England’s united. Finally feeling positive and proud of its’ football team. And rightly so. But are these two results a "one off", or are the National Team and Beautiful Game heading in the right direction?
Coming into the tournament, England possessed the youngest (average age 25.9 years) and least experienced (average 20 caps per player) squad in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. At the opposite end of the spectrum were favourites such as Portugal (28.4 years; 38 caps per player), Spain (28.4 years; 40 caps) and Argentina (29.2 years; 36 caps).
Yes, experience is key in tournaments. Ronaldo's goals and talismanic effect has been crucial to Portugal. Iniesta, Ramos and Pique are all over 30, yet so instrumental for Spain. Argentina have been blessed with the experience of Messi, Aguero, Otamendi and errr.. Caballero! Yes, El Caballero, for Croatia, the generous gentleman!
However, despite that, it seems for many that England, France and Belgium have played with the least fear, a refreshing freedom, and honesty to be able to perform to high levels under pressure, albeit after only 2 games. Yes, these are three of the youngest teams in the tournament, but can they successfully maintain these levels to the latter stages? Or, will the experience of Brazil, Spain, Germany and possibly Croatia shine through...?
Last season's Premier League campaign indicated some interesting trends. Next to Manchester City (who were unashamedly fabulous-to-watch) were two of the most entertaining and fearless sides: Liverpool and Tottenham… they were also the youngest. Liverpool had an average age of 25.9 years, with Spurs slightly older at 26.4 years. The question I can hear supporters ask - even those at the Etihad Stadium! – is: ‘How successful were they?'
Could we see those two teams being successful in the next 3-5 years? I believe so, yes. They, like many other progressive clubs, seem to have long term plans, with English players too.
If age stats are the only measure, then Swansea, West Bromwich and Stoke were relegated because they had the oldest average aged squads - all three over 28 years. Of course, their fans could quite easily point to other factors: change of managers, player recruitment etc.
DID YOU KNOW… We have the world's largest and most competitive professional club football structure - there are over 15 EFL clubs in England and Wales with managers under 40 years of age alone?
These appointments have created a revolution of fresh ideas, excitement and renewed vitality within football… affecting everything from the coaching to man-management, psychology, sports science, even recruitment; and the structure in our game is pushing towards developing, nurturing and supporting young, ambitious and talented people to have successful careers in the game. Gareth Southgate, his staff and team are fine examples of that preparation and mind-set; creating a positive environment where learning, developing and successfully performing are still achievable.
DID YOU KNOW… In the Vanarama National Leagues, over 25% of clubs have managers under the age of 40? Sammy Moore (Concord Rangers), Matthew Bates (Hartlepool) and Luke Garrard (Boreham Wood) have a combined age of just 93.
And it’s not just the managers. Over 200 young players have successfully made the transition from non-league to professional football in the last decade, increasing coverage and sponsorship; with the EFL and Premier League clubs becoming increasingly aware of the potential to unearth and develop home grown young talent; and the England C team providing a platform for the players to make their mark on a bigger domestic and international stage.
‘Many of the non-league success stories are former Academy players whose hard-work, dedication, self-belief and strong mentalities helped them to overcome the many setbacks, to take every opportunity that arose and, eventually, to successfully realise their ambitions. Hugely empowering, hugely inspirational… and now England, as a united nation, is becoming proud. ’
It’s not been easy though. Ultimately, football in this country is starting to move forward, but it’s against the backdrop of previous criticism surrounding the volume of foreign players in club football, the money generated from TV and endorsement deals affecting big player transfers and wages. That’s not going to change. Football is a big money, hig- pressure game. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t. Or that the game can’t. It is. And it’s exciting… The potential for grassroots players; the nurturing of young managers; the encouragement of fresh tactics; better, more open-minded scouting; the excitement for fans watching… We’ve learned from the rest of the world and, now, it’s all there… And all I can say is: Finally.