Print Edition - 2018-07-16  |  World Cup Special

Euphoria over, back to reality for England


Jul 16, 2018-

It could have been the greatest day of their lives but England’s World Cup squad returned home on Sunday with the euphoria that surrounded their run to the last four having dissipated and familiar, less exhilarating, challenges lying ahead.

The Premier League begins in just four weeks and Gareth Southgate’s squad, players who were being hailed as national heroes just a few days ago, will return to the day job and the struggle for starting places at their clubs. In a league where a large majority of the players are imported from Europe and beyond, being a member of the England squad is no guarantee of first-team football.

It makes life tough for the England manager, who, even at the height of their World Cup optimism, noted the unique issue facing him. “We only have 33 percent of the league to pick from. So that is still a huge problem for us,” he said. So for all the talk of England being stronger at the European Championship in two years time, Southgate knows it is not as simple as just adding experience to his side.

The situation is particularly hard for those players at the biggest clubs—none of Marcus Rashford, Phil Jones or Jesse Lingard are guaranteed a regular starting spot under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. Fabian Delph, John Stones and Raheem Sterling will all have a battle on their hands to appear regularly on the Manchester City team sheet alongside their England teammate Kyle Walker, who is a fixed presence at right-back.

Sterling may have scored 18 goals in 33 appearances in last year’s title-winning campaign, but while he was in Russia, City manager Pep Guardiola completed the signing of Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City.

Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson was an essential part of their run to the Champions League final last season but he too faces expensively-recruited competition in the shape of Brazilian Fabinho and Guinean Naby Keita. It is even harder for emerging talent. Ruben Loftus-Cheek does not even know where he will be playing next season. His club Chelsea loaned him out to Crystal Palace last term and a change of manager adds to uncertainty he faces.

Those who can be confident of regular football are found at Tottenham Hotspur—where Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier are established first-teamers. Outside the Champions League clubs, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a clear No 1 at Everton and Harry Maguire is at the heart of Leicester’s defence.

There is an undeniable air of optimism around the England team though and Football Association Technical Director Dan Ashworth summed up the view that gaining experience is now the key.

Published: 16-07-2018 07:45

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