With a bevvy of exciting youngsters breaking into the first team and an UEFA Under 17 European Championship win under their belt, England have suddenly become interesting. It’s as if the collective youth of the Premier League read the FA commission’s plans for the future of English football and decided to take matters into their own hands.
While it is the God given right for all free born English folk to approach a World Cup with uncurbed and unwarrantable optimism the bitter experience of the 2010 World Cup has introduced some much needed curb to pre-tournament enthusiasm. Instead of talk of victory parades and evoking the spirit of the late Bobby Moore, advertisers are more concerned with the fan experience and Joe Hart’s hair.
Another contribution to this mood of noptamism is the coach. Croydon’s very own Roy Hodgson has a wealth of experience at club and national level. He has been on tournament technical committees. It would have been lunacy for a man who has so much experience working in international football to not be given a chance to manage the national team of his own country.
Roy’s pragmatism has resulted in some pretty dull football, especially over the latest qualifying campaign. But the reality is that international fixtures in the club season are resented by English football clubs and many of their supporters. It can’t be easy corralling a group of well paid, very famous football players, who are under tremendous pressure to perform and in most cases are looking over their shoulders for the next big thing to replace them. Hodgson deserves some credit for keeping the England players focussed for just about long enough to get the job done.
And it’s that same pragmatism that has allowed Hodgson to take advantage of the relatively recent emergence of fun loving, talented young’uns that, hopefully, will lay the foundations of the England team for the next two World Cups. Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (if he’s fit), Smokin’ Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling (if he can stay on the pitch) and John Flanagan have added a new sound to that wrinkled old stadium band that is the Premier League and if Hodgson has the stones (and I don’t just mean John Stones) they may change England’s tune to boot.
The masterstroke however is Rickie Lambert. From Bristol Rovers to the World Cup in five years, the 32 year old’s story would not be out of place in a comic. Football needs romance and the once journeyman striker gives people a reason to like England by introducing a narrative that goes beyond WAG enclaves, belligerent press conferences, over sized egos, really really crap football and racism.
Of course it’s not all red roses. While the back three of Jagielka, Cahill and Hart are solid the full backs don’t offer much confidence. In terms of midfield cover you can expect the ubiquitous Steven Gerrard to do whatever he thinks is best, irrespective of whether it is actually best. And then of course there is the long standing conundrum of Wayne Rooney. A player who, years ago, had the World at his feet but today is unable to trap the World or any other spherical object for that matter. Watching him huff and puff his way back to form while Sturridge, Lambert, the Ox and all run around him making the game look easy must be tough on his soul. I admire his persistence and really hope he pulls it together. Especially since it seems unlikely that he will be dropped.
If the public mood mirrors my Twitter timeline (and it probably doesn’t) then I think that what England fans want is a team they can get excited about. If Hodgson rolls out the young players then it is possible that England will perhaps even have a team to fall in love with.
There were times (not many in fairness) during the Ecuador friendly on 4th June when I was out of my seat when watching some of England’s attacking combinations. Their lack of experience and absence of a truly World class midfielder will almost certainly result in a relatively early exit, possibly even in the group stages but right now England seem to blown away a cloud of cynicism that followed them around and that for the time being is enough.