Revolution or evolution – predicting England’s 2014 World Cup squad

England manager Roy HodgsonYou’ll have to forgive the presumptive nature of the headline, but seeing as we are definitively the fourth best side in the world (ha!), the chances of us making it to Brazil for the tournament weigh heavily in our favour. However, in the aftermath of our quarter-final exit to eventual finalists Italy at Euro 2012, the inevitable round of predicting the squads for the next World Cup has gone into overdrive, but will it really be all that different?

Roy Hodgson said in after the exit to Italy: “You will definitely see some revolution there because that game is going to be the ideal opportunity for me to look at some players who weren’t with us here and maybe feel they should have been. I want to see if they can add to the quality of our team.” Forgiving the fact that you can’t really have ‘some revolution’, you either have it or not at all, let’s take a look at the squad that went to the tournament, and see if any key players look likely to miss out in two years’ time.

Steven Gerrard will be 34 by then, but he’s already agreed to stay on as captain, which means barring a huge turnaround, he’s likely to remain skipper throughout the qualifying campaign and will go to what will surely be his last international tournament. Ashley Cole will be 33, but is still likely to be playing every week at Chelsea, and with rivals for the slot such as Leighton Baines, Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Gibbs all lacking sufficient top-level experience, he’s likely to be on the plane too.

Deposed England captain (twice) John Terry will also be 33, but whether he has any international career to speak of in the future rests heavily on the outcome of his court case for allegedly racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. To be honest, he’s so irrationally patriotic, that I can’t ever see him retiring from the international stage, so if the decision goes in his favour, he’s almost certain to be on the plane. Scott Parker will be 33 and even though there’s a real doubt whether he’ll have the legs in two years’ time, he’s pretty much nailed-on to start the qualifying campaign and he’ll at least make the squad.

Roy Hodgson is a cautious man, there is nothing inherently wrong with that of course, it’s just part of his personality. The real time to judge him starts now, particularly given the short amount of time he was given to work with the players before the start of Euro 2012. The way England ceded possession so easily at the tournament will not be forgiven in two years’ time or during the qualifying campaign, though.

This is not a criticism, he’s been given the benefit of the doubt so far, but the fact that in his six matches in charge so far, England have not had more than 50% even once is a cause for concern and an issue that requires addressing, aside from the faux nature of the reptitive ‘national inquest’ which takes place after every international tournament. We are far from the 4th best side in the world as the FIFA rankings would suggest, everyone knows that, but there’s no reason that we can’t simply trap a ball and pass it five yards. We’re not that bad.

Two years is a long time in football, though. In that space of time, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones have both come from out of nowhere, Danny Welbeck has matured into a decent talent and the likes of Chris Smalling, Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker have all emerged and are on the fringes of the international picture with a real chance of breaking into the side in the coming years. There will obviously be the odd player that is nowhere near the England squad at present, that few of us have perhaps heard of yet, that manages to break through in that time, such is the cyclical nature of the game, which is what makes predicting the squad a lesson in futility if ever there was one.

Perusing the Guardian’s choice of starting eleven’s at the 2014 World Cup, I was simply taken aback but how ridiculous some of the selections were. Richard Williams had Josh McEachran, Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell starting in central midfield, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as the centre-back pairing, Baines at left-back and no Wayne Rooney up front, who will be 28 by then – it really was a laughable side selected by a man with no clear understanding of how painfully slow the pace of change takes place at international level, so he rather bizarrely just selected a kids team. Dominic Fifield chose Wilfried Zaha to start, the raw 19 year-old Crystal Palace winger with just two years of Championship-level experience, but again, no Wayne Rooney – truly baffling.

The fact of the matter is that the England side for the next World Cup, while we may have flights of fancy, will largely be comprised of players that made the Euro 2012 squad, especially given the fact that they happened to perform slightly above expectations, so the pressure for change has lessened somewhat.

Below is what I believe the squad will be in two years’ time, injury permitting, so feel free to criticise, lambast and guffaw in equal measure in the comments section below. This is not the squad that I especially want to see go to the tournament, but it’s the one that I feel is most realistic and likely considering the manager in charge and after the effects of Hodgson’s ‘some revolution’ policy.

England 2014 World Cup squad – Hart, Butland, Green, Cole, Baines, Jones, Terry, Lescott, Cahill, Johnson, Walker, Milner, Walcott, A.Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Gerrard, Parker, Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck, Carroll, Sturridge.

Not a huge amount of change as you’ll be able to see – Chris Smalling misses out because his versatility is both his greatest asset and his biggest downfall and Phil Jones is for some unknown reason rated higher than his more reliable team-mate. Kyle Walker makes the trip if fit, Daniel Sturridge profits from Jermain Defoe’s being 31 years of age by then, Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere, both regulars at Arsenal and Manchester United could start alongside skipper Gerrard, while the wing positions are largely similar.

Jack Rodwell may still fail to command a regular position at Everton by then, while Josh McEachran simply won’t be a regular at Stamford Bridge in two years. Zaha may be at a Premier League club, but probably just a mid-table one willing to take a punt on his potential and he lacks the crucial currency of status that comes with playing for a top four club. The centre-back pairing is likely to be two of Terry, Lescott and Cahill, with the likes of Jones and Smalling still in reserve.

International football is no longer the pinnacle of the game in terms of quality, but the pressures and rewards are still huge. Casual fans that show little to no interest during qualification and often opt for club over country will still jump on any bandwagon that takes place during a major tournament. However, only in the face of increased public pressure is change ever made with the national side, and with expectations dampened, the dawning of a new era will be spread out over two to four years as opposed to an immediate overhaul.

I’d be amazed if the squad that went to the next World Cup was radically different, such is the crushing predictability of English football. To borrow a line from Peep Show: “must you live quite so relentlessly in the real world?” – when it comes to the England football team, sometimes you have to.

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