This week England Coach Fabio Capello will lead a potentially very experimental side out on to the Wembley turf to face Laurent Blanc’s France in an international friendly which has, for the English at least, become a little more than just another meaningless mid-week run out. Come 7:45 on Wednesday England fans might, for the first time in a long time, have a small glimpse of a brighter future.
The provisional squad that Capello has named includes a number of uncapped players, many of whom are inexperienced even at Premier League level let alone out on the battlefield of international football. The Italian, although hogtied by injuries to a number of his regular first team players, has made a series of incredibly brave choices in his squad selection; he has included, for the first time at this level Chris Smalling, Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll and Jay Bothroyd as well as welcoming back fringe players like Carlton Cole and Stephen Warnock. He has even seen fit to include the much maligned (but slowly improving) Robert Green in his initial squad and while it is highly unlikely that the West Ham man will replace Joe Hart in the England goal it is still a gutsy decision to call on Green following his frankly disastrous summer.
The inclusion of these uncapped youngsters alongside other promising prospects like Walcott, Jagielka, Johnson, Wilshire and Gibbs will finally give the England fans an insight into the future, a land beyond the Terrys, Lampards and Gerrards, where youth and inexperience are given a chance to shine where tried and trusted players have failed.
That so called ‘golden generation’ was unable to live up to the burden of expectation placed up on them by both the nation’s supporters desperate for success and the media, ready, as they were, to pounce at the first sign of weakness. Consequently that talented group of players was never able to produce the goods at an international tournament.
Yet, despite these international failures, very little if anything has changed in English football, the same players featured in the same system irrespective of results or performances. The same media outlets attempt, reasonably successfully, to whip the supporters up into a footballing frenzy, only to have their hopes dashed once more.
This time however we all have an opportunity to do things differently. The next generation of English footballers has appeared on the horizon and although not yet household names in many respects they have the potential to play attacking, attractive football, free of the pressures of continual failure at the highest level.
The swashbuckling Adam Johnson has displayed glimpses of his potential throughout the burgeoning Premier League season; equally he has been very impressive in his cameo appearances against Switzerland and Bulgaria. Similarly the Arsenal duo of Walcott and Wilshire are progressing nicely under Arsene Wenger’s tutelage, and look to be future mainstays in domestic and international football.
Yes the inclusion of some players has raised eyebrows, the Manchester City pair of Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott for example have not had a great deal of playing time at the Eastlands this season and Cardiff’s Jay Bothroyd is currently plying his trade in the Championship, but on the whole Capello has opted for young, enthusiastic players in form.
This squad is the re-boot that English football has been crying out for, for some time, where Germany has led England, now, is beginning to follow. The example set by German national coach Joachim Löw has been incredibly commendable, he has given the proverbial ball to the latest batch of emerging young German talent and has allowed them to run with it. Müller, Özil, Khadera et al have been permitted the time and opportunities to take German football out of the (relative) slump that is was in and turn the national team into the free flowing, creative, joy filled team that we saw in South Africa. If Capello and the English fans afford the latest batch of English hopefuls the same opportunities then a few years down the line optimism and hope might return to English football.
The inclusion of so many youngsters in Capello’s squad must surely be seen as an indicator that English football can produce top quality talent; the perceived dearth of young English players is a myth currently being dispelled in the EPL. One need only look at some of the players not included in this squad to see that things are not all doom and gloom. Although the likes of Marc Albrighton, Matt Jarvis and Lee Cattermole are all being players touted as future England stars they have been omitted from this group of players, a clear demonstration that there is and will be healthy competition for places. Their time will surely come.
It is no secret that many of the bonds between players and fans in England have been damaged, if not destroyed completely. English supporters have sat back and watched as their heroes have taken for granted the privileged position in which they have found themselves, declaring themselves ‘bored’ at a World Cup finals, engaging in alleged off the field controversies and openly criticising supporters for voicing their displeasure at poor performances. It is vital then that the new crop of English footballers be given a chance to show the public what they can achieve at this level, if they are allowed the opportunity by the triumvirate of the coaching staff, supporters and media then maybe they can repair some of the damage caused by their predecessors and lead England towards a brighter, more harmonious and perhaps successful future.