So England failed again…
But let us look at the reality of their situation. No European team has ever won a World Cup in the Americas. It was hot. Up to 40 degrees hot. Our group contained 3 time World Champions Italy, two time World Champions Uruguay with a striker on heat after a fantastic season with Liverpool, and a Costa Rican team which I believe we can all now confirm is a much improved version of their 2010 team in South Africa. Finally with one eye to the future we should recognize this England team took ten u25 players to Brazil, 4 of which have World Cup experience. Unlike Premier League titles, you don’t win World Cups with kids.
Joe Hart, an experienced and solid goalkeeper with EPL and Champions League experience, is a reliable option. Our bench is considerably weaker with Ben Foster and Fraser Forster, and with John Ruddy as back up the possibility of an injury to Hart should be a concern for future competitions.
Defensively the England back 4 is full of EPL stars, but the lack of Champions League and International experience is worrying. As we saw the temporary moment in lapse coupled with poor positioning was all it took for Suarez to kill off any hopes of moving past the group stage. Another key concern from this latest failure is be the lack of control our midfield managed to achieve during each game. With an experienced head like Steven Gerrard surrounded by hard runners in Henderson, Sterling, Barkley and Welbeck, we should have dictated more in the midfield. The fact that Gerrard is now retired means England’s midfield tactics will need extensive re-working before the 2016 European Championships.
In attack England has endless potential, and even at international level this attack should have scored more goals in Brazil. With 4 more years of experience we should see the best from Sturridge, Barkley and Sterling.
But in comparison with the other 31 teams it is reasonable to say that England still has considerable weaknesses in their squad. Thankfully time should be part of the solution. Experience and a more passionate approach should also be a focus for Hodgson and his team. Because looking at the current England squad we should be excited about our future. The squad has only 4 players over the age of 30, three of which are ‘squad’ players.
Joe Hart will almost certainly be in goal for the next 4 years. No new exciting substitutes are likely but then this isn’t a huge problem providing he stays fit.
Defensively the entrance of both Phil Jones and Luke Shaw, who will be playing together at Manchester United from next season onwards, is an exciting prospect. The slow development of Chris Smalling is frustrating but if Jones can be smoothly integrated with the back two of Cahill and Jagielka then the increased pressure for centre back should bode well for Hodgson. With Gary Neville well past it the Right Back position remains a problem. Glen Johnson remains defensively liable and a search for a young replacement should already have started.
With Gerrard and Lampard now out of the picture the idea of forming a strong understanding between Wilshere, Henderson, Rooney, Barkley and Sterling is an exciting one. Oxlade-Chamberlain remains an exciting prospect and it is a shame he never fully recovered for this World Cup. Together with the return of Theo Walcott the England squad will have a potentially unchanged midfield until 2018.
The hype over Daniel Sturridge after his incredible EPL season was fully deserved, another 4 years playing in the EPL and Champions League should mold him into a strong deadly striker feeding off the creativity of Rooney, Sterling and Barkley. While Danny Welbeck will provide solid back up as well as a more tactical option for those pesky deep lying playmakers - remember the job he did on Alonso against Read Madrid a few years ago?
The entrance of Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah also offers more competition for places in Russia, however neither solve the difficult right back situation.
Risking the reoccurrence of undeserved hype the English team has received over the last two decades, I am cautiously excited about our national team’s near future. However without the passion and drive we saw from so many other teams in this World Cup, the promise of youth will result in nothing. Hodgson still has his work cut out for him. The moment to show progress in this area will be July 2016, just across the channel.
*Portuguese version coming shortly.