Roy Hodgson’s England will travel to next summer’s World Cup in the knowledge that the level of expectation across the country is pleasantly different from the norm. The reduced level of media confidence at home should benefit England when they arrive in Brazil, and the camp should feel that they are able to play with a freedom of expression and creativity – which this time around is all large numbers of fans are hoping for.
Friday’s group stage draw pitted England with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, in one of the most intriguing groups in the competition. England begin their campaign with four time World Cup winners Italy in the Amazonian capital of Manaus – a place renowned for high temperatures – and it may be an opportunity for the England manager to start with some of the younger, fitter members of the squad to deal with such conditions.
For the first time in several tournaments, the crowd back home will be hopeful of England making a statement through their desire to play football, and playing with a freedom that spirited youths can bring, instead of basing success on how far they progress. Hodgson should use the level of expectation to his advantage, and take with him some of the Premier League’s brightest future stars to South America next summer.
The Three Lions boss has done very well in bringing the best young players England has to offer through to the national team since starting in his role in May 2012, and several of his new players will get their first big chance at the World Cup next year. Tottenham flier Andros Townsend has this year impressed at international level, and a whole host of other future stars have been afforded opportunities to impress in recent fixtures.
Southampton’s Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez have recently made their England bow, and left back Luke Shaw looks to be one of the brightest prospects of the next England generation. At just eighteen, Shaw is one of three top class left backs England can choose from, with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines ahead of the uncapped Shaw in the pecking order. The World Cup may come too early for the Southampton player, however, were he to be chosen it would be an invaluable experience for a man destined to be England’s first choice left back in the near future.
Baines’ Everton teammate, Ross Barkley, is another of Hodgson’s bright lights. After his man of the match performance on Sunday at league leaders Arsenal, Barkley is playing his way into contention for a starting berth in their opening World Cup game. The unique 20 year old midfielder is really impressing in the Premier League this season, and possesses the ability to provide the spark England need to unlock some of the best defenses in the world game.
These players are proof that England have a bright future on the international stage, and it may be a case of the sooner, the better in making some of these youngsters first team regulars. Current stars Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole are in the twilight of their international careers, and it would be wise for Hodgson to use next summer as an opportunity to blend youth and experience to ensure a smooth transition into future tournaments.
The England boss should treat 2014 as a stepping stone, and may benefit from taking an ‘if they are good enough, they are old enough’ approach to his management ahead of the summer. Certainly some of England’s future stars are making a claim to be included in the team – and Hodgson may win more friends with an adventurous squad selection, to give these young stars an opportunity of a lifetime.
How far can Roy Hodgson’s men progress next summer? Who of England’s bright young stars will make it on the plane?