1966 was a great year, or so I’m told by those of an age able to remember it.
It has been a long time since England lifted the highest honour in International football, too long in fact, and many have been brave enough to predict South Africa will be the location for the Three Lions to finally end the years of hurt for the England faithful.
Trouble is I’ve heard all this before, and after so many England related predictions that have fallen short I am now perhaps not sceptical, more cautiously optimistic on how the team will actually faire in the pressure cooker environment of the tournament proper.
Even the most cynical of fans must admit however that circumstance is a little different this time around.
Firstly there can be no question marks over the pedigree of the man charged with leading the side into battle. Fabio Capello is as good and as astute as they come. His trophy hall at club level all over Europe is to vast to list exhaustively, but suffice it to say it would be quicker to go over what he hasn’t won than what he has. There have been no signs that he has had any trouble translating his talents at club level to the International stage, his England appearing a very different prospect from that which he inherited.
So no excuses that England have the wrong man at the helm… so what about the players?
If England are to threaten winning the trophy next year then Wayne Rooney will have to have the tournament of his career so far. He has been in great form for club and country this term, flourishing in the new found responsibility thrust upon him at United now that Ronaldo has moved on. This can only benefit England as Rooney is growing into the talismanic, or as the Americans would like to call it ‘franchise’ player that England will need him to be.
The other main protagonists aren’t too shabby either, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand, A. Cole would get in most if not any side in the world. Not a bad spine to the team then either.
The supporting cast have blown hot cold at various points since Capello took charge. Lennon has seemingly shaken off his persistent injury problems and found the sort of form that first got him into the side. Glen Johnson seems to be the only real option at right back for England at present. Better going forwards than backwards he is certainly a pressure point opposing teams will look to exploit.
The Goalkeeping position is still a hotly contested debate, although Capello has stated he knows who his first choice for the tournament is already. He hasn’t told us yet though I notice. Ben Foster has looked much improved for United in recent games but is yet to convince. Again England have many options here and I feel the race is still open for one of them to claim the shirt as their own before the end of the season.
Coming back from injury are Downing, Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves who could yet feature for England in South Africa. If fully fit and firing, all three players would be a great asset to the squad although only time will tell what sort of season each will have. England have a number of wide options to choose from when you consider Walcott, Lennon, SWP and Young are also all in contention. (Discounting Beckham and Gerrards new found role in the team playing wide left).
And so it would seem that England certainly have the tools for the job on paper. There is also a new found steel and grit that the team was sorely lacking under previous regimes. However I still feel there is a delicacy about the way England’s fortune is decided. Beaten by Spain and France (although in friendly games) under Capello shows that the side is far from unbeatable when faced with top class opposition. No disrespect to Croatia but I don’t hear anyone touting them as potential winners in South Africa.
As everyone knows this England side are in a now or never moment. The big players are peaking in terms of their age and relative performance levels, and it will be all downhill for them in the main after this tournament. Capello continues to build and improve the side with every passing fixture and I for one would not doubt his ability to pull it all together for the big show next summer.
Still I can’t seem to shake that though in the back of my mind that takes the form of a penalty shootout that prematurely ends what could be a year to remember for English football.