In just under 11 months, Fabio Capello will be tasked with selecting the nation's best 23 players to represent the country at the biggest tournament in world football. And on June 11 in South Africa 32 teams will begin to contest the trophy that has eluded England for over half a century, which is exactly why the upcoming season will be the biggest in the careers of many of England's aging stars, promising hopefuls and emerging talents.
It’s a safe bet that fans across the country anticipating the beginning of the season this weekend will temporarily lose sight of the bigger more imperative issue of the World Cup at the end of the footballing calendar.
And when season 2009/2010 draws to close pundits will begin to talk up the nations chances, and will most likely be reminding everyone that this will be England’s last shot with a squad of players that have been considered as collectively at their peak for a while now. But what does the future hold for the England squad after a tournament which might be the last for many of its key players?
The article title poses a relevant debate simply because by the 2014 World Cup which is to be hosted in Brazil, the top players that have appeared in England’s major tournament squad’s since 1998 in theory may no longer be in contention.
By then the nation could have already witnessed the end of a generation of players that have promised so much and delivered nothing internationally as a yardstick of their potential and capabilities.
Michael Owen, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, David James, Joe Cole, Peter Crouch, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge, Sean Wright Phillips, Gareth Barry and even John Terry will be well into their 30s by Brazil 2014.
Even if some of the current first team players compete in Brazil, this would be under the formula of opting for age and experience over youth which is still a tried and tested possibility by Capello whilst he was manager at the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Milan.
But the central issue resonating is that to be relying on those players in 2014 would only be extenuating what has been wrong with England squads for years. A reliance on the same old names regardless of how well they suit the system required to beat different teams.
To debate the topic at hand the attention inevitably must shift to Capello’s options after the current first team names have fizzled out of contention. With the likelihood of the first team youngsters forming the backbone of the next World Cup team and some of the current crop of under 21s forming the fringe players of the next World Cup team, the evident question is will they be good enough in four years or even eight?
Because to suggest that England can win a World Cup within in the next decade bar South Africa 2010 is to assume that the likes of Theo Walcott, Jack Rodwell, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Lennon, Micah Richards, Gabriel Agbonglahor, Gary Cahill, Joe Hart and even Jack Wilshere are potentially better than England’s top players that have tried and failed for the last 12 years.
In recent years the FA has appeared almost in blind desperation to forcefully emphasise the importance that must now be placed on grassroots football. And rightfully so in the opinion of many who ponder how English footballs current youngsters compare with their foreign counterparts and the nation’s current household names.
The make-up of the English game has changed so rapidly in the last two decades. So much so that it could be argued the England is no longer producing the calibre of player that the countries academies once churned out in the 90’s. The current first team hosts players that will soon fade into the background, to be replaced by players that have come through the game in an altogether different age.
An age where club managers and scouting networks seem to give priority to foreign players. One where players like Michael Mancienne, Joe Hart and Freddie Sears are forced out on loan away from bigger clubs as regular opportunities around the internationally recognised talent are sparse.
Such circumstances are a now permanent fixture at the majority of England’s top clubs currently and are pertinent issues in assessing England’s chances of winning the World Cup within the next ten years.
In similar discussions the same card of foreign players executing home grown chances can be dealt as an excuse for the international team’s short comings, but club managers have no duty to field English players ahead of others if that selection is not in the best interest of their team’s short term objectives.
The FA have enthusiastically backed FIFA’s 6+5 ruling which begins gradually from the 2010/2011 season requiring a team to field four home grown players and eventually six by the 2012/2013 season at the beginning of every match.
This could be an indication of their growing concern at the quality of opportunities that English players are given at the highest level in England; with the wider picture inescapably being how the three lions perform on the world stage every four years.
A decade is a very long time in football. It’s hard to imagine Trevor Sinclair, Kieron Dyer, Danny Mills, Gareth Southgate, Nicky Butt, Teddy Sheringham, Darius Vassell, Nigel Martyn, Martin Keown and even Kop favourite Robbie Fowler were part of the World Cup 2002 squad in South Korea and Japan so who knows what the 2014 squad will look like?
What is evident is that many of the same names and faces that have been consistently regarded as amongst the countries best have failed to deliver time and time again and the end of this season will be their last opportunity to deliver a World Cup for England.
The upcoming season is crucial for many players aspiring to force their way into Fabio Capello’s plans for the World Cup. The longsighted football fan may also feel a time is dawning when the question of whether the decline in the standard of the 23 best players in the country is an imminently relevant issue.