In 1996 in the build up to the European Football Championships held in England, Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds released the Song, 3 Lions On a Shirt, now famous for the repeating middle 8 sung by fans around the world of “Football’s Coming Home”. The lyrics to this song also point out that at that point it had been “30 years of hurt” since England’s lone major trophy (the 1966 World Cup, also held in England).
Now let’s fast forward to the current day and the verge of another World Cup, there has been no sign in the intervening 18 years of England getting close to winning anything so as 30 years of hurt nears 50, is there reason to be hopeful are the years of hurt coming to an end?
As an England football fan, who like many has found watching England to be an at times painful experience despite the so called promise of the golden generation, I am not happy to say that the short answer to the question posed above is, No!, the years of hurt are due to continue for a little while longer at least.
However, scratch the surface on this England team and this England manager and for the first time in a long time I believe that there is hope for coming years and tournaments, for this to bear fruit in the coming years things need to start now. This World Cup may be a tournament too soon but projecting into the future for a moment, I believe that we will be able to look back on this tournament, as the time that things changed.
When Roy Hodgson was appointed England manager, most people were clamouring for Harry Redknapp. (does this say more about the lack of options than the men themselves, probably), but despite a tough 6 months at Liverpool FC, Hodgson had taken Fulham FC to a European final and got West Bromwich Albion to their highest ever Premier League finish. A look at this year’s final Premier League table will emphasise what an amazing achievements these actually were.
Hodgson 2014 has started a seed change in England’s National team, he has not just gone with the tried and trusted and ultimately unsuccessful players used by previous managers, Instead he has gone with youth, mainly developed by foreign managers in the Premier league, so England should be thankful to Arsene Wenger, Roberto Martinez etc… (if more of the Premier League clubs had been managed by English managers, would the skills now shown by Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshire etc… be as evident? Now that he has got these players into the squad, it is time for Hodgson to follow through on the promise and get these players into the team.
The bravest decision he needs to make is the midfield positions and I believe that he needs to drop his captain. Steven Gerrard, has been probably the best English player in Premier league history, and he literally could do it all as he showed in leading Liverpool to the Champions League trophy, but I challenge you to look at the recent really big games for Liverpool and England, who was it who made the mistake that proved costly? Who slipped on the edge of their own box? Who under hit backpasses?, and the answer is Gerrard every time. Gerrard at 34 with Frank Lampard at 35 will struggle in the heat of Brazil and Lampard at least should be looked at as an impact sub this tournament. Gerrard could be used in a new role as Liverpool have employed this year, but I believe the future is here and Roy Hodgson has the chance now to let it flourish.
Starting in midfield should be Gerrard’s club colleague Jordan Henderson (whose 3 game suspension, did more damage to Liverpool’s title bid, than Chelsea or Man City could have done) and with Henderson bossing the midfield in front of the defence, alongside him should be Jack Wilshire of Arsenal. Stylish, composed and willing to stand up and be counted. Look for the likes of Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play alongside these two and you have a midfield that can interchange and support, the likes of which we have not seen.
Up front Wayne Rooney is on borrowed time and needs to produce this tournament as although only 28 he could be moved on from internationals and his role is under pressure from Adam Lallana. Daniel Sturridge has shown composure at club and international level and I believe should start to come into his own on the World stage now.
The defence is a problem and is the weak link I agree with many experts, but Joe Hart and Ben Foster are both good goalkeepers and should be around for a while yet. I like Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill but am unconvinced of the pairing together. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are not the answer, I expect change in this position moving into future tournaments and maybe the likes of Steven Caulker may challenge for a spot. Full backs, Leighton Baines is quality but this may be his one international tournament as Luke Shaw is likely to be the choice after this, Right Back is a worry this tournament and it looks like Glenn Johnson will start but if he was fit Kyle Walker from Spurs would have got the nod, we may even see Jones moved out to Right Back again as Johnson is a worry.
So can England win this World Cup, I say honestly no, but make the right choices now and this team could bed down and form a club type mentality in a similar vein to Spain’s national team or France of the 90’s and England could once again be on the verge of something special, the years of hurt continue but they are coming to an end. Remember it all changed starting 2014 in Brazil.