After what can only be described as a disastrous World Cup campaign, and the international retirements of the long-serving Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, England boss Roy Hodgson is beginning to put in place the foundations for England’s next generation of players. That all started yesterday with the announcement of the squad that will play Norway in a friendly and take on Switzerland in the first qualifier for Euro 2016.
In that squad we see both a mixture of familiar names and new blood with the likes of Callum Chambers, Fabian Delph, Jack Colback and Danny Rose all looking to win their first full international caps. On paper the squad is not the strongest, but that is understandable considering the current injuries to players who would have definitely been in contention: Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana are all names that spring to mind. That is not a problem however as these next two fixtures should be all about getting everybody involved focused on Euro 2016 and setting the tone for the rest of the qualifying campaign.
With no disrespect to our fellow group members, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino should allow for a pretty straightforward passage out of the group. That should allow Hodgson a bit of time to experiment with new players and new formations and give some of the young players who he sees as the future of England game time at international level. One thing that has pleased me about the latest squad is the fact that most players have been picked on current form and not reputation, the reason why the uncapped players have been called up, but perhaps the manager’s hands are tied by the players he has available. The important thing though is having the goal of reaching Euro 2016 and doing well in the competition firmly etched into everyone’s mind. For that reason I don’t think Hodgson should be picking players that he does not see going to the tournament. The name that springs to mind is Rickie Lambert. Yes his story is one that dreams are made of, but at his age he is not one for the future and won’t be getting regular game time at Liverpool.
As much as it is important to have a squad full of talented players, it is also important to have the right formation and the right players to play in that formation. At the World Cup we suffered from trying to play all our best players which ultimately helped lead to our downfall. In Sterling, Rooney, Barkley, Lallana we had four players who Hodgson tried to fit into the team with two players playing out wide and one going behind the striker. As good as his intentions were, all those players preferred positions are the famous number 10 role which often resulted in all three players in the middle of the park, no natural width and meaning our play was easy for the opposition to contain. We also looked to fragile in the middle of the park and although I must give Hodgson some credit for trying to play attacking football, at times our build up play was too slow and predictable. With Wayne Rooney being handed the captaincy it is definite that he is going to play a big part, so therefore he has to play in his best position which is as a central striker. In the centre of midfield what we missed at the World Cup was a defensive midfielder whose sole job is to sit and protect the back four. Unfortunately we are not blessed with players who naturally play in this role, but it is imperative that Roy finds his man and sticks by him, giving him enough time to fit into the team and the system.
If you look at the World Cup, teams like the Netherlands and Costa Rica did better than expected. There sides were not filled with world class talent but they had the best players in their best positions. As much as I believe that we should be picking our best players, it is almost impossible to fit them all into the same team, so we shouldn’t, and if it means leaving one or two on the bench then so be it. it is also imperative to bring through some of the players who will play a key role in future tournaments, but only as long as they are looked after and again played in their best positions. However bleak the England setup looks at the minute, if things are done correctly in the build up to Euro 2016 then the new generation of England players could prove to be very exciting.