Come with us to the future, May 2016 to be exact. A future that sees Roy Hodgson leading England to a third international tournament on the back of a credible if somewhat inevitable quarter-final exit in the World Cup in Brazil.
Given the climate, the stereotypical ‘player fatigue’ and that scandal, it was not a bad achievement by Roy’s boys, and with no other English managers proving they deserve the chance to manage their country, Hodgson is given another chance to end England’s now 50 years of hurt.
Much has changed over the past three years, players have come and gone, some big transfers have gone through, and one boss of a ‘top four’ club has finally waved goodbye to the Premier League. However, as always, there is massive hope and expectation surrounding the England national team, and here are the men who will take to the field in England’s opening game in France.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Hart showed in Brazil that he can be a phenomenal 'keeper, single-handedly keeping England in that second round match against Ghana. At 29, the Manchester City stopper is entering his prime, and after adding another Premier League winners medal under City manager Frank De Boer, there is no question over the number 1 spot.
Reserves: Ben Foster & Jack Butland
After a horrendous error in the pre-World Cup warm-ups, the headline 'He must be Roy’s Foster child’ was splattered across the back pages. Butland will make a big-money move after the tournament, but it will not come soon enough to promote him up the pecking order.
Right-back: Glen Johnson
Providing some valuable experience in a fairly inexperienced defence, Johnson has held off the resurgence of Kyle Walker to retain his right-back role. His ability to also play at left-back continues to make him a mainstay of this England team.
Reserve: Kyle Walker
Micah Richards is in and out of the City team, while Walker has got over his wobbles in 2013 and propelled himself onto the next level.
Centre-backs: Phil Jones & Chris Smalling
Phil Jones has made the centre-back position his own at Manchester United. Nemanja Vidic is a 'one game a week' man because of injuries, while Rio Ferdinand is a pundit in the Middle East and his back troubles no longer concern Hodgson.
Smalling gets the nod primarily because he plays with Jones at United (sometimes). The ex-Fulham defender has yet to fully convince but Hodgson knows the player from his days at Craven Cottage, and Smalling’s ability to play on the right of a three man defence offers Hodgson tactical options that he very rarely uses.
Reserves: Gary Cahill, Steven Caulker & Martin Kelly
Cahill is still recovering from Roy Keane’s biting assessment after England’s World Cup defeat to Germany, comparing him to cucumber for reasons unknown, while Caulker is first-choice at Tottenham after Younes Kaboul’s move to Juventus. Kelly offers versatility across the backline, but is still struggling to get into the Liverpool back four.
Left-back: Leighton Baines
Ashley Cole’s move to Dubai in January 2015 surprised everyone, and effectively ended his chances of playing for England again. Baines was already edging ahead of Cole in the build-up to Brazil, but the Scouse star, now at United, is being fought hard by Tottenham’s Luke Shaw. Baines' set-piece delivery and crossing is still amongst the best in the world, but Shaw’s sheer athleticism is making a strong case for another change at left-back.
Reserve: Danny Rose
Following his conversion to left-back in the 2012/13 season whilst on loan with Sunderland, Rose has gone from strength-to-strength and continues to impress for Newcastle United.
Central midfielders: Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley & Tom Carroll
The midfield has undergone a massive revamp as the clamour for inventive passing and drive from midfield reached epic proportions in the qualifying for France '16 as no-one is calling it.
With Steven Gerard now very much on the periphery, and Frank Lampard in the United States, Jack Wilshere is both the midfield leader and captain of the side. Alongside him, the diminutive Tom Carroll has come into the team off the back of a very good year at Tottenham. His passing ability propels him above the other Tom (Cleverley), while Barkley brings the physicality and bite that England have strangely lacked. There is still concern over the lack of a true anchor man to protect the defence, but then again England have suffered from the absence of a real defensive midfielder since Paul Ince.
Reserves: Jordan Henderson, Tom Cleverley & Jonjo Shelvey
Cleverley, despite scoring the winning goal in England’s crucial final group game against Russia, has suffered from the typical post-England tournament failure fall-out, while Henderson often comes off the bench to provide a more attacking threat from midfield but is still finding his feet for England. Shelvey is struggling for game time at Liverpool after the signing of Christian Eriksen.
Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Jay Rodriguez & Danny Welbeck
Hodgson has chopped and changed his forward line-up but Wayne Rooney has been a mainstay of the side. Now operating in the hole, with Rodriquez and Welbeck both running the channels and linking up with Rooney when England are on top, and falling back to wing positions against stronger teams, the front three are proving an efficient and effective foil for each other.
Reserves: Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott & Daniel Sturridge
Carroll is plan B personified. He’s lobbed on with 24 seconds to go and coincides with England enjoying their best spell of short, technical passing just at the exact moment when they finally have someone on the pitch who can win the long balls of the preceding 89 minutes.
Walcott has finally convinced Arsene Wenger that he should be played upfront but has not scored for England in two years, while Daniel Sturridge is more hot and cold than a moody boiler. He has scored 10 goals in qualifying but they were all against Andorra, and his miss against Russia when, instead of tapping in from two yards with his right foot, he tried to trap the ball and get it on his left, nearly cost England progression.
*All this assumes England actually qualify for Euro 2016, and that Roy Hodgson is still in charge.
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