5 reasons why England can look forward with optimism

26 June 2017 03:54

It has been a turbulent year since Roy Hodgson's England were bundled out of Euro 2016 by Iceland in Nice.

In another 12 months, all being well, they will have the chance to redeem themselves at the World Cup and here we assess five reasons to believe they can salvage some pride in Russia.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

There was little tangible public interest in England's Under-20 squad when they departed for South Korea last month but by capturing the Three Lions' first global trophy since 1966, they provided football's unexpected feelgood story of the summer.

The leap from age-level success to senior stardom is a big one but Paul Simpson's squad contains a handful of highly-rated talents eager to become first-team regulars at their clubs next season. Tellingly, there should be significant fan support for the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ademola Lookman and Lewis Cook to get game time. Dominic Solanke, meanwhile, has swapped Chelsea for Liverpool and as the competition's player of the tournament has followed in the footsteps of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Sergio Aguero and Paul Pogba. There are signs of life at Under-17 and Under-21 level too, raising expectations for the future.

THE TOTTENHAM TWO Spurs have been well represented in England squads over the past couple of years but two names stand out as top-tier stars - Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Both were part of the Euro debacle and could easily have found themselves weighed down by the fallout. But they emerged as even more effective Premier League players in 2016/17. Kane retained his golden boot, improving his previous tally from 25 to 29, while Alli flourished with a remarkable 18 goals from midfield. The duo are often most dangerous in tandem, combining with ruthless efficiency around the penalty box. Watching them in action together is a salve for any despondent supporter.

SOUTHGATE'S RHETORIC Talking a good game never won a game of football, never mind a World Cup, but Gareth Southgate's public pronouncements have shown him to be, at the very least, fully aware of the challenges he faces in the top job. He has drawn a bead on the national side's dreadful record in knockout games, questioned the 'island mentality' of players unwilling to take chances overseas and shown an admirable willingness to continue playing elite opposition in friendlies, regardless of the effect on his win percentage. He will need to string together some better results on the field if his strong words are to remain credible but nobody can doubt he understands the magnitude of the task.

KEEPER CONUNDRUM A year ago the prospect of Joe Hart losing his number one status would have been unthinkable, even after his less than stellar showing in France. Now England boast an enviable array of challengers for the gloves, with arguably their strongest crop in a generation. Jack Butland is well fancied to rival Hart sooner rather than later, while Tom Heaton and Fraser Forster have their own champions and the uncapped Jordan Pickford recently tempted Everton to part with the best part of £30million. It all adds up to a much-improved picture given Alex McCarthy, who did not play a single minute of Premier League football last season, was called up by Sam Allardyce for England's first post-Iceland clash in Slovakia.

END OF THE CELEBRITY CULT

Southgate would doubtless give his right arm to have a peak-era Steve Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry or Wayne Rooney at his disposal but, in carefully removing the last of those big names from the picture, he has ensured an England squad of equals. For too long the burdens of expectation have fallen too heavily on the shoulders of too few, with the biggest names rarely dealing with the strain successfully. In recent get-togethers media appearances have been split more equally than before, all squad members have encouraged to take leadership positions and the door has been open to those at less fashionable clubs - see Jake Livermore's surprise recall and nods for Michael Keane, Ben Gibson and James Ward-Prowse. What has been lost in winners' medals has hopefully been replaced by collectivism and unity of purpose.

Source: PA


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