As the ‘Golden Generation’ of the last decade begin to close the book on their England careers, the need for an injection of fresh blood to the squad has never been more apparent.
The temptation to repeatedly select players long in the football tooth has seemingly become difficult to resist for Roy Hodgson as he attempts to guarantee safe passage to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Stalwarts like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have had their time in the sun on the international scene and, while effective against inferior nations; their influence is minimal against countries sitting in the upper echelons of the FIFA rankings.
That’s not to imply that Gerrard or Lampard are necessarily bad players, but a perennial lack of success warrants change. Continually relying on senior players year after year has proven to be a backwards step for the Three Lions in the quest to end 46 years without a major tournament success.
Upon Hodgson’s appointment in May it was expected that he would re-evaluate the selection process and alter the makeup of a squad that has operated with an indistinguishable core since the turn of the Millennium.
Establishing a new youthful backbone and building a fresh, vibrant team from the nations most promising talent is an unsatisfied craving that supporters have been unable to shake.
Taking a leaf out of the Capital One Cup’s book would be a positive step for a start. A competition now regarded as the premier breeding ground for clubs to educate their young players.
Sir Alex Ferguson and then Arsene Wenger pioneered the idea that the competition would better serve the younger members on the fringes of the first team squad and exposure to top-level football would aid in their development. Furthermore it’s an exhibition of faith from a manager to a wild-eyed teenager taking his first steps into the professional game
Initially the concept was dismissed as undermining and disrespecting the heritage of a cup held in high regard by English football’s elite. Ferguson’s decision to use it to nurture his young stars caused such a stir that his selection policy was even raised at the Houses of Parliament in 1994.
It even went as far as Port Vale fans signing a petition against the Manchester United manager’s plans to field a weakened side. Yet more and more teams are following his and Wenger’s lead in giving their fresh faced brood an opportunity to impress, showcase their talent and ultimately prove whether they have what it takes to become a regular part of the senior setup.
David Beckham certainly reaped the benefits of Ferguson’s plan, as did Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Simon Davies and Keith Gillespie. They all featured in that controversial tie with Port Vale and all went on to become regulars in the Premier League and for their countries at international level.
That’s not forgetting Cesc Fabregas either who, at 16 years and 177 days old, become the youngest player in Arsenal’s history, making his debut in the League Cup against Rotherham United at Highbury and literally ran the show.
Sticking with youth and fostering a new ‘Golden Generation’ is the unenviable task laid out in front of Hodgson. Replacing the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and John Terry was never going to be easy, but persevering with youth is certainly the way forward if England are to progress.
Thankfully it seems as if Hodgson has heeded the demand for change with 28 of his recent call-ups aged 25 or under and 14 members of the current squad coming in under that radius. Of course a few familiar faces remain but it’s clear that the core of the team is taking on a new identity.
And as Ferguson and Wenger have shown in the League Cup in years gone by, being bold and persisting with youth propagates success. Whether Hodgson stays bold and sticks with this policy remains to be seen.