With the anticipation of the European Championships gradually starting to increase, the debate about who Roy Hodgson should take to France is ramping up. The domestic footballing season is only a matter of months away from concluding and players are itching to stake a claim for a seat on the England plane. Supporters will be hoping that regardless of team selection, their nation can challenge to win the tournament. The Three Lions’ best finish in the competition came back in 1996 as a squad containing the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler reached the semi-finals. Eventual winners Germany proved to be our nemesis that day as they edged past us via a penalty shoot-out, Gareth Southgate being the unfortunate player to miss the deciding spot kick.
Recently we have underachieved on the international stage and our failure to get past the group stages in the 2014 FIFA World Cup sparked anger and frustration amongst football fans all around the country. Many people, including me, are questioning whether Hodgson is the man to lead England to glory. As we all know from watching our country on the world stage, we are often handed false hope after a storming qualifying campaign and then we fail to deliver when the pressure is on. If we look back to Brazil 2014, the case was exactly the same. After going unbeaten over the course of our 10 qualifiers, scoring 31 goals in the process (albeit against fairly average sides), optimism was rife. In usual England fashion though, we then went on to draw versus Costa Rica and lose against both Italy and Uruguay to bow out of the tournament disgracefully with only a solitary point to our name. Can we restore some pride this time around?
Should Roy take the likes of Troy?
As a host of England players such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have reached their ‘sell by date’, this tournament provides the opportunity for some less experienced players to showcase their talents in front of a worldwide audience. The upcoming friendlies against Germany and Holland will be strong tests for Hodgson’s side, but the results won’t be of great importance as the manager ponders over who to include. All kinds of names have been thrown about this season as various English players have caught the eye in the Barclays Premier League. Troy Deeney, Jamie Vardy, Mark Noble, Danny Drinkwater and Michail Antonio are just a handful of the players to force themselves into the limelight. Undoubtedly, their form would have alerted Roy to them, but whether or not he is daring enough to throw these relatively untried footballers into his line-up remains a mystery.
In my opinion, the argument of whether you should select players based on form is a very difficult one to answer. Whilst we would love to take a squad of players that are in fine fettle, Roy will be very apprehensive towards moving away from the core group that he utilised during the qualifying campaign. As he has already stated, people such as Wayne Rooney are always going to travel regardless of their domestic achievements as they are recognised as key players. There is absolutely no doubting that the role of an England manager is incredibly tough – supporters will always question the decisions that Roy makes and ultimately, the success or failure of our national football team is resting firmly on his shoulders. With a plethora of players available for selection, I can only imagine that he endures sleepless nights running through who deserves a chance in his own mind. I do not envy him in the slightest. Whilst I clearly have no influence on proceedings, I thought I would try and present to you my ideas of who I would be taking to France.
My 23-man squad…
Joe Hart – The Manchester City keeper is a certainty to travel and he has cemented his place as England’s number 1. With 57 caps to his name at the time of writing, he has far more experience than any of his rival goalkeepers. His form this season in the Premier League has been fairly solid, although City have struggled to fulfil their ambitions.
Fraser Forster – I am a big admirer of the imposing shot stopper and his record at Southampton is exceptional. Following a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury, the keeper showed his class upon return as he kept a club record of 708 minutes without conceding a goal. He has to be on that plane and I’d tout him to be second choice.
Jack Butland – The hot prospect is still catching the eye of England fans and when he made his debut in August 2012 aged just 20, he became the youngest goalkeeper to represent England at senior level. With the Stoke man tipped to be the successor of Joe Hart, we need to give him as much experience of tournament football as possible.
Leighton Baines – Despite being absent due to injury for the large part of the domestic season, the left-back is our most experienced in that role. His defensive attributes alongside his ability to deliver pinpoint crosses stand him in good stead for a starting berth. Of course, he is a real danger from dead ball situations too and they can be the difference at Internatioal level.
Danny Rose – The Tottenham defender has been the best left-back in the Premier League this season in my opinion. His form has been key in aiding Spurs to mount a title charge and he has done enough to force himself into the squad. Defensively he is very astute and he can pose a threat going forward also. He nips in just ahead of Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Gibbs for me.
Phil Jagielka – The 33-year old is an experienced head at the back and he has 38 caps to his name. After travelling to Euro 2012 and the World Cup in 2014, I would hand him a place in the squad for what could be his final major tournament. Injuries have hindered his current season with Everton slightly but he has performed when fit as captain.
Gary Cahill – He is one of the first names on the list as he is England’s most capped defender at the moment with 40 appearances in the famous shirt. Despite Chelsea’s dreadful season, he is still regarded as one of the Premier League’s best, and rightly so. He could be a key figure in this tournament and hopefully he can lead from the back.
Chris Smalling – Whilst playing for Manchester United this term, Smalling has put in a number of incredible displays. The improvement of his overall game has been phenomenal and he is becoming a rock in the centre of defence. Personally, I would hand him a starting place alongside Cahill in the hope that his dazzling form continues on the world stage.
Eric Dier – Growing up as a centre back has allowed the 22-year old to pick up all the attributes needed to play in the heart of defence. However, he has been deployed as a holding midfielder for Tottenham this term and he has excelled in this role. An undeniable level of adaptability gives us options all over the field as he can slot in anywhere across the more defensive positions. He may not be ready to be thrown in just yet, but the experience of going to a tournament would aid his development.
Nathaniel Clyne – Since moving to Liverpool from Southampton, the right-back has established himself as England’s first choice in that position. He has shown consistency at Anfield throughout the season and his sheer pace allows him to patrol the wing accordingly. Defensively he is strong, but he can attack with purpose too.
Kyle Walker – He would be my backup choice for one of the full-back slots but he is similar to Clyne in terms of the speed he possesses. For me, the defensive side of his game still needs working on and for that reason I wouldn’t start him. Of course, he has been important for Spurs this season though and that warrants a seat on the plane.
Jordan Henderson – The Liverpool skipper was a consistent choice throughout qualifying and he is a certainty to play in France. He has the ability to be a key player for The Three Lions and I would play him in the centre of midfield. Still only 25 years of age, Henderson has a bright future ahead of him in England colours and he’ll be hoping to play his part in a successful Euro 2016.
James Milner – I have always thought that Milner is an exceptional footballer, but perhaps he doesn’t appeal to some fans. His passing range is extraordinary and he is versatile as he can play anywhere across the midfield. Since signing for Liverpool in the summer he has been excellent and he would be in my squad, that’s for sure.
Jonjo Shelvey – A lot of people may disagree with me on this one, but I rate Shelvey very highly. He encompasses the passion that we need our players to show when they cross the white line. Occasionally he can be a bit too fiery and that lands him in trouble, but his technical ability is second to none so I see him as a brilliant option for us.
Adam Lallana – The Liverpool man wouldn’t get into my starting eleven but I think his form should be rewarded with a place in the squad. With 19 caps now to his name, he has experience of international football and this puts him in a good position. He has shown previously that even when he doesn’t start games, he can be an effective impact sub who has the potential to change games.
Ross Barkley – Many fans across the country have been waxing lyrical about the Everton man for a while now. His directness is refreshing to see and he is certainly fearless when it comes to running at opposition defenders. Technically he is gifted and a natural talent such as his should be cherished and nurtured. Again, he is capable of conjuring up a piece of magic that could win us a game.
Dele Alli – The youngster’s meteoric rise has took the nation by storm and to see him progress from a League One footballer into a Premier League star man has been incredible. He is one of the most naturally gifted players we have had for a long time and at only 19, he is one to keep an eye on. Is it too early to start him in France? I don’t think so, he is a match winner.
Theo Walcott – After travelling to the 2006 FIFA World Cup at the tender age of 17, Walcott was tipped to be a world phenomenon. Things haven’t quite worked out that way for the winger but he still proves to be an important player for Arsenal. He is widely known for his turn of speed and he could provide England with an outlet should he gain a starting position.
Raheem Sterling – The 21-year old winger has flourished during his time at Manchester City following his controversial summer move to the Etihad from Liverpool. He is another player that gives us flexibility in attacking positions as he can comfortably be deployed in a number of roles. Lightning speed and impressive upper-body strength allows him to fly past defenders with ease and he could be pivotal to England’s chances.
Wayne Rooney – The captain of our national team is clearly classed as a key player but he has notoriously underperformed at major tournaments. At Manchester United, the ageing forward has dried up in terms of goals too but his ability on the ball is unprecedented. A lot of people have been questioning whether or not he should be included, but in my opinion, he simply has to travel. However, I would play him just behind the main strikers as opposed to him leading the line.
Danny Welbeck – I would take Welbeck to France as his goalscoring record for England is good, with 14 goals from 33 outings. Injury has hampered his progress as he missed the opening 7 months of the current season, but since returning he has looked dangerous for Arsenal. The fact he can also play out wide if required aids his chances and he could be a good option from the bench.
Harry Kane – A physical presence that can hold the ball up, Kane could be a serious threat for England in the summer. His composure in front of goal is also sensational and he has lit up the Premier League with Tottenham this season. For me, he has to start up top for us and I am backing him to be a success in his first major international tournament.
Jamie Vardy – Well, I could speak about this guy for days. His and Leicester City’s form has alerted the world to his talents and he has more than earned himself a place in the England starting line-up. The former Non-League player has found the net on 19 occasions this season and he also boasts the record of scoring in 11 consecutive league games. Could Jamie Vardy be having a party in France?
Players on standby: Ben Foster, John Stones, Ryan Bertrand, Michael Carrick, Danny Drinkwater, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge.
Can The Three Lions reign supreme?
When the hit-single ‘Three Lions’ was released back in 1996, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner reminded us of England’s “30 years of hurt”. Well, that hurt still continues to deepen today as it is now 50 years since the famous World Cup victory on home soil back in 1966. The iconic image of the great Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley Stadium after the win over West Germany constantly reminds us of our success. We have desperately longed for a repeat ever since. Why we have never reached those heights again is difficult to fathom, particularly during our spell with a ‘golden generation’ of world class players such as David Beckham and Paul Scholes. Perhaps the pressure was simply too much? Has it been down to a style of play that did not suit us? Maybe we were simply not as good as we thought? Despite that, as the song also suggests – our failures have “never stopped me dreaming.”
Maybe I am in dreamland here, but I think we can have a good tournament in France. What constitutes to being ‘good’ is open to opinion but I firmly believe we can progress to the Semi-Finals at the very least. IF our players perform to their maximum, who is to say that we can’t win the European Championships for the first time? Rewind to 2004, Greece arrived as 150-1 outsiders and I doubt that anybody was seriously considering them to get anywhere near the final. However, they defied the odds and they won the trophy with a 1-0 win over the hosts. That just proves, along with Leicester City’s push for the Premier League title, that anything is possible. It is fine having a team that looks a certainty to succeed on paper, but the game is played on grass.
One thing that could certainly have an influence on our progress is the way in which we set up. You only have to look at Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane to realise that we pose a real threat in front of goal. The fact they have 19 goals apiece in the top flight of English football this season clearly demonstrates how we should be play football in my opinion. Getting the ball forward to them as efficiently as possible, whether that be via crosses from wide positions or from flowing passing moves through the centre, we need to provide them with the required service. We boast a plethora of attacking talent and it’s time we started using that to our advantage. Maybe the possession based football Roy usually opts for doesn’t particularly suit us? Could a counter-attacking remit boost our chances?
In terms of our defence, most people would argue that Joe Hart is one of the best goalkeepers in world football. He now has 57 England caps to his name and has established himself as our number one stopper. In front of him we are no longer blessed with the likes of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, but the defenders we do possess are more than capable of providing him with adequate cover. In regards to full-backs, modern day football requires them to be competent defensively as well as going forward and I believe that we are lucky to have the likes of Leighton Baines and Nathaniel Clyne who can patrol the wings expertly. If they can maraud forward and whip in tempting deliveries towards our forwards then we should see an England side that scores goals frequently too.
With Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard both retiring from international football, this will be the first major tournament without them in our midfield for over 16 years. How we cope without them remains to be seen but we did look promising over the course of the qualifying matches. The likes of Jordan Henderson and James Milner could prove key in marshalling the centre of the park with their composure on the ball, but their experience could also prove vital as they lead the younger players by example. Wayne Rooney will of course be the figurehead in terms of knowledge of the international game as he has been to a host of major tournaments and has 109 caps to his name. Euro 2016 will mark Rooney’s first competition as captain and he will be expected to show his class and lead from the front. Providing he and the rest of the squad are firing on all cylinders, England may have a chance this time around.
Will the 50 years of hurt finally come to an end?
*All stats correct at time of writing.