There is no doubt that as an England fan my expectations have changed. After enjoying great semi finals in 90, 96 and a good show in 98, it has taken over a decade and several failed tournaments, for me to come it the sober conclusion that my hopes now rest less in winning trophies, and more on witnessing a decent England squad develop and make the most out of what they have. England’s display against Denmark on Wednesday night has proved two things: It isn’t happening, and it could happen.
Even if most agree that at the moment we do not have a World Cup winning squad, it does not mean that we cannot still surprise in Brazil. As an England fan I am by definition rather fickle, and it was only last year that I joined many voices complaining about the lack of youth development and choice of good English players. But after a great season from two squads in Southampton and Liverpool, the tune has changed and revealed some really good prospects such as Shaw, Lallana, Townsend for Spurs, Barkley for Everton and Sterling, as well as some improved and developed players like Sturridge, whom has become a regular goal scorer. When put out against Denmark, they all shone against the supposed established players with so called valuable experience. After witnessing the skillful Lallana torment a decent defense with consummate ease, it does put into question how important experience can be, when it is only mixed with memories of disappointment and loss.
Lallana’s literal lack of fear on the ball just emphasizes the importance of this moment for England to grab these players, play them in the first team and allow them to develop over time. The young Southampton midfielder is a vital component of the potentially new England squad, alongside other developing talents such as the Ox and Rodriguez. But with Hodge at the helm I am not sure this will happen. In a post match interview on ITV last night, when asked about why he played Sturridge in the position that ruined his Chelsea career, he said and I quote: “Well, if we want to play all these players together”. I was surprised by this, as I don’t think anyone would complain if not every household name was on the team sheet, as long as the manager has a plan and it means the team plays better as whole. Any gripes about their favourite player not starting would soon be forgotten I’m sure.
Maybe Hodgson should listen to the public, whom most believe Rooney’s form for England has now got to the point of benching him, to make way for more emphasis on constructing a team around in-form players whom are in their best positions. Most, myself included would rather see talent like Ox, Sterling and Lallana feeding Sturridge playing down the centre, than struggling to fit square pegs into round holes. But maybe I am wrong. Either way, I still believe Gerrard is one of the best midfielders we have, and as a captain he is an essential part of the England squad. His distribution on Wednesday was excellent and alongside the right creative midfielder it could potentially begin to click.
But if it all goes wrong in the summer maybe we can all blame Roy, for not playing Sturridge up front, or not communicating a clear style and set of tactics in the short time he is with the squad. But we have to also wonder if there is a mysterious stranglehold that takes hold on these players. After all, when Lallana came on and showed what bravery, skill and belief can do, many of the other players suddenly found their feet. Perhaps not in the same way, because the Southampton player does seem to be a genuine talent, but they begun to remember why they are in their respective first teams, good, fast and attacking teams at that.
Let’s just hope then, that we can build up the confidence over the pre-cup friendlies and also hope that Roy ensures that each game at the World Cup, whether with all young players or not, start with this belief in their ability and the support of everyone in the crowd and at home. Either way, I know I’ll be losing my voice in the pub supporting the Three Lions and I just hope the players enjoy themselves as much as me.