England move closer to finally winning another World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It has been nine years since then-president of the English Football Association, Greg Dyke, set the national team with the audacious goal of winning the 2022 World Cup.

While that goal may not seem as outlandish as it once was, the problems that Dyke said had held England back for almost 50 years, since their only win in 1966, are still pertinent ahead of Monday’s opening Group B game against Iran.

A Premier League awash with global talent means fewer top-flight local players for England manager Gareth Southgate to pick.

In 2013, Dyke described it as a “frightening trend” and said that “English football is a tanker in need of a twist”.

“The problem is serious, very serious,” he said in a speech that proved correct, not least because England has so far met or exceeded its targets despite ongoing concerns that have yet to be fully addressed.

Those top goals included “at least” reaching the semi-finals of the 2020 European Championship. England lost to Italy on penalties in last year’s tournament final, which was delayed 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the last World Cup in Russia, Southgate led his team to the semi-finals, which was ahead of Dyke’s schedule.

As part of his nine-year plan, Dyke also wanted progress to be reflected at the youth level.

“I would like to see us well at the 2017 U-20 World Cup,” he said.

England won that tournament, as well as the Under-17s in the same year.

Dyke’s goals have been eerily precise, and England’s track record over the last four years points towards a serious challenge in Qatar. But Southgate still considers himself hampered by the same problems his predecessors faced.

Nine years ago, Dyke spoke of only 32% English players in the starting line-ups of Premier League clubs. The picture painted by Southgate when he announced his 26-man squad last week was no more encouraging.

“Everyone says we have tremendous depth, but last year we were 31% of the league,” Southgate said. “Because the team has done well, it has masked that we currently only have four English goalkeepers playing in the Premier League. Left backs, there aren’t many playing.”

Southgate singled out the defensive midfield as an area English academies need to focus on at a time when they had to select Kalvin Phillips, despite the Manchester City man getting just 40 minutes of action since shoulder surgery in September.

Not a single player who appeared in the final for the winning U-20 World Cup team is part of Southgate’s squad in Qatar. Only Phil Foden and Conor Gallagher have made it from the winning U17 team.

Still, this year’s team is seen as having generational talent in the form of Foden, Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish in particular. But England go into this World Cup with an idea of ​​what could have been.

The successes of 2018 and Euro 2020 have felt ahead of time with the promise that a host of players would mature in time for this year’s competition. Last year, Southgate might have hoped that Mason Greenwood had established himself at the helm of Manchester United’s attack and as a true rival to Harry Kane as an England centre-forward.

A prodigious talent, who is equally clinical on either foot, he looked as exciting as any English prospect since Wayne Rooney. But the striker, who has been charged with attempted rape, controlling and coercive conduct and assault, has not played since January after being suspended by United.

Jadon Sancho’s form has declined alarmingly since he joined United from Borussia Dortmund in 2021 for a reported $100m and he is no longer in the England picture. To a lesser extent, his club team-mate Marcus Rashford has failed to develop as expected, but he remains a part of the Southgate squad after a promising start to the season.

Injuries to Chelsea full-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell have also dealt a heavy blow to England’s preparations. But if Southgate couldn’t control any of those situations, an apparent reluctance to make Foden a focal point of his team is in him.

Compared to the great David Silva of City as he progressed at club level, for the national team he is widely regarded as the player England have missed since Paul Gascoigne in the 1990s. However, Southgate has failed to find a position stable for the 22-year-old striker neither in midfield nor in attack.

For a nation that has long struggled to keep possession against top teams, a player who can handle the ball as well as Foden should be a fixture. Instead, there is no guarantee that he will start against Iran, nor what position he would play.

Southgate’s handling of Foden – and Grealish – fuels a belief among some that the manager is too conservative and too reliant on a trusted few. Harry Maguire is expected to be at the heart of the defense despite being sidelined by United this season. Raheem Sterling is likely to stand out even though he has had a rocky start at Chelsea. Phillips and Kyle Walker are on the team despite having injuries.

But they have all produced consistently for England, particularly in major tournaments.

While critics may accuse Southgate of blind faith, he could point to the lack of options that Dyke cited nine years ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us on Social Media
%d bloggers like this: