About six weeks ago England completed their 100 percent Euro 2016 qualification campaign by defeating Lithuania 3-0. Immediately I began writing my pre-Euro 2016 post warning you not to buy into England in my head. After all, England has done this before. They dominate qualifying against much lesser teams, then go to a big tournament and lay a complete egg, leaving the entire country aghast.
The premise for the article was simple. The current squad is significantly worse than the “Golden Generation” of English teams that still failed to win anything. Those teams were led by players who were the best players on teams that were dominating the Champions League. These days, England’s team is made up of a who’s who of players who aren’t even the best players on their own team.
Then a funny thing happened. England, who have been trying to phase out their older players and get younger for years now, fully turned things over to their kids in a friendly against France. Those kids put on a tremendous display, defeating a very good and dangerous French team 2-0.
Ten days later, Manchester City suddenly remembered they had Fabian Delph on their squad. They gave him the start and he was extremely influential in helping them dominate Southampton. Suddenly when you look around the Premier League, it seems every hot team is being led by another one of England’s young stars.
England’s youth is currently on full display at Tottenham Hotspur. The Spurs have once again been led by young star Harry Kane, but the revelation at White Hart Lane has been in the midfield. Manager Mauricio Pochettino has turned his midfield over to a partnership of 19-year-old Dele Alli and 21-year-old Eric Dier. The pair has been a major reason why Tottenham have only lost one match all season, and, since they became first choice, why Kane is back to scoring goals at an incredible rate.
The Alli-Dier partnership has been so successful that the pair was rewarded by starting together in England’s friendly against France, where Alli opened the scoring with a sensational goal. Add Delph into the mix and all of a sudden England has a very formidable midfield trio that will be good for years to come.
This wasn’t something you could have necessarily seen coming even this past summer. While the Alli-Dier pair will have the advantage of playing together all season for their club, having Delph around to slide in for an injury or just rotation is a luxury England hasn’t had in quite some time.
Ahead of that triumvirate, England has now seen the emergence of the young attacking midfielders of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley. Sterling, of course, was with England at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and just made a big money move to Manchester City this summer. Barkley, who has always seemed to be right on the cusp of breaking into the England squad, seems to have finally turned the corner and burst through the door this season. Add in the veteran leadership and abilities of captain Wayne Rooney, who proved against France he can still play at the international level when not restricted by Louis van Gaal, and England have a very potent and balanced attacking midfield to play behind the striker.
Then of course there is that striker position. For the first time in what seems like ages England actually not only have a potent striker, but have options there as well. Of course at this point it looks as if 22-year-old Harry Kane has the inside track on being the teams first choice striker next summer in France, but don’t sleep on a healthy Daniel Sturridge or the very potent Jamie Vardy. While Vardy still may be an international wildcard, even if he does cool off between now and next summer, Kane, Sturridge and Rooney are all great options.
England’s greatest asset going forward is its youth. Other than Rooney, England has finally rid themselves of the rest of their failed “Golden Generation.” England have been trying to phase them out since the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup, waiting for some of their younger players to emerge. Those younger players are now here and England is far better for it.
In just a matter of weeks, England have turned themselves into a legitimate contender to win Euro 2016. Forgive me for sounding like the over-hyping English media, but this isn’t your older brother’s England team. The players are different.
These players are young, they aren’t burdened by expectations because they don’t have expectations. Most importantly they aren’t burdened by having to make up for a previous tournament because other than a handful of them, most of them weren’t at the previous tournaments. For many of these kids, it’s a fresh beginning, and they have the world ahead of them.
For years England have been waiting for their next generation to come through and take them where the ‘Golden Generation’ of Gerrard, Lampard, and Beckham couldn’t take them. That new generation is finally here.