22), Theo Walcott (24), Steven Gerrard (33), Jack Wilshere (21), Ross Barkley (19), Tom Cleverley (24), Nathaniel Chalobah (18), Tom Huddlestone (26), Adam Lallana (25), Nathan Redmond (19).
Forwards: Wayne Rooney (28), Danny Welbeck (22), Daniel Sturridge (24).
The average age of the above squad is 23.82 which would have represented the lowest average age of any squad at the last world cup. However I don’t think I’m advocating youth for the sake of it. Of the players listed above only Fraser Forster (SPL) and Nathaniel Chalobah (English Championship – loan) are not currently plying their trade in the Premier League - these are top quality, exciting players. Furthermore, of my suggestions, only Steven Gerrard could conceivably not be involved in Euro 2016 due to age (his place here justified by his leadership qualities) so with this selection you would develop more than a squad - you allow a generation to emerge.
There seems to be a desire for cultural change within our domestic game in order to improve our international performance but England still has an array of quality young players. What is needed is the courage to empower them on the international stage now so that they can feel the freedom to express themselves when the expectation inevitably returns.
This is England. Football is our sport. And we should be winning international tournaments.
What do you think? Who would you take on the plane to Brazil?