At yesterday’s England World Cup squad announcement, Roy Hodgson admitted that it was a gamble to drop the experienced Ashley Cole and instead opt for the talented young Southampton full back Luke Shaw. It was a bold move, and it’s one with the potential to backfire should anything happen to England’s first choice left back Leighton Baines. But the selection demonstrated more than just a changing of the guard on England’s left hand side. It demonstrated a change in Roy Hodgson’s attitude to selecting an England squad, a change to his naturally cautious nature and a change to the way England have approached major tournaments in the past decade.
If you cast your mind back to England’s last World Cup campaign in South Africa four years ago, you’ll recall a squad littered with old faces and slowing legs. Oft injured Ledley King was selected at centre back, as was Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher who had been persuaded to put on hold his international retirement for just one month longer. Peter Crouch and Emile Heskey formed half of England’s strike options, while the uninspiring Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips made the final cut ahead of the likes of the immeasurably more talented Theo Walcott. England endured one of their worst World Cup’s in recent memory, which is why it’s refreshing to see Hodgson change course for Brazil and offer a host of mercurial youngsters the chance to impress on the world stage. Ross Barkley, just 20 years-old, is on the plane, as is 18 year-old Shaw. Liverpool wonder-kid Raheem Sterling is 19 and made the cut, while Manchester United centre back Phil Jones is 22 and Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just 20. Cumulatively Fabio Capello’s 2010 squad had an average age of 28.4, with Aaron Lennon and Joe Hart the two youngest players at 23 years-old. In comparison Hodgson’s ‘Young Lions’ who will travel to Brazil have an average age of exactly 26, an incredible two and a half years younger on average than those taken four years earlier.
Hodgson could have taken the easy path to selecting his squad for Brazil. The experience of Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick would have offered something to the team, no doubt, but what role would either have played in his future plans? Jermaine Defoe could have gone as an extra strike option but having moved to Canada to play for Toronto does the diminutive forward realistically have an international future? Even if the Young Lions falter next month they’ll gain experience of international competition that they wouldn’t have received had they been sat at home watching the tournament on television. Additionally their youth gives them a fresh approach to international football, which is more than welcome after years of watching tormented veterans play within themselves due to a sadly obvious fear of failure.
This squad doesn’t bear the scars that past collections of players have, and in many ways it is similar to the approach adopted by Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan when they selected the England cricket team to take on Australia in the 2005 Ashes after years of embarrassment at the hands of their southern hemisphere foes. Back then the little known Kevin Pietersen struck a magnificent and, crucially, fearless 158 at the Oval to secure the little urn for England against their more fancied opposition. Who knows, maybe it’ll be Ross Barkley in the same position at the Maracana in 61 days time. That’s July 13, the date of the 2014 World Cup final.
Well, we’re allowed to dream. Aren’t we?