It’s without doubt the most coveted sporting event in the world. 100 days from now, Steven Gerrard could be lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy in front of the fans inside Rio de Janeiro’s Estadio do Maracana; overlooked by Christ the Redeemer.
And although it may take biblical efforts to realise this dream, there is no harm in forging intangible scenarios as we all probably have done. So, despite my hallucinations of Heskey netting an added time scissor kick, realisation is kicking in and it’s almost time for Roy Hodgson to select his 23 man squad.
As much as anything, it is the composition of the squad that counts when it comes to England’s chances this summer. The fact that we’ve never beaten Uruguay, Italy or Costa Rica in a competition before will have to be discarded, as Hodgson needs to channel his focus towards tailoring England’s tactics for the tournament towards the exuberant, quick, in-form talents, who will all be hoping to catch the plane ride to Brazil come June.
I’ve picked my 23 man squad, which I think holds the most chance in pulling off a triumphant campaign in Brazil, so without further ado, here it is.
Goalkeepers – Fraser Forster, Joe Hart, John Ruddy
After comprising the keeper in the Celtic squad that has run away with the SPL once more this season, Forster deserves his spot on the plane and has already ingratiated himself in the squad after being selected by Hodgson regularly since the autumn of 2012.
Joe Hart picks himself, and not because of his arrogance, but more to do with his talismanic presence he holds in the England defence. He’s been Roy’s #1 ever since he took the reins at Wembley and that’s not going to change come June.
A solid performer between the sticks at Norwich, John Ruddy has established himself as one of the finest shot stoppers in England, only just edging out Ben Foster who arguably deserves his place as well.
Defenders – Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Kyle Walker
Timid in his ways but thrilling on the pitch, Leighton Baines epitomises the modern full back with his perpetual movement down the left flank. If it wasn’t for England veteran Ashley Cole, the Merseysider would be heading into the World Cup with 50 caps to his name; a penned-in starter for Hodgson.
Since John Terry bitterly left the England scene a couple years back, the team have been waiting for a new centre half to assume centre stage. The best tackler in the squad and willing to throw his body on the line, Cahill is one part of the very promising partnership in the centre of defence.
His counterpart comes in the form of Phil Jagielka. A late bloomer, you might say, the 31-year-old has been in stellar form for Everton in the last couple of seasons and he doesn’t mind getting his nut on the ball either.
Though troubled with injury problems regularly, Liverpool right back Glen Johnson has been in the England frame for a lengthy spell now, and isn’t afraid to bomb forward and show his attacking potential – Mr. Reliable.
Sure to ruffle a few feathers, I also think Phil Jones deserves a place in the squad. After all, the 22-year-old has more to him than pulling funny faces during games. He is the one which you attach the ‘squad player’ cliché to, and is more than efficient in covering for any injury problems at right-back and centre-half.
With the impetus on creating a new breed of players, Luke Shaw has to make the squad. Whichever second left back is going to be picked will only be playing back-up to Leighton Baines. And although Ashley Cole could arguably still compete at an international level, surely the focus should be on developing youth rather than waving goodbye to the old guard.
I found the last spot difficult to decide upon, as seven defenders felt suffice for the squad. With support in the areas of centre-back and left-back already decided upon, another right-back was needed to support Glen Johnson. After considering Chris Smalling and Micah Richards, I felt Kyle Walker was the most similar to Glen Johnson and therefore the best fit for the squad.
Midfielders – Ross Barkley, Steven Gerrard (C), Adam Lallana, Frank Lampard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere, Ashley Young
Though maybe a little overrated, Ross Barkely has certainly made an impression in his breakthrough year in the Premier League. His club manager, Roberto Martinez has praised the 20-year-old as one of the best young players in England. Seems decent enough.
Is there any need to explain Steven Gerrard’s inclusion in the squad? Tackler, distributor, goal scorer and half-decent from 12 yards as well. Pure class.
Even his name sounds cool. If Southampton born and bred playmaker Adam Lallana put in the performances he has this year for Southampton, for Real Madrid; he would be hailed as a world class player. The whole package with a good head on his shoulders, if Lallana isn’t starting alongside Gerrard for England’s first group match in Manaus, I’ll go bananas.
Possibly a surprise package in the squad, I feel Frank Lampard still earns himself a place. This is only as, if England are to lose Gerrard in the middle of the park, who will make the best replacement? I considered Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick and Jordan Henderson, but felt experience was important in the centre midfield position; enter 103-cap Frank Lampard.
One of the most likeable players in the England frame, Oxlade-Chamberlain (let’s call him ‘Ox’) possesses such watchable aspects to his game, with his thought always being ‘how can can I move forward with the ball?’ With pace and dribbling both strengths of the Arsenal winger, I’d back Ox to make Hodgson’s starting XI.
A candidate for his counterpart on the other flank, Raheem Sterling has been in great form all year and is establishing himself as a mature, consistent performer in the Premier League. Possessing great pace and having an adolescent beauty to his game, it might be worth putting a few sterling on him getting on the plane.
Though once slammed as average by Pep Guardiola, despite being praised as one of England’s finest young talents, Jack Wilshere has found it difficult to establish himself in Hpdgson’s previous starting XI’s. However, with a ‘what you see is what you get’ quality to him, the passionate engine in midfield deserves to be in the squad.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot more players that have performed better than Ashley Young this year. Though hitting the self-destruct button on any respectable career after a prolonged diving fiasco (which seems to have taken the plunge a little), the United winger still holds the talents of a great winger. One of the best crossers of the ball, with pace and an art for winning penalties, I feel Young would do a better job stepping in for Sterling or Ox as opposed to Andros Townsend or Adam Johnson.
Strikers – Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck
No player has done more over their career to earn a place in Hodgson’s squad than Rickie Lambert. After going through the sticky pitches of the old third division, the humble Merseysider has eventually been able to steer his natural goal-scoring ability into the heights of the Premier League. Also a long-ball outlet, Lambert offers a different dimension to the side. Got to go.
Not many people had heard of him a couple of years ago, but Jay Rodriguez is the perfect example of a grafter. His effort in matches is outstanding, and he’s not half bad tucking away the ball in the back of the net. A grounded individual, his Burnley vernacular is exuded in his interviews and he’s a true Brit; he’s done enough to go.
Despite murmurs from some fans that Rooney has never fulfilled his potential for England, seven goals in the qualification campaign for Brazil showed his talismanic presence to come to the forefront. No need to justify or qualm over his place.
This season, Daniel Sturridge has looked like the clinical finisher England have been looking for over the past 5 years. With Rooney having a leniency to drop deep, Sturridge is a goal scorer through and through and will no doubt be in Hodgson’s starting XI. He’s got a few celebrations up his sleeve as well, that would come in handy in, oh I don’t know, a hundred days?
The last man on the list. I’m unsure whether it’s the ignorance of some people, or my liking for the player, but Danny Welbeck is the type of player you want in a World Cup squad. He will chase down defenders at pace until the early hours of the morning and has already shown glimpses of genius in an England shirt. An adolescent talent like Sterling, Hodgson will definitely be taking him.
So, there it is, my England squad. It’s not quite yet to a World Cup winning standard, but hey, we may as well give it a shot.
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