Projecting England's World Cup Roster for Brazil 2014
It may seem like a long time, but the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is little more than 18 months away.
England manager Roy Hodgson only has around a dozen matches between now and when he has to pick his final 23-man squad for the tournament, which kicks off in São Paulo on June 12.
Between now and then some young players will emerge while other players will find themselves out of the international picture, either by their own choice or by the boss's.
Here is how the list of 23 players boarding the flight to South America could look, bearing in mind the many unpredictable circumstances which may change in the intervening period. Feel free to add your own thoughts on who will be in or out below.
GK: Hart, Forster, Butland
Despite a few wobbly moments in recent weeks, Joe Hart remains firmly placed as England's No.1. It would take an almighty fall from grace for the Manchester City keeper to drop not only from the starting lineup but from the squad entirely.
Hodgson picked Celtic keeper Fraser Forster in his last squad for the recent double-header of World Cup qualifiers before he caught the eye with his fine display in the famous Champions League win over Barcelona, so he clearly rates him.
Likewise, Birmingham City keeper Jack Butland was a surprise selection for the Euro 2012 squad despite, like Forster, having never played in the Premier League. Butland would have to earn a move to the top flight by the summer at the very latest, but it is clear he is already on Hodgson's radar.
DF: Walker, Kelly, Lescott, Jagielka, Cahill, Smalling, Cole, Baines
With John Terry retired from international football, England is in need of a new regular centre-back pairing. Currently the fight is between two out of trio Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka.
There is also a clutch of players who will have their eye that fourth and final spot in the squad for a dedicated central defender. Ryan Shawcross, Phil Jones and Steven Caulker will all have realistic hopes of claiming it. However, Manchester United's Chris Smalling gets the nod here—assuming he fully overcomes his injury problems—by virtue of his adaptability and his previous working relationship with Hodgson, who plucked him from obscurity at Maidstone to sign him for Fulham.
Ashley Cole will be 32 and—barring any further fallouts with the FA—have well over 100 caps by the time the flight to Brazil is boarding, but at the moment it seems that he and Leighton Baines remain England's two best left-backs, especially if Kieran Gibbs' career continues to be so disrupted by injury.
Right-back for England has become a contest between Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker, but once Martin Kelly recovers from his long-term injury he will competing with Johnson for a right-back berth for both club and country, and if he progresses as much as his early promise suggests he may just have the edge.
MF: Gerrard, Cleverley, Wilshere, Zaha, Chamberlain, Sterling, Young, Parker
As England captain, Steven Gerrard has been arguably England's best player at the last two tournaments, and he will be the first name on Hodgson's squad list.
Tom Cleverley has started all of England's five games since Euro 2012 while Jack Wilshere's eagerly-awaited return after more than a year out injured is a sign of how valued he is by everyone in England, fans and coaches alike.
Scott Parker could travel if another, young defensive midfielder of equal calibre does not merge between now and 2014, and Ashley Young's versatility should also see him on the plane provided he is still playing regularly for Manchester United.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has already started for England at a major tournament and acquitted himself well and he, along with the exciting young talents of Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha, means that Theo Walcott's decision over signing a new contract at Arsenal or not is absolutely key to his future international prospects.
FW: Rooney, Welbeck, Defoe, Carroll
Even though he has not delivered at a tournament since his major finals debut at Euro 2004, Wayne Rooney will surely be making the journey in 2014 as England's best forward, just as he is today.
His Manchester United teammate Danny Welbeck is currently the only other English striker playing at one of the top four clubs, and he showed his worth to Hodgson and England at Euro 2012.
Andy Carroll is likely to be sold by Liverpool next summer if not before, and regular football in a team suited to his skill set, which is unique among the strikers available to Hodgson, should see him included in the squad.
The paucity of young, quality strikers in the English top flight means that the final place among the forwards could be fought for between two men who will be in their 30s by the time the tournament rolls around—Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent. Unless Bent can end his current malaise at Aston Villa, Defoe could get the chance to score at a second successive World Cup.