It really isn’t all doom and gloom for the England side even if the probable happens and they return home after the first round. There have been more than glimpses from individuals like Barkley and Sterling of what a talented side we can be in future tournaments.
Before this world cup started and before the public got carried away with world cup fever, there was a sense that qualifying from the group stage would be a fantastic achievement. There is a huge amount of inexperience in the squad but somewhere along the line that was going to have to happen in order for the national side to progress and move on. Unfortunately many of us, myself included, allowed ourselves to “believe” far too early and as a result the last two games have been a bitter pill to swallow.
Here is where a little doom and gloom comes into it. It wouldn’t be a post about the national team without a little of it after all! In the recent past we have had an excellent platform to work from with regards to a steady, reliable and dare I say it world class back four. For all the negativity surrounding the “Golden generation” that side lost very few games in normal time and it is safe to say they were rarely accused of conceding “soft” goals. This is largely due to a back four that picked itself for a number of years consisting of Cole, Terry, Ferdinand and Neville. All four of the players mentioned have a Champions League medal and know what it takes to grind out results when not at your best. In international football Italy are widely recognised as being world leaders when it comes to defending but from 2000-2010 I firmly believe England had the best defensive unit around.
We were spoilt by this generation of defenders and have taken good defending for granted. The anguish in Rio Ferdinand’s face was palpable when describing the “defending” for Suarez and Uruguay’s second and decisive goal. To say our defending at the tournament so far has been naive is an understatement. This is not a personal attack on players such as Cahill or Jagielka who are talented in their own right but if you were to ask Balotelli and Suarez who they would rather face as a back four (in their prime) I’m sure the answer would be obvious enough.
Without wishing to sound too critical of Hodgson, I was puzzled by his decision to leave Ashley Cole at home. I am all in favour of bringing through new talent such as Luke Shaw but cannot understand what Shaw would have learnt from Baines that he couldn’t have learnt from Cole. Cole was fresh having played himself into form at the end of last season and has been one of the worlds best full backs for well over a decade. Baines has fallen victim to the exceptional talent of the former Arsenal and Chelsea left back but there is no room for sentiment in international football and players should not be getting picked on the basis that it’s their “turn”.
The gruelling Premier League season has taken it’s toll on one or two high profile players with Gerrard playing very much with the air of a man who is exhausted from coming so close to a domestic triumph. As his club manager alluded to before the tournament began, it may well be time for the England captain to pass on the role to someone else and leave the international arena.
On a return to a more positive note Roy Hodgson does appear to have a team and squad playing to a system. It may be a work in progress but there is plenty there to be cheerful about. The England side has some promising youngsters coming through, let’s just hope we see some more talent for the future at the back and not just forward positions.