Gareth Southgate didn’t hold back when he announced his England squad for the matches against Germany and Brazil.
The Three Lions boss said: “I have huge respect for Chris. He is a player playing at a big club.
“We want to play in a certain way and the players I have brought in I want to see using the ball from the back and building it up in a certain way.”
That came as a surprise as after taking over from Sam Allardyce, Southgate had presided over a relatively dull but functional qualifying campaign and there was no real sign of a revolution.
Yet against Germany, Southgate named England’s least experienced starting line-up, with a combined total of 101 appearances, since Ron Greenwood’s side took on Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in May 1981.
Fresh blood brings excitement
There’s no doubt that young players give fans hope. Everyone loves to see an academy prospect coming through, and they definitely get more backing from the stands.
When a 30-year-old is on the pitch making the same bad decision week in, week out it’s tiresome. Surely by their age they should know better now.
Yet when a teenager makes a mistake, they’re forgiven. They’re young, exciting and have an opportunity to put that right.
Naturally, if they never improve, they will come in for criticism. But fans are more patient with younger, more inexperienced players. And Southgate’s squad for tomorrow’s match against Brazil is inexperienced.
In Jordan Pickford, Angus Gunn, Joe Gomez, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jack Cork, Lewis Cook, Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke, there are eight players who hadn’t been previously capped before this international break.
And even Southgate himself admits it’s better viewing. “I enjoyed watching us play against Germany,” he said. “I haven’t enjoyed watching us play in all our games but away in Germany, against Spain and Germany at home I’ve enjoyed the performances.”
Southgate: The right man to bring these players through
It’s the first time in a long time that young players have started to be blooded in the England team. For too long, you could pick the team, based on big names, rather than form.
He was once a legend, but it felt stale at the top and it felt like these big names were stopping the path of youngsters coming through.
Despite England’s success at youth level, with World Cup success at various levels, as well as notable achievements in European Championships and Toulon Tournaments, the route to the senior squad seemed blocked.
But by appointing Southgate, who was Under-21 coach and, before that, de facto technical director at the FA, there is someone heading up the public face of the organisation who knows the qualities the younger generation has.
The man himself acknowledges that and it’s fair to say that is what he’ll be judged on at the moment.
“It’s not going to all happen before the World Cup, and some of them might not be ready for next summer, but there are exciting young English players coming through which is encouraging,” he said.
“Whether it is me that benefits from that or the next manager, the reason I was given the job was that I have an understanding of what is coming through.
“We’ve looked at what Germany have done over a period of time and want to establish a pathway for our young players.
“If we do that, the technical type of player that is coming through our system now and the athletic profile we have got could be really exciting.”
He’s definitely lived up to his promises too with debuts handed to a number of players, even if some of them were enforced due to injury.
It feels like Southgate is after a fresh era at England, and that’s exactly what was needed. Under previous regimes, and under Southgate during World Cup qualification, there was a real disconnect between fans and the team.
Wembley wasn’t full, and England were expected to qualify easily. There really wasn’t much excitement about watching the Three Lions. In fact, it almost seemed fashionable to criticise them.
Yet if truth be told, watching them felt more like a chore than anything else at times, despite fans’ best intentions to back the team. Paper planes were often cheered with more gust than the team at the national stadium.
Yet the introductions of Loftus-Cheek and co. mean it feels like there could be a bright future for England. A future where they play good, attractive football and actually compete for major tournaments.
“He’s got so many good attributes, top attributes, and that’s why we put him into the team,” the England manager added. “We believe in him and believe in the others we played.”
And when you’ve been watching players tipped to go to the top of the game, it’s much more exciting than the usual personnel you’ve seen for years.
If you look at the women’s team, perhaps the reason that the Lionesses enjoyed such support during the 2015 World Cup and 2017 European Championships was they offered an alternative to the men’s team, which had become stale and predictable.
Despite Southgate’s start, the squad he’s picked for this international break, combined with Loftus-Cheek’s impressive performance against Germany, suggests he’s building a team to get the fans back on side.
It may be too soon for the 2018 World Cup, but with the path to the first team now looking clearer, there could be a very bright future for England – especially given their recent success at youth level.