Fabio Capello revealed his first provisional England squad on Thursday (and the 23-man final squad last night), but given the current public apathy towards the national side, it was hardly an announcement that had been waited on with baited breath. The Three Lions’ failure to qualify for Euro 2008 before Christmas compounded a decade, which has promised much but delivered little for England.
While three quarter final appearances in four major tournaments since 2000 may look good in the history books, few fans will look back on the Keegan, Eriksson or McClaren days with any great nostalgic feeling. Especially having won nothing with the so-called ‘golden generation’ of players available for selection during the most part of the noughties.
The big news from Capello on Thursday was his exclusion of David Beckham, preventing him from making his 100th, and probably final, appearance for England against Switzerland. Though the Italian manager says the door is still open for Beckham to play for his country in the future, the former Manchester United player must fear his international career is now over.
Beckham will surely harbour regret, not only at the timing of his departure from the England set up, but more importantly, about his country’s inability to win a major competition while he represented them. After all, he captained teams that included the likes of Ferdinand, Lampard, Gerrard, Owen, Rooney and Cole, yet never managed to lift the FIFA World Cup or Henri Delaunay trophy. As English football enters a ‘new dawn’ under the management of Fabio Capello, fans can hardly be blamed for sharing the cynical belief that they’ve seen it all before.
If there’s one positive that can be taken from the recent negativity surrounding England is that the discussion over the development and nurturing of young players is back on the agenda. Whether a youth development centre, to rival France’s Clairefontaine or similar, will ever come about is uncertain. What is not in doubt is that greater resources and time have to be invested to ensure the next ‘golden generation’ of players can challenge for that elusive World Cup and European Championship success.
It may seem that all is lost in the production of young, gifted English footballers to the import of foreign players by the Premiership’s top clubs at the present time. While young talent in England is produced in less methodical way than in France, or with less emphasis on skill training as it is in Brazil, there is still a gifted nucleus of players coming through the ranks in the Premiership and Football League, offering some hope for the future. As England bids to host the 2018 World Cup, there is a healthy base of players, that given the correct levels of support, could lead their country to success in ten years time. Here’s just a flavour of those youngsters tipped to have a bright future.
Goalkeeper – Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Born – April 19, 1987 (31 during the 2018 World Cup)
Hart has burst on to the scene this season with a host of impressive performances for Manchester City. He’s already looking to challenge Paul Robinson, Scott Carson, David James, Chris Kirkland and Robert Green for a spot in the England squad. Having made his debut for his home town club Shrewsbury Town just a day after his sixteenth birthday Hart was the Shrews regular number one keeper only a year on from league debut.
The young keeper won the PFA League Two goalkeeper of the year in 2006 and his manager at the time Gary Peters said that “Everton have been to watch him, but you could say the same about Arsenal, Chelsea and every other team in the league”. Hart moved to Manchester City in May that year, for a fee that could rise to a total of £1.5m. Given his potential and the form he has shown as City’s first choice keeper this season, that’s already looking like money well spent.
Left Back – Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea)
Born – August 5, 1989 (28 during the 2018 World Cup)
One of the rarest commodities in English football at the moment is a home grown player with a natural left foot. The pacey Ryan Bertrand has shown in spells on loan with Bournemouth, Oldham Athletic and Norwich City that he’s got just that. Bertrand has nearly 30 league appearances to his name, no mean feat for an 18 year old.
He played as a left midfielder early in his career, but has found himself more comfortable playing at wing back. While the Chelsea youngster has a lot going for him, being sent packing from England’s U19 team for missing a team curfew, may damage his immediate chances of making a name for himself on the international scene.
Right Back – Sam Hutchinson (Chelsea)
Born – August 3, 1989 (26 during the 2018 World Cup)
Hutchinson put pen to paper on a contact last summer tying him to the West London club until 2011, a clear indication of his worth to Chelsea. He made his first team debut for the Blues in a final day fixture with Everton last season and long term, is tipped to become one of the best right backs in the country.
Hutchinson has shown good leadership qualities while playing for Chelsea’s reserves this season, which was recognised by the England U-19 team, who appointed him skipper ahead of their fixture with Germany last November.
Centre Back – Jordan Spence (West Ham United)
Born – May 24, 1990 (28 during the 2018 World Cup)
If you’re looking for a potential future captain of England’s national side, Jordan Spence could be it. The West Ham defender, who turned professional last summer, has already skippered a victorious England Victory Shield side as an under-16 in 2005 and also led the under-17’s to the final of the Nordic Tournament.
Spence has yet to make a first team appearance for West Ham United, but already the comparisons with great Upton Park defenders, such as Rio Ferdinand and Bobby Moore are being made. His progression through the international ranks continues, with recent inclusion in the U-19 side. Chances are he will be making a big name for himself at club level before long and he is set to go on loan to a lower league club during the transfer window to prove his worth.
Centre Back – Krystian Pearce (Birmingham City)
Born – January 5, 1990 (28 during the 2018 World Cup)
Already displaying excellent aerial ability, strength in the tackle and a genuine football brain, Pearce is another centre back with a bright future. Its delightful to see that he already played alongside Jordan Spence, building a sound defensive understanding on the pitch.
He has gained praise from a number of high profile individuals in the English game, including the FA’s Director of Football Development, Sir Trevor Brooking, who described him as “arguably the best player” at the 2007 U-17 World Cup. He is now a regular member of the England U-19 side, despite being a year younger than most players in the squad.
Left Midfield – Joe Mattock (Leicester City)
Born – May 15, 1990 (28 during the 2018 World Cup)
Mattock has represented England at under 15, 16, 17 and is in the latest U21 squad to face the Republic of Ireland next Tuesday. He is the second youngest player ever to turn out for the U21s and having played over twenty Championship games for Leicester, he is already attracting the attention of Premier League clubs.
Only two weeks ago, Leicester chairman Milan Mandaric turned down a ‘strong’ bid from a Premiership side for the player, who also operates in midfield. Mattock is likely to move to a bigger club when the transfer window reopens in the summer, with Aston Villa and West Ham United rumoured to be among his suitors.
Right Midfield – Scott Sinclair (Chelsea)
Born – March 25, 1989 (29 during the 2018 World Cup)
The Bath born winger-cum-forward has turned out five times for Chelsea’s first team so far in his career, making him one of the most recognisable players in this line up. His ability to score fine individual goals has added to this notability, especially in spearheading Plymouth Argyle’s run to the FA Quarter Finals last season.
Sinclair has been involved in professional football since the age of nine, when he signed for Bristol Rovers. He made two appearances for the Gas as a 15-year old, before moving to Chelsea. At both Plymouth Argyle and QPR, Sinclair has excelled on loan, but Chelsea insist he’s now very much a part of their medium term first team plans and hence he will be staying put at Stamford Bridge for some time to come.
Central Midfield – James Henry (Reading)
Born – June 10, 1989 (28 during the 2018 World Cup)
Having represented both England and Scotland (for whom he qualifies for through his parents) at youth levels, Henry is still eligible to play for the Tartan Army’s first team. If his early potential is anything to go on however, England will be keen to persuade the Reading-born youngster to commit his football future to the country of his birth.
Having made only substitute appearances for Reading, it is on loan at AFC Bournemouth that Henry has shown his potential. He scored two goals on his debut for the club in November 2007 and he made a total of 11 appearances at Dean Court, until he was recalled by Reading in January 2008. He is a reported transfer target for the Royals’ Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who one of many clubs in the country to recognise his ability.
Central Midfield – Henri Lansbury (Arsenal)
Born – October 12, 1990 (26 during the 2018 World Cup)
Lansbury signed a professional contract with the Gunners last summer, having been a trainee with the north London side since 1999. In that time the midfielder, described as having “huge potential” by ex-Arsenal forward Alan Smith, has trained alongside the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry.
He made his first appearance for Arsenal was in a Carling Cup victory at Sheffield United this season, where he replaced fellow England protégé Theo Walcott as a second half sub. He has been likened to Steven Gerrard, due to his boundless energy and passing talent and has been included in England’s U-19 squad for their game with Croatia on Tuesday.
Centre Forward – Ashley Chambers (Leicester City)
Born – March 1, 1990 (27 during the 2018 World Cup)
Chambers is one of a number of talented English youngsters in and around the Leicester City first team. He is the youngest player to have ever represented the Foxes, coming on as a substitute aged 15 years and 203 days in a Carling Cup tie two seasons a go.
Chambers has shone for England at U17 level and bagged a hat-trick on his debut against the Faroe Islands in the Nordic Tournament in 2005. Having made his first league start for Leicester back in November, the lightening quick striker’s priority will now be to forge a regular place in the starting line up.
Centre Forward – Victor Moses (Crystal Palace)
December 12, 1990 (26 during the 2018 World Cup)
One of the most talked about prospects in the country, Moses was born in Nigeria but is eligible to play for England having lived been brought up in south London. He’s been a constant transfer target for Chelsea, though Palace have resisted cashing in on their prized asset thus far. Sunderland have also recently declared an interest in the young striker.
Moses was the top scorer in England’s Under-17 World Cup campaign in South Korea in 2007, despite missing a number of games in the tournament through injury. He’s made three starts for Palace so far this season, impressing the fans at Selhurst Park with his energetic displays.
The future success of this talented bunch is very much dependent on the opportunities they have to perform at the top level. When the Premiership kicked off back in August, just 80 English players took to the field, while 138 foreigners turned out. Those figures are a concern to The Football Association’s Sir Trevor Brooking, who fears the prosperity of the English national team is under threat. He believes that talented youngsters, such as the one’s above, may not be given the chance to break through into their respective first teams, with club’s favouring the signing of established overseas players instead.
The counter argument is that the influence international players imported into the Premiership and Football Leagues are having on young English players is actually improving playing standards. It also means that only the very best English talent rises to the surface, with no place for mediocrity in club sides. The likes of Ashley Young, Mark Noble, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jaime O’Hara are recent living proof that gifted English youngsters will always have a place in Premiership sides.
The affect that the foreign invasion of the Premiership will have on the long-term fortunes of the England national team can only be speculated on. As can the line-up England would be likely to field ten years down the line. What is not in doubt however, is that the building of a future ‘golden generation’ of English players is as important as the management of the current national team set up.
Despite the doom and gloom that currently surrounds the English national team, those young players are fueling hopes of a bright future for a nation of fans that crave success so badly.