Never stop believing. That’s the underlying fable of England’s 2018 World Cup campaign – one that didn’t end in glory but at least for a few weeks had us all dreaming of it once again.
And that’s exactly why, even though the wounds are nowhere near fully healed, we’ve already got one eye on the World Cup in Qatar. After all, this was never the tournament England were supposed to win; Gareth Southgate was tasked with quite simply laying out the framework for future success by creating a young side that plays exciting football.
We certainly got that at times in Russia, but it would be naive to think this England team is anything close to being the finished article. Square pegs were shoved into round holes and young players were given responsibilities that are probably a little beyond their true capabilities at this moment in time.
So, what changes does Southgate need to make to ensure the Three Lions lift the World Cup at their next attempt in four years’ time? Football FanCast take a look at four exciting young Englishmen who will complete this promising England team if Southgate can effectively integrate them into the side….
Now aged 33, Ashley Young won’t be around for the Qatar tournament anyway, but it’s become clear throughout this World Cup that England need a natural left footer in the wing-back role.
Fortunately, Fulham sensation Ryan Sessegnon is pretty much perfect for it through his speed and technical ability, and he’ll also bring an extra source of goals to the team, having contributed 15 to the Cottagers’ successful promotion bid last season.
Perhaps the only question mark here though, is whether he’ll still be seen as a wing-back in four years’ time. Some have anticipated a transition similar to Gareth Bale’s that would see the teenager develop more into a wide forward.
Pep Guardiola clearly has high hopes for Phil Foden and that can only be a good thing for the England national team, especially if Southgate pursues with his pair of roaming No.8s operating just in front a midfield anchor.
England have desperately lacked that Jack-Wilshere-esque type playmaker at times at this World Cup, but Foden has the vision and intricacy to unlock packed out defences – something he’ll only improve upon while training every day with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne at Manchester City.
In terms of who could be ditched to make room for the teenager, Jesse Lingard is probably the most vulnerable. Although he’s a firm favourite of Southgate’s, he’s not a guaranteed starter at club level either – at least, not in the same position – and will be 29 when Qatar comes around.
His overall performances have been better than many have argued but Raheem Sterling just hasn’t done quite enough at this World Cup.
He’s been energetic, industrious and dangerous but has just one assist and no goals to his name from five appearances, which just isn’t good enough considering he’s partnering Harry Kane. In fairness, Sterling’s still only 23 years of age so he should be enjoying his peak leading into the next World Cup.
But by that time, Marcus Rashford could easy overtake him as Kane’s accomplice if he can match the same movement and mobility as the Manchester City forward while bringing more goals into the team. The only concern is game-time at club level; the 21-year-old really needs a consistent run as a central striker to truly push Sterling as a regular England starter.
Kyle Walker deserves the utmost credit for how quickly he transitioned to the right centre-back berth at this tournament, and there have been plenty of occasions in which his speed has spared England from some monumental muck-ups in defence.
At the same time though, some inevitable positional errors have cost the Three Lions dearly at key moments – most notably the penalty he conceded against Tunisia and allowing Ivan Perisic to run across him in the semi-final. Southgate’s already taken an interest in Joe Gomez, having handed the Liverpool youngster three senior caps, and as a versatile defender who’s part full-back, part centre-half, he’d be the ideal replacement on the right-hand side of England’s back three.
Gomez showed that against Brazil last November, when he played a key part in a Three Lions clean sheet while remaining tidy and productive in possession.