With France concluding the 2018 World Cup in style, attention turns to the future. Not only will England fans be hoping a similar performance is shown in the 2020 European Championships, but that the squad is ready and improved when the next World Cup rolls around.
The Southgate Approach
Perhaps the most commendable feature of 2018 semi-finalists England was their attitude and approach to the tournament – unlike that which we have seen in teams in recent history. Where players would allegedly stay segregated when club rivalries were at an all time high, there are now players such as Henderson and Alli who are part of a true collective.
The consequences of Gareth Southgate’s use of a team rather than a collection of players are a system of support and drive. This can be epitomised in the quarter-final cruise against Sweden. Even after going ahead, England were still seemingly trying to control the game and grab another goal where once the game would have been muddied. This simply must be translated into future tournaments, Southgate or not. To lose this connection between squad mates, and also with the nation itself, would certainly prove costly.
While the sense of team must be preserved, this cannot come at the cost of playing the best team. The future team selections have to be harsh.If players like Dele and Dier continue to fail to fit seamlessly into the team then the manager has to explore other options. Fear of benching superstars has been the downfall of England in the past, and a firm hand will be needed to come in and make sure that the best football is being played.
Additionally, the next few years of international football must be spent assessing weaknesses so that the obvious strengths can be built upon. Specifically, the system that England have come to play seems to be not quite at its best – seemingly missing a player who can thread a pass through. Paul Pogba comes to mind but at current nobody of the sort was around for England. It is in situations like this that one would hope Ruben Loftus-Cheek finally makes the starting eleven for Chelsea, or else moves to another club. It is clear that Alli and Lingard are not adequate midfield support for Henderson, and one or two of those players should be expected to have trouble making the starting team in the same way again. Decisions must be made if England are to progress.
There is no doubt that the youth setup that England have at current is one of the best in the world. With a host of World and European championships between the various levels of players in the England setup, the future looks bright — but there is somewhat of a generation ideology that must be avoided.
As comparisons arise between this side and that which consisted of the likes of Rooney, Lampard and Beckham, it must be noted that to follow the same suit would be to accept years of disappointment before any measure of success. Successful integration of youth into the first team must come at an appropriate pace. This looks set to be so as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli have all been allowed to take some part in the biggest of competitions and will have gained some invaluable experience.
However, there are some serious stars waiting in the wings and they must be brought into the side in the optimal moment. Ryan Sessegnon, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Nathaniel Chalobah are just some of the wildly talented players that almost made it to this years World Cup. Without a doubt, it will be difficult to get the best out of the youth as the existing side is already incredibly young, with a 25-year-old captain and main striker Harry Kane.
In any case, England certainly seemed equipped to perform well at the 2020 European Championships — not least due to the considerably low average age of the squad that performed so well this summer. However, teams like France, Germany and Spain will also be doing some growing of their own. If England hope to take their game to the next level and at the very least sustain the level of success seen in Russia 2018, they must not fear change whilst doing their best to maintain the team spirit cultivated so brilliantly by Gareth Southgate.