Surprise inclusions in the English preliminary squad for this year’s Euros bring with them an intriguing mix of hunger, grit, and experience.
Players in line for their first international tournament such as Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane are partnered with seasoned veterans in Wayne Rooney, Gary Cahill, and James Milner. While keeping in mind England’s recent record in major competitions being nothing short of woeful, Roy Hodgson’s sacrifice of experience for form makes sense.
Of the 26-man preliminary squad, only 8 come from last season’s top 4. And of those 8 only Hart, Smalling and Rooney can be classified as guaranteed England starters. The dynamics of the England squad have changed; young players and debutantes have introduced a new grit to the team, as shown with the friendly victory over World Champions Germany back in March.
While this season has seen the emergence of exciting English talent, it has brought with it a steady decline of “established” English players. Arsenal pair Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have had forgettable seasons. Ashley Young’s name has barely been mentioned in the same breath as the Euros, while Leighton Baines’ hopes of attending another major tournament have virtually disappeared after a poor season with Everton.
Eric Dier, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Danny Drinkwater, and of course Jamie Vardy have all emerged as shoo-ins for the final squad. Yet with a combined total of 43 caps between them, Hodgson has a difficult decision to make regarding picking a starting line-up capable of understanding the ins and outs of an international tournament.
Rooney’s transition from a striker to a central midfielder has freed up space for both Kane and Vardy, but is his selection warranted? Rooney has struggled this season, scoring 7 goals and getting 5 assists in 27 games, while Jermaine Defoe and Troy Deeney, both overlooked by Hodgson, scored 15 goals for Sunderland and Watford respectively.
Contentious selections include £49-million-man Raheem Sterling who struggled to live up to expectations this season with only 6 goals and 2 assists in 31 games for Manchester City. He too beat the likes of Michail Antonio (8 goals and 3 assists in 28 games) and Marc Albrighton (2 goals and 6 assists in 38 games).
With three players facing the axe before the final squad is announced, Rashford, Delph, and Townsend will have to impress Hodgson in order to make a claim for a spot. Other’s facing an anxious wait include Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere, as the former makes a long anticipated comeback from injury. Wilshere on the other hand will be intent to put his injury woes behind him and prove his sharpness.
This year’s Euros places England as a potential dark horse. Should Kane, Vardy and the rest of the new squad members carry their form over to France, who’s to say that a further miracle will not happen? If there’s anything we’ve learned this season it’s to never underestimate a team based on their past.