You would be forgiven for thinking that the England national side flirting with greatness in the previous World Cup was a fluke. So often has England flattered to deceive that our once over-expectant nation has become one full of cynics. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be cynical about Southgate’s young side.
In the past England have struggled against sides that they should be putting away. That was not the case in this past weekends qualifying matches. It is fair to say that this Czech side is not the same one that used to contain Nedved, but they are probably the toughest team in England’s group. To put five past them was a statement of intent on England’s part.
Then just a few days later they battered Montenegro, scoring five goals in that game as well giving them a commanding position in their group. This is an England side with hungry young players, a sense of comradery and with genuine momentum. They are learning their trade but they look stronger from the experience of suffering heartache in the world cup.
Age is just a number
In the past, a lot of England coaches have claimed that if you are old enough you’re good enough but none seem to have proven their commitment to that philosophy in quite the way that Southgate has. Over the past two games, he has given game time to Sancho, Odoi and Rice the former two are 18 and Rice is still just 20. The supporting cast weren’t senior citizens either with the oldest players to feature being just 28.
Lack of challenge
If anything this England side could suffer from being in such a straightforward qualifying group. On their road to the world cup semis, they rode their luck with the opposition they faced and looked a little out of their depth when they came up against the bigger sides. England did show that they can turn it on against better opposition when they beat Spain, but it is important that their friendly matches are chosen wisely. Due to the nature of their group England should be looking to pick friendlies that really test their squad because there is a big difference between a qualifier against Montenegro and a European championship match against Germany.
Is it coming home?
England has a good year and a half to bond as a team before their next major tournament. They have a lot of the exciting players coming through their ranks and if they establish themselves in the England fold they could be there for a long time. Never before has an England squad seemed so young and showed so much promise. This is not a team full of world-class stars, not like the days when England boasted a midfield of Scholes, Gerrard, and Lampard and front line with the likes of Rooney and Owen. However, this England team seem much more of a “team”.
Club rivalries buried
Perhaps a big part of that is that a lot of these players have graduated through England’s academy scheme. There are also players featuring that haven’t played in the premiership meaning that the England players are able to leave their “club differences” at the door and focus on bonding with their teammates. Ultimately with such a young group of players having a positive environment is key to their development and whether that is the influence of Southgate, having worked with a great deal of them at more junior levels, or if it’s just representative of all the money sunk into out countries young players it is hard to say. Whatever the reason, this is a team that could finally “bring it home.”