In the past, especially under the Sven-era, England were often accused of picking the big name players. No matter if they were in form or not, the likes of Beckham, Lampard and Gary Neville used to stay in the squad. Whether they were simply the manger’s favourites or they were too big both on and off the pitch to risk dropping them, it was thought that there was a core of ‘elite’ players, often not putting in elite performances that had no chance of being dropped. These days however, all of that may have finally changed.
Despite the start of the McClaren era, where England stuttered in their first few matches leading to many calling for the manager’s head, events in recent times have boded well for the England national side. Although partly due to injuries, we have seen the arrival of quite a few new faces in the team- Micah Richards being the most prominent. The Manchester City defender made his first appearance for the England team for a friendly against the Netherlands in November 2006; he has not looked back since and it will be near-impossible for previous right back Gary Neville to displace him if he keeps up the performances he has been putting in.
The most recent England squad announced included two surprising names- that of Everton centre back Joleon Lescott and that of West Ham United forward Dean Ashton. These players undoubtedly have talent and had always been on the fringes of the England squad; it has taken a few injuries and a new mindset to have seen them called up. The inclusion of Ashton in particular is a good one- the last game England played saw how well Owen plays with a ‘big man’ up front; Ashton is definitely that and there are high hopes for his future.
In the past, England’s future hopes looked bleak. Where was the talented crop of youngsters promised by the Football Association? Beyond Wayne Rooney, few could see many talented young players that could break onto the international fold. Perhaps over-eager fans of the national side were not looking hard enough however, as there are quite a few coming along. Including the likes of Lescott and Ashton, there are still players like David Bentley, Jermaine Pennant, Michael Carrick and Steve Sidwell- the latter three players having different degrees of importance for top four clubs yet rarely featuring for England. The duo at much criticized Arsenal (Justin Hoyte and Theo Walcott) should feature at some point in the not too distant future, while talent is scattered across the league if you look hard enough- Matthew Taylor, Gareth Barry, David Nugent and Kevin Nolan all capable of competing for an England place at some point while a few fans will cheekily mention the name of Joey Barton.
Whether the future is to be red and white is yet to be seen, as a lot of hard work needs to be put in. England do however have qualifying for Euro 2008 all in their own hands, and if they continue to display some of the competent football they have played in their last few matches, anything is possible for the next European tournament.