For the first time in years, England go into a World Cup without much expectation to succeed.
Gone are the golden years of 2002-2006 where it has been told that egos may have hindered the nation’s chances of winning a major trophy. It’s time for this England side to play together as a team, with the correct formation, and the right players in the right positions, and who knows…
However, does this give Gareth Southgate some breathing space and creative freedom to take an inexperienced and youthful squad to the World Cup and provide them with major tournament experience and challenge them to step up to the mark?
When Germany exited Euro 2000, there was a major restructure within their youth ranks, which subsequently produced a pool of talent. Only six years later, when they hosted the World Cup in 2006, the likes of Philipp Lahm (22), Bastian Schweinsteiger (21), Lukas Poldolski (21), Per Mertersacker (21) all burst onto the scene when given the opportunity to shine. Have the Germans looked back since? Absolutely not. Look at the plethora of talent at their disposal for the upcoming World Cup…
Should England do the same? Is it the right thing to invest in youth? It’s likely that Southgate will pick a team filled with talented youngsters this summer, so do Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold deserve a shot?
It’s been an incredible season for the 17-year-old and has taken the Championship by storm. His record of 14 goals and six assists in 43 Championship games is some feat for a left back (/left winger).
His work hasn’t gone unnoticed and bagged the Championships Young Player of the Year and the Player of the Year awards at the EFL Awards on Sunday night. In fact, he walked away with five awards from the evening.
But is he good enough to take to the World Cup?
England’s current left-back options include Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand, yet Ashley Young has also built a case for himself with some impressive performances at wing-back for Man Utd. Sessegnon only has Championship experience compared to the other three but there’s no doubt he’s the future and taking him could offer invaluable experience at this early in his career.
Due to his fantastic form, especially since the turn of the year, regular comparisons have been made with Gareth Bale, who also rose as a prominent left-back in the Championship before a move to Spurs.
“Establishing myself is the most important thing right now. It is nice to receive awards like this because it shows I am on the right track but I’ve still got a long way to go.”
- Ryan Sessegnon on winning Championship Player of the Year
He’s certainly a confident young man and has publicly announced that he’ll be ready, should England come calling;
“If I did get the call, it would be a fantastic achievement. I’ll be ready if I get the call. If I don’t, I’ll be cheering them on the TV hoping they do well. It is nice for the gaffer to say that about me. Who knows? Hopefully it will happen.”
Throwback to 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson took Theo Walcott, a 17-year-old novice who had never played for England, and only started 13 professional matches. Compared to Sessegnon who’s played 43 times for Fulham this season.
However, Walcott didn’t play a game at the 2006 World Cup and hasn’t since, having been left out of the squad on a couple of occasions. Did it all go to his head? Was it too much for him at an early age? Only he’ll be able to answer…
Back to Sessegnon…
“I would, if I were Gareth Southgate, I’d take him to the World Cup.
“He’s the future. You don’t have to play him, but how many players can you take? 23?
“I would take him purley for the experience. He’s that good.”
- Mark Lawrenson
Having already won the U19 EUROs with England, he knows what it takes to win a competition, albeit at a lower level…
So, could a he be on the plane to Russia? Why not – give him a chance!
Similarly to Sessegnon, it’s been a very successful season for Liverpool’s home-grown Trent Alexander-Arnold after breaking through last term. Jurgen Klopp has used the young right back sparingly yet wisely in recent months. His development is testament to his hard work and he’s come of age – he was outstanding over the two legs against Man City in the Champions League quarter-final.
He kept PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year nominee Leroy Sane quiet for the most part in their European quarter-final clashes, and showed his attacking prowess on Saturday with a delightful ball to Mo Salah, who consequently slotted home for his 40th goal of the season.
He can defend. He can attack and his positional awareness is improving each time he steps out on the pitch for Liverpool.
“I guess Man City looked at it and (felt) I’m the weak link.
“Maybe that gave me that underdog mentality and (I) tried to prove them wrong. That’s what I went out to try and do – to go and prove them wrong and show them I’m not the weak link in the team.”
- Alexander Arnold on his performance against Man City
He’s attracted plenty of plaudits up and down the country, but is he just that little bit too inexperienced to be given the responsibility of a place in England’s World Cup squad?
“It might just come too soon, But having said that, he’s got another five or six weeks left.
“If he performs brilliantly in the semi-finals of the Champions League, like he did in the quarter-final, and he can do it again in the final, then Gareth (Southgate) has to take notice.
“I’ve no doubt that he will play for England. It might just come a bit too soon and his lack of experience might count against him. But talent, there’s no doubt about it.”
- Alan Shearer
His fine club form looks to have landed him a lucrative new contract and an England call-up really would be the icing on the cake.
Two young players with bundles of potential, and we think Southgate should be brave and select both of them. Kyle Walker is England’s first choice right back but if Southgate decides to play him as part of a back three, he will need depth in that position – Alexander Arnold could thrive on the experience of being in a major tournament squad. Sessegnon would be an extremely bold move from Southgate, but neither Danny Rose or Ryan Bertrand have hit the heights expected of them so far this term. Meanwhile, Luke Shaw seems way down the pecking order, so taking Sessegnon to fill the left-back void would be a bold but potentially beneficial move in the long-run!
Both are young, granted. However, both will thrive off the pressure and the experience. The duo both defend and attack astutely. Southgate has made a number of big decisions during his tenure as England boss to date, but who to play as his first-choice wing-backs in Russia may be one of the hardest he’ll have to make in the coming months.