Difficult for any kind of pun this week, so I went for something a little more blatant about English expectancy at major tournaments.
Anyway, on topic, it’s internationals week and with this break from regular club football I thought it would be nice to look at some of our hopeful young starlets either within the current squad or excelling currently at club level. To make this a bit broader, I will be looking at a Goalkeeper, a Defender, a Midfielder and a Striker, all that are at least under 23. Will these players be main-stays within the England setup by Brazil 2014? Will any make the European Championships in 2012? It’s time to have a look at what talent we may have under our wings, only for them to eventually be crushed under the weight of our expectations.
Goalkeeper – Joe Hart
I feel this one is quite obvious, but with any other hopeful playing in the Championship, I have to put Joe in. Our current number 1, Hart has been in great form this season, keeping Shay Given out of the Manchester City side, who are currently sitting nicely in a Champions League spot. A good commander of the defence and a great shot stopper, masses of plaudits have come in for Hart over the past couple of seasons, having had a terrific spell on loan at Birmingham City last season. With his first venture into European football this season in City’s Europa League and with them being ideally placed to play in the most prestigious club football competition next season, Joe is gaining the ideal experience to become one of the best keeper’s in the world.
Here is the highlights of Joe Hart’s Man of the Match performance in the first game of the 2010/2011 Premier League season, against Tottenham Hotspur.
He is guaranteed to be one of the first names on the team sheet if England qualify for the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, and unless he suffers the calamitous fate of other England number 1’s such as Robert Green and Paul Robinson, he will also be in the squad for the World Cup in 2014. And as shown this season with Edwin Van Der Sar, the very best of goalkeeper’s can still be world beaters well into their 40’s, so at the age of 23, the world is at his feet. Or hands, in this case.
Defender – Chris Smalling
The 21-year-old has had a meteoric rise within the last 3 years. Starting at non-league Maidstone United, he signed first with Fulham in 2008 for a nominal fee, due to his non-contract status, and then in January 2010 he signed for Manchester United, staying on loan for the rest of the season at Fulham. This season, due to the injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans, Smalling has stepped into giant’s shoes and has fitted in perfectly into the title chasing side’s defence. With good positioning and composure beyond his years, Smalling has shown his quality in games against Manchester City, Arsenal, and Marseille. There are now murmurs that when Rio returns that he may find it difficult to regain his starting place, which is a credit to how much Smalling has grown over the past couple of months.
Now here is some footage from the Man City game, a game where he was expected to be the weak point that Man City would exploit.
Personally, even though there has been criticism in the fact he is next to arguably the best centre back in the world, I have been incredibly impressed by Chris Smalling’s performances this season. As a Manchester United fan, you may feel that I have some bias, but I didn’t agree with the signing of him in the summer, and have been really shown the quality he possesses. I would like to see him at least taken to Euro 2012, even if he doesn’t play, to keep his experience up and to get him more used to the environment. When the Brazil 2014 World Cup comes round, I fully expect him to be in the side as long as his form continues, or at least pushing for a starting place.
Midfield – Jack Wilshere
This season, Jack Wilshere has been a sensation. After a very good loan spell at Bolton at the end of last season, he has been ever-present in the Arsenal side that is currently sitting in second in the Premier League. He has also featured in the two games against Barcelona, winning the Man of the Match award in the first game, with the three best players in the world in the opposition, and looking like the only Arsenal player wanting to go for the win in the second match. With a good eye for a pass and masses of courage, Wilshere can be headstrong, but regularly with the right frame of mind. To put his talent under the spotlight, in the first Barcelona game, he completed 93.5% of his overall passes, and 91% of passes in the third half of the pitch. That shows what kind of player we have, and he is only just 19.
These are the highlights of his performance against the “best team in the world”.
There is no doubt that Wilshere will be going not only to the European Championships, but the next World Cup, and most likely all these international competitions for the next 15 years. He pretty much opitimises the great English footballer, not only being technically gifted but having great heart and tenacity to win at all costs. As for England captain, I think it may be too soon for him to be given the armband yet, but when the next opportunity comes around, when he will be around 22-23, he will be the front-runner.
Forward – Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll became the most expensive English player in history this January, with his transfer from Newcastle to Liverpool costing the scousers £35 million pounds, which has come under much scrutiny. But sweeping that under the rug for the sake of looking at his potential, he has scored 11 goals in 19 games for Newcastle. He is a commanding presence upfront, with great heading ability and great footwork, he has menaced Premier League defences so far this season. And his move to a bigger club can only help his development, with his one game in the Europa League giving him that vital experiences of playing against different teams in more foreign environments. He also scored his first England goal against Ghana this week, with a great left footed strike, showing that he can score at the highest of levels.
Here is a video of all his goals so far this season.
It’s clear that Andy Carroll has talent, there is no denying that. His high price tag hopefully will not hold him back, but something that may be is his temperament. If he can keep his antics off the field in check, and start scoring goals for his new club, he will become a great number 9 forward. He would partner Rooney well upfront, holding the ball up as Rooney runs around for him, potentially creating a forward partnership England has been looking for. He will be on the plane for the European Championships, assuming we qualify, but may not be a starter, that he may deserve to be. And if he recaptures his form he had at Newcastle before his injury, he could be our new goalscoring threat.
Looking away from the four shown above, we have numerous talents that are likely to break into the first team. Jack Rodwell, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Kieran Gibbs are all players that likely to be in or around the squad coming major tournaments in the future. There are also talents that may have not been in public view yet, and could break in when they gain regular club football, such as Ravel Morrison, simply from my Manchester United knowledge. We can look positively into the future, hoping for success, but I feel that if we do not bleed these players in at the same time and build a team rather than a group of individuals, I’m afraid that our trophy drought may continue for years to come.