England’s World Cup chances
England manager Gareth Southgate has opted for youth over experience in his 23-man squad for the approaching World Cup. Will it be glory or disappointment for the Three Lions in Russia?
Right, the squad. Who’s in?
Most of the big names. Harry Kane, who scored 30 goals for Tottenham Hotspur last season will play up front. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Premier League winners Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker will also be vital.
But the squad also contained some surprising faces. Two of them, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope, have never played for England before. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has spent the season on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea, made the 23 after catching manager Gareth Southgate’s eye.
Many of the players’ origins lie in the lower leagues. Pope worked as a milkman for a time after being released by Ipswich Town, while Jamie Vardy once made medical splints alongside a non-league career that seemed to be heading nowhere.
And who’s out?
Despite making 75 England appearances and still being only 31 — the rough age where most goalkeepers reach their peak — Joe Hart has not been picked.
It is an extraordinary fall from grace for a man who won two Premier League titles in four years with Manchester City. But since being jettisoned by City manager Pep Guardiola, Hart has spent the last two years out on loan at Torino and West Ham United. At both clubs he has looked error-prone and bereft of confidence.
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere and Manchester United defender Chris Smalling are also surprise omissions.
So it’s a pretty young bunch?
Absolutely. Only one player, Gary Cahill, has over 50 caps. The 23 players have a combined 449 caps, down from 820 eight years ago.
Some teams have gone the other way. Mexico’s four most capped players at the next World Cup have played more for their team than England’s 23 combined.
But Southgate believes the squad is balanced “both in terms of its experience, its character and also the positional balance”, adding: “It is a young group, but with some really important senior players.”
Has experienced mattered in the past?
Recent World Cup history suggests it does. The squads of the last five winners have become progressively more experienced. Germany’s 2014 group had four players with over a century of caps.
But that has not always been the case. Brazil’s 1970 team, widely considered the greatest international side of all time, was barely any more experienced than this England side.
So has Southgate made the right choice?
One point in Southgate’s favour is this: why pick players with experience, if that experience involves catastrophes at the last two major tournaments? Joe Hart, who was at fault for one of the goals in England’s embarrassing defeat to Iceland in 2016, might still be mentally recovering from that mistake.
And then there is the familiar problem experienced by almost every young person at some point: employers ask for experience, but you can only get experience if you are given a chance in the first place.
But former England centre-back Sol Campbell is concerned, especially about the inexperience of the goalkeepers: “You have to work doubly hard and get your communication up and running. If you have more experience, you just connect into that and do it because you’re playing for England.”
Can England win it?
Of course they can! The nature of cup competitions is that the best team does not always win. Talent is important, but so is luck and the ability to hit form at the right time. England have been given a relatively easy group draw, and it will not be rank outsiders for a match until the quarter-finals.
It will probably end in familiar tears. But bookmakers believe there is a one in 19 chance it does not.
- Is experience overrated?
- It is now 52 years since England won the World Cup, on home soil in 1966. Write a short article about how football has changed since then.
- Gareth Southgate
- Southgate previously managed Middlesbrough and the England under-21 team. As a player he made 57 appearances for England, missing a crucial penalty against Germany in the 1996 European Championships.
- Jamie Vardy
- Vardy was playing non-league football for Fleetwood Town until 2012 before he was signed by Leicester City.
- Hart made four errors that led directly to goals in last season’s Premier League — the most of any goalkeeper.
- Gary Cahill
- It has been widely reported that selecting the Chelsea defender was a borderline decision for Gareth Southgate.
- Mexico’s four most capped players
- Andrés Guardado (144), Rafael Márquez (143), Giovani dos Santos (102) and Javier Hernández (100). By comparison, Gary Cahill has 58 caps.
- Brazil’s 1970 team
- 1970 is still remembered as the most iconic World Cup, and that is largely thanks to Brazil. Led by Pelé, they defeated Italy 4-1 in the final.
- The best team does not always win
- Portugal won Euro 2016 despite only winning one match inside 90 minutes.
- Relatively easy group draw
- England will play Tunisia, Panama and Belgium.