With less than a year to go until the World Cup, England are sitting pretty in their World Cup qualification group. With qualification all but assured, now attentions will turn to who could be in England’s plans for South Africa.
English World Cup squads have a history of featuring late-comers to their squad who go on to play starring roles in their respective tournaments. Think Alan Ball and Nobby Stiles in 1966, who both played key roles in England’s World Cup success yet only came into the team twelve months earlier. Think Paul Gascoigne and David Platt in 1990, the young men who only emerged onto the international scene twelve months previous. Then there is Michael Owen in 1998, whose burst onto the international scene was as rapid as his burst of pace for the goal against Argentina which ultimately proved to be England’s finest moment in the tournament.
So with 12 months to go, perhaps we should assess those players who could be the late-coming, yet ultimately important stars of England’s World Cup squad in South Africa.
1. Joe Hart – Though he has been capped already, Hart has yet to feature on a regular basis for his country. After finding himself frozen out at City, his move to Birmingham City on loan could provide him with the first team action he needs in a World Cup year. A lack of credible first choice alternatives, and a star turn at the under 21 championships-where his presence was sorely missed in the final-have surely boosted his chances of being England’s first choice keeper in South Africa.
2. Kieran Gibbs – Slip ups in Champions League semi-finals aside, Gibbs’ star has long been in the ascendancy. His seamless introduction into Arsenal first team action has impressed many observers, and is reminiscent of England first choice left back Ashley Cole’s emergence almost a decade ago. Another impressive performer in the England under 21 side which reached the final in Sweden, should he gain first team football next season, he could find himself on the plane to South Africa as his Arsenal predecessor’s first choice understudy.
3. Jack Rodwell – Rodwell could possibly be the most laid back 18-year old footballer England has ever produced. Both on and off the pitch, his calm demeanour, and unfussy manner has impressed both fellow players and pundits alike. This style is reflected by his style on the pitch, as for both Everton and England under 21’s he has impressed as a holding midfielder due to his cool positional sense and tidy passing. With Owen Hargreaves’ continued injury woe, Rodwell’s emergence means that the future of English defensive midfielder seems assured.
4. Mark Noble – Perhaps one of the brightest young midfielders in the Premiership, his transformation from bright young hope to first team regular has been a progressive one. A midfielder in the West Ham tradition, Noble melds competitiveness with creativity, and is perhaps the brightest young midfielder to have developed from the West Ham academy since the trio of Carrick, Cole and Lampard. Fine performances have not gone unnoticed at under 21 level, and a consistent season could see him make a late rally into the squad.
5. Daniel Welbeck – Perhaps the first homegrown striker through Ferguson’s time at United who appears to have a genuine chance of becoming a first choice at United, Welbeck’s emergence last season gave both United and England fans a reason to be cheerful. Pacey, yet strongly built-Ferguson believes he could reach 6ft 3in in height, Welbeck has all the attributes to be an England international. Sir Alex Ferguson genuinely believes he could be on the plane for 2010, and history has shown that the United boss is scarcely ever wrong.
6. Micah Richards – While Richards has been ruthlessly discarded by boss Capello, his form over the past 12 months has been a poor reflection on a player who under Steve McLaren appeared set for a long and distinguished international career. On his day, few can match the City defender for strength, pace and power, and should he cut out his defensive errors, he could well force his way into Capello’s plans at either right back or centre half.
7. James Tomkins – Few players can have slipped so seamlessly, or so quietly, under the radar, which will suit West Ham fans down to the ground. His calm assurance, height, and capable defensive diligence has impressed observers at Upton Park and his performances for England’s under 21s have merely highlighted what a capable defender he can be. Capello’s Italian compatriot Gianfranco Zola has tipped his man to be a dark horse for England’s World Cup plans, and he could find himself partnering his West Ham colleague Matthew Upson on the plane to South Africa.
8. Daniel Sturridge – Long talked up as the next white hope of English football, Sturridge’s career has been derailed by injury but a rumoured 10 million pound move to Chelsea this summer could perhaps put his young career back on track. A bright play-making forward, capable of taking and creating goals-should he feature, and score regularly for his new team we could at last see him matching those lofty expectations of him.
9. Michael Mancienne – So he might have been included in a Capello squad previously, but should Mancienne feature in 2010 then it would certainly be a left-field selection. Bright form for his loan teams have excited English fans, but his non-selection by Chelsea has long bemused observers, and appeared to stunt his progress. But with a new coach at Chelsea, and a fan in Capello, perhaps he could play a big part in a big year for both club and country.
10. Gary Cahill – Eyebrows were raised when Aston Villa opted to sell the dominating centre half to Bolton Wanderers. Cahill was widely regarded as one of Villa’s brightest prospects, and his development at Bolton will not have gone unnoticed among Villa fans searching for a replacement for Martin Laursen. Has developed into one of the brightest young centre halves in the Premiership and Bolton have given him additional responsibility which has further added to a game based on defensive steel and aerial prowess. His form has seen him linked with a summer move to Arsenal and he has been discussed as an England prospect, should his fine form continue, he could force himself into the reckoning for the World Cup.