The official deadline may be a month away but England manager Roy Hodgson is set to name his World Cup squad in just under a week’s time, three weeks earlier than required. He will announce the 23 names who have made it, as well as seven players who will be on standby should any of the original 23 suffer a tournament-ending injury.
This is a good decision as it conveys a sense to those who make it that Hodgson has full confidence in them as by announcing his squad this early (the day after the Premier League season finishes), it suggests that he is very certain about who he wants to include and it’s highly likely that Hodgson knows his 23 men right now. As a result, those players who are named will be brimming with even more confidence going into the summer.
What has been causing much debate throughout this season (and will undoubtedly continue to cause even further debate after the announcement) is who deserves to be in that squad. Every England fan will have their own ideas on who should or shouldn’t be included. This season, we’ve been fortunate in that several young talents (which we apparently don’t have any of/enough of) have come on leaps and bounds. At the start of the season, I’d have struggled to name 23 English players who I would’ve deemed good enough to play for the national side. However, after a season in which many of the players I had doubts over have hit form at the right time, I’ve been able to choose a good squad and the main difficulty in choosing it wasn’t in who would make it but in who would miss out.
There have been many factors to consider such as whether to choose players by form, whether to go for youth over experience or vice versa and how to ensure the squad has “a bit of everything” in it so that there are multiple formations and systems we can tinker with. The tournament may only be a few games long but in that short period of time, we will come up against vastly different styles of play so we have to be adaptable to nullify all of these various threats (it’s no good being able to keep Italy out in the first game only to fall apart at the sight of a certain Luis Suarez for Uruguay).
So having taken all of the above into account, here is my final 23 which will probably prove to be very wide of the mark when Hodgson reveals all:
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Ben Foster, John Ruddy
Centre Backs: Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson, Phil Jones
Left Backs: Leighton Baines, Luke Shaw
Right Backs: Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker
Centre Midfielders: Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Ross Barkley
Wingers/Attacking Midfielders: Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Strikers: Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Rickie Lambert, Andy Carroll
The three goalkeepers were fairly straight-forward to choose. Hart, Foster and Ruddy are the only three English goalkeepers in the Premier League and although Fraser Forster is also a good goalkeeper, playing for the unrivalled Scottish champions isn’t the best place to prove himself or attempt to make the grade at international level.
In the defence I’ve sprung a surprise as Michael Dawson’s name has barely been mentioned at all as a possible centre half candidate. Ever since John Terry’s retirement from international football after Euro 2012, England have been struggling to find a replacement and that entire part of the team has been a weakness. For the most part, Gary Cahill (Terry’s centre back partner at club level) and Everton’s Phil Jagielka have been paired together and this partnership will more than likely be preferred by Hodgson in Brazil and no one can argue with that as they are definitely the best two options we have.
However, other than those two , no other centre backs have really stood out over the last couple of seasons. Chris Smalling simply doesn’t cut the mustard for me. Steven Caulker has done reasonably well at Cardiff but at the end of the day, he has ended up in a relegated team which has conceded the second highest number of goals in the league. Not a good statistic if you want to play for England. Joleon Lescott simply hasn’t had enough game time at Manchester City with Martin Demichelis being the preferred partner for Vincent Kompany, which is a bit of shame really as Lescott did well alongside Terry at the Euros and would’ve probably made it into my squad otherwise.
Then of course, there’s been the debate surrounding a potential return for John Terry. Despite struggling in his absence since he called time on his international career, and whilst I can see the sense in wanting to have familiar partnerships throughout the team (Terry and Cahill as it would be in this case), I personally wouldn’t be including Terry. Putting it simply, we need to move on. Therefore, having ruled out all of the above, I chose Michael Dawson who is a solid and consistent defender. He may have only four England caps to his name but he has surely deserved more and I would have no worries if he had to step in as cover. I also included Phil Jones due to his versatility as he can fill in very capably at either centre back or right back or even centre midfield. This ensures that we aren’t light on cover for any defensive position.
For the second left back choice, I have gone for the youth of Luke Shaw over the experience of Ashley Cole largely for the same reason as to why I didn’t select John Terry. Also, with Cole not featuring a great deal for Chelsea this season and with Luke Shaw playing a starring role for Southampton, surely the latter deserves his chance based on form. Not only that but it seems clear that Luke Shaw will go on to be a great player for England so we really need to start giving him some tournament experience.
The right backs were easy to choose with Glen Johnson getting the nod over Kyle Walker as first choice, having been involved in a Liverpool side that have threatened to win the title this season (but now look like finishing second). Walker has been out of the Spurs side with injury lately but is expected to have recovered in time for the World Cup. However, if he didn’t make it, I’d look no further than Johnson’s Liverpool teammate – Jon Flanagan.
Centre midfield is the one area in which we actually boast some real depth. There are some significant names who haven’t been included here, perhaps none more so than Frank Lampard. I’m a fan of Lamps as a player and I personally believe he is one of the best central midfield players to have ever played in the Premier League (certainly goal scoring-wise). However, much like his Chelsea teammates Terry and Cole, I’ve not chosen him as I believe we have younger (and perhaps better) options which we need to start introducing to the fold. I’m mostly talking about Ross Barkley. What a player he already is and what a player he looks set to become.
As for the other three choices, Steven Gerrard is the only automatic choice as he is Liverpool’s and England’s captain and is also the most vital cog for both. Alongside Gerrard I’ve gone for his Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson. All successful international sides are built around the nucleus of one club side in that particular country. Spain’s starting eleven in the past few tournaments (those which they’ve won) has had a huge Barcelona influence. For England this summer, we have to make the most of Liverpool’s success this season (whether they win the title or not) and include as many of them as possible in the squad as they’re all in the form of their lives. Henderson would also bring a lot of energy into the midfield which has been noticeably lacking in previous tournaments and it will also be vital in trying to stop Italy’s Andrea Pirlo from dictating the opening game. The other choice is Jack Wilshere, provided he is fit. Again, he should be ready for Brazil but if not then we also have the likes of Michael Carrick and even Gareth Barry, who’s had an excellent season, who can very capably step in if needed.
Two of the wingers are virtually guaranteed to be on the plane – Raheem Sterling has probably been one of the best young players in the Premier League this season and is now head and shoulders above all of the other candidates, probably even Theo Walcott if he was fit. Adam Lallana also comfortably made it into my squad as he looks like the complete midfielder and one of the most (if not the most) technically gifted players we’ve got at the moment. Lallana can also play in an attacking midfield role behind the striker(s) (and so can Ross Barkley) so this gives us even more options with formations. Andros Townsend would’ve been in my squad instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had he not been ruled out with injury due to his excellent performances in the final two vital qualifiers. Finally, James Milner squeezes in due to his versatility. He is the Phil Jones of the midfield as he can play virtually anywhere in the middle third and he’s always reliable when called upon.
Finally, the strikers provided much food for thought. Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge are obvious choices and will definitely be on the plane provided they avoid injury. However, there aren’t too many options for the other two “back-up” slots. Danny Welbeck has a decent scoring record for England but hasn’t been playing or scoring regularly for Manchester United so I chose not to go with him. Jay Rodriguez’s 17 goals for Southampton had him firmly in contention until he picked up an injury which has ruled him out. Whilst there has been much debate over whether it should be Rickie Lambert or Andy Carroll who goes, in much the same way as it has been a battle of Cole V Shaw, I’ve gone with both. The mistake many people have made is that they see Lambert as being a similar type of striker to Carroll (tall target man). However, having watched a lot of Lambert’s goals, I think it’s wrong to describe him as just a target man (someone you can lump it up to) as he has scored many goals with his feet, and if he fits into Mauricio Pochettino’s free-flowing style of play then that suggests he isn’t the one-dimensional striker many people believe him to be. He’s also deadly from the penalty spot (which is rare for an England player) and from free kicks and of course, he links up perfectly with Lallana.
So there it is, that’s who I’ve chosen and why. Essentially my selections were based on form, and therefore who deserves it most, rather than those who are experienced but haven’t had the best of seasons. Having seen the likes of Sterling, Barkley and Shaw really come of age this season, it’s become apparent that we should give them the opportunity to feature prominently now so that England can start to catch up with the likes of Spain and Germany in future tournaments. Well, we can at least hope.