Could Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be the answer to England's prayers?
David Beckham took noticeable pride in pulling on his England shirt, and it was that combination of pride and skill that elevated his international performances above those of his teammates. He will not be easy to replace—the fact that he is still turning out commendable performances for one of Europe's biggest clubs is a testament to his quality.
That's not to say that the current ranks of young players are without ability because that's far from true. However, the versatility of Beckham is what makes him such a useful player. Equally at home in the centre or out wide, he could also be found tracking back to shore up the defence.
The players on this list are not like-for-like replacements for the former England captain. However, they have the intangibles to go on and replicate some of his achievements.
In addition to more established names, the list was an opportunity to look at some of the emerging talents at English clubs and project their future roles.
Jack Grealish has a ton of talent, but has so far chosen to play for the Republic of Ireland.
Aston Villa have a strong academy, and Kevin MacDonald obviously has faith in him, which is high praise. Villa boss Paul Lambert likes to build young sides, so it seems only a matter of time before Grealish gets his first taste of Premier League football.
At 17, Grealish is one of the better English midfield prospects, although there is one problem. So far in his international career, he has elected to play for the Republic of Ireland (at junior level) through Irish grandparents. He qualifies for both, so there will likely be some pressure on him to switch to England, particularly if he is a success in the EPL.
Grealish has the ability to play on either flank, but can also operate through the middle as an extra striking option. He is composed on the ball and has good vision, something that led to him being named Ireland's under-17 player of the year.
This sort of versatility will serve him well, whomever he plays for.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has turned many heads since arriving on the scene.
A more familiar face to England fans here, Oxlade-Chamberlain has emerged as a real talent, and it speaks volumes for the young winger that Arsenal miss him greatly when he isn't there.
“The Ox” met with Beckham's approval prior to the Euro 2012 tournament, when Beckham singled out the England midfield threat as their most dangerous weapon, via The Sun:
"When you have also got the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Milner, Gerrard, Parker and Welbeck, that’s a dangerous group going forward and more dangerous than a lot of the teams I’ve seen in the competition so far.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain has great pace, but unlike a lot of fast young players, he has the control to go with it. His intelligence on the ball is as important as his speed, and in naming him to his team of the week in February 2012, BBCSport's Garth Crooks noted that “this kid could be our next David Beckham.”
Barkley is now proving that he is a Premier League player.
Ross Barkley has been on the rise for a while, but it hasn't been the easiest of journeys. He was on the first-team fringes as far back as 2010, but broke his leg in three places after colliding with Liverpool's Andre Wisdom in an England U-19s game.
When he returned, he started brightly but often looked as if he was trying to force the game, rather than play it on its merits. If there were no attacking pass available, Barkley would sometimes try to make one, which is an admirable trait, but not always right for the circumstances.
David Moyes obviously noticed this, too, and Barkley was replaced in the first-team set up. In these circumstances, it's often best to send young players out on loan to gain experience, which is what Moyes did.
After spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, Barkley looks a much better player, as evidenced by his strong performance in the 0-0 draw at Arsenal recently. At 19, he has already achieved a lot and benefited from Moyes' excellent handling of young players, so there's no doubt he'll be a key contributor for England.
Sterling has drawn praise for his performances in a Liverpool shirt.
Staying on Merseyside, we move to the red half now for a look at Raheem Sterling. Familiar to most, he has shown the ability and strength needed to survive in the Premier League. The last time Liverpool were this excited about a Jamaican-born winger his name was John Barnes, so that goes to show how highly the club regards him.
Sterling is another player who possesses great speed and control, along with balance and good awareness. That's a frightening combination to play against, and Brendan Rodgers will be doing everything he can to ensure Sterling fulfils his potential.
He seems to have inherited Beckham's charitable streak, too. When he signed his new deal with Liverpool, The Daily Star reported that Sterling pledged to pay the school fees of all the children in Maverley, Kingston, where he grew up.
Of course, he could do without the other side of fame, which has also followed him around. He will stand trial in May for the alleged assault of a 27-year-old woman in February, via The Guardian.
Josh McEachran hasn't found it easy at Chelsea, but he's flourishing at Middlesbrough.
Josh McEachran is another player who was earmarked for big things a couple of years ago, but then fell off the radar slightly. Carlo Ancelotti brought him up through the ranks and into the first team, where he made Champions League appearances, then aged just 17.
His progress was then halted by the managerial circus around Chelsea, and his chances grew more limited with each new manager. He went to Swansea on loan, but that only seemed to make matters worse; for a while it looked like his career had stalled.
However, he has been out on a season-long loan at Middlesbrough this year, where he has been getting regular football in a difficult league. He has benefited greatly from this experience and will return to Chelsea a better player than when he left.
Naturally left-footed, which seems to be a rarity in English midfielders these days, McEachran has great ability. He makes quick decisions and it’s those instincts that enable him to win possession back without being forced into a challenge.
The physical nature of the Championship will force him to add more mass to his frame, as being shrugged off the ball has been a problem for him in the past. However, his knowledge of the game means that he’s often ahead of those he plays against.
Wilshere has had his injury problems, but remains an immense talent.
Another of Arsenal’s Great English Hopes, Wilshere has had so much expected of him since establishing himself at the Emirates. It’s easy to see why—his touch and poise seem effortless at times, as if the game is much slower for him than everyone else.
Going further back than David Beckham, Wilshere’s awareness of the game draws comparisons to Paul Gascoigne in the way that he can just pick up the tempo of the game with a couple steps and a quick pass.
He has had problems with injuries, so Arsenal were keen to temper expectations upon his return, but when he’s on the field there is a spark to his team—Arsenal and England—that didn’t exist before.
That’s something you can’t put a value on.
Gardner has already been forced to overcome so much in his short career.
Aged 20 and with two ACL tears behind him, Gary Gardner could be forgiven for thinking his career would never get started. However, he’s now fully recovered from his latest operation and is eager to help Villa avoid relegation.
He took the field as a substitute in the opening game of the season, but since then he has been sidelined and forced to go through another lengthy rehab.
Gardner’s passing is excellent, and he is another young player blessed with great awareness of the game. He’s unafraid to remain in the midfield and grind out the game, but he also has a good eye for goal.
Villa have crucial clashes with Norwich, Sunderland, Chelsea and Wigan to come, which could decide their Premier League fate. Gardner is on the brink of a return to the senior squad, and his team could use his creativity and determination—so could England, for that matter.