Raheem Sterling is a player whose sense of adventure and willingness to try the unusual brings a sense of glee.
No neutral fan could watch him running with abandon at the Norwich City defence on Sunday and not feel a warm glow, while his goal against Manchester City, nonchalantly sending Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany to chase an imaginary foe, was breathtaking.
There is something very special about those rare, still moments in football, when the goal suddenly emerges before a player and you know he has to score—those moments of potential fulfillment when the goal is inevitable.
You could show that, stripped of any context, to any fan in any country, and it would bring a sense of delight.
The impudence of it, the self-belief to do that with the goal not 12 yards away and defenders closing in. But, of course, there is a context, primarily, Liverpool’s charge for the title, but there is also the thought of the World Cup. Could he do that for England?
The first issue is whether he will be picked, but given his form and the fact he can play on either flank or centrally behind one or two strikers, it would be mystifying if Roy Hodgson didn’t at least include him in his squad.
If the friendly against Denmark in March offered an indication of how Hodgson would like to play, if he really is thinking of abandoning his two banks of four for a 4-3-3, then Sterling surely has to play.
Numerous great teams of the past have been based largely on a one-club side: the Italians of the 1930s on Juventus, the Hungarians of the early 1950s on Honved, the Dutch of the early 1970s on Ajax. The Spain side that has dominated world football for the past six years is rooted in Barcelona with elements of Real Madrid.
There’s no reason why Hodgson’s England shouldn’t be based on Liverpool. Of course, there would have to be modifications, but the basic template is there.
Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson can perform essentially the same roles for England that they do for their clubs, and so too can Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
There is no direct English equivalent of Philippe Coutinho, but Jack Wilshere, if fit, could offer a more robust alternative. But the really intriguing possibilities lay in the strike force.
Against Denmark, Sterling hopped from flank to flank, with Sturridge and Wayne Rooney looking a little awkward as a central pairing. The idea, presumably, was that one played as centre-forward with the other drifting off him to the opposite side, which Sterling was on, with the two interchanging roles.
It didn’t really work, not least because Rooney had an off night, but if he can be persuaded to play as Luis Suarez does for Liverpool, it could be effective.
That means adapting, as Liverpool do, to the opposition, switching from 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2 when appropriate, but essentially looking to sit deep and spring forward, using the extreme pace of Sterling and Sturridge to catch sides on the break.
Sturridge can drop off a main striker, but given how well he’s played in the role this season, racking up 20 league goals, it would seem strange not to play him as the centre-forward, with Rooney buzzing off him.
The Manchester United forward has a profound game intelligence, but there have been times—perhaps acting under managerial instruction—when he has seemed determined to be the main striker.
If he is to perform the Suarez role, he has to be prepared to modify his game as the Uruguayan does, sometimes becoming the link with the midfield, sometimes going beyond him, sometimes feeding the overlapping Leighton Baines, sometimes playing wide—all of which he is capable of doing.
The front three have to act as a unit, constantly switching and adapting, probing for weaknesses, never giving opposing defenders time to settle, as Liverpool’s front three do.
That would mean Rooney adapting to the other two, but if he is prepared to put ego aside in the weeks before the tournament and work on that, England could be unexpectedly potent in Brazil.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!