ESPN studio analyst and Everton manager Roberto Martinez says that England can take the World Cup by storm, saying “The potential is undoubtedly there and it has also been recognized. Now it just needs to be realized.”
Does England truly have the opportunity to get through Group D with Italy and Uruguay? Martinez says they can get through the group and beyond.
It has been 48 years since England hoisted the Cup. The 1966 team also had the advantage of playing on home soil. The 2014 World Cup presents weather that spans any number of climates and very formidable group opponents. But, as Martinez describes, “you are talking about players who, tactically and technically, are as gifted as those in any country, such as Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana. As a generation, that’s as good as it gets.” And Martinez is being very pointed in his comments of the youth in the English squad. Only 6 of the 23 squad members (Hart, Johnson, Gerrard, Milner, Lampard and Rooney) have World Cup experience.
Martinez’s other comments signify that his intent is to illustrate the quality of the youth in the squad and the need for this youth to develop the way Spain developed in the late 2000s leading up to World Cup 2010. “Look at the young players coming through – they are now good enough and, just as important, are ready to go abroad and be important players.” English players have not been notorious for going abroad and succeeding. The only player not playing in England on the current squad is backup goalkeeper Fraser Forster (Celtic).
Throughout his interview with the Liverpool Echo newspaper, Martinez alludes to the success of the Spanish as having spawned from the dominance of nations like Germany. Spain developed youth systems that did not force players to be loaned to lower divisions in hopes of playing. Instead, top clubs in Spain utilize B teams to ensure that the younger talent are able to gain valuable experience. The hopes of these B teams are to discover the talent of 18-22 year olds earlier and give them experience that will translate to first team football. To put this in the English team context, 7 of the first-time World Cup players are over the age of 26 (Foster, Forster, Baines, Cahill, Jagielka, Lallana and Lambert).
The closer look at the English squad does demonstrate one trait that will surely be evident – determination. Having a mixed batch of under-25s, first-timers over 25 and World Cup veterans, Hodgson does have a solid balance to ensure that the youth in the squad is not overexposed. Being able to see the likes of Rickie Lambert playing in his first World Cup at 32 will give Hodgson the assurance that nothing will be left on the field. Older players have a different level of experience. Granted, it is not at the World Cup. But, that experience will be invaluable for this squad.
As for the youth, Martinez summarizes their capabilities and comparisons to Spain by saying, “England should not feel inferior to Spain to be intimidated by their achievements. They should use their success for inspiration, because they are now in a position to emulate them. And that is the whole nation’s responsibility.” If that you can come together and play on the coattails of the experienced players, they likely can achieve what Portugal failed to do in 2002, go far in the World Cup – possibly even win.
The major question for England in this World Cup is in their youth. Having to start off their World Cup campaign against Italy is not going to be easy. However, given the schedule for England (Italy, Uruguay, then Costa Rica), the goal in the first two matches may be to just get a point. If England can set themselves up for a win-and-advance final match against Costa Rica, that youth will now have two quality matches behind them and experience may drive them far.
Today, the excitement begins for England – squad and nation – and the real test begins for the group Martinez feels can match Spain’s Golden Generation.