With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil just 34 days away, Monday’s arrival sees England manager Roy Hodgson announce his squad for the summer tournament.
After a sensational season in the Barclays Premier League, from Manchester United’s misery, Crystal Palace’s revival to Liverpool’s resurgence; England players have done all they can to impress the boss that they are worthy of their seat on the plane to South America this June.
So with Hodgson’s highly anticipated announcement just around the corner, I flicked through England’s pool of international players to construct my own 2014 Brazil World Cup squad.
How would your squad selection differ to mine?
Joe Hart – I think we would all be left dumbfounded if Joe Hart didn’t play every fixture this summer during England’s World Cup campaign. Although the Manchester City goalkeeper has endured a difficult season at the Etihad this year, including being dropped by manager Manuel Pellegrini near Christmas, the 27 year-old has always held his head high and has rediscovered the form that’s led him to become England’s number one.
Fraser Forster – The Celtic shot-stopper has been formidably excellent for the Scottish Premier League champions ever since arriving from Newcastle United back in 2010. With England’s back-up worries left scarce behind number one Joe Hart, Forster was finally handed his international debut by Roy Hodgson against Chile in November. Forster has been instrumental in Celtic’s title reign, breaking a new Scottish record of 13 consecutive clean sheets in the league, an astonishing 1,215 minutes without conceding a goal.
Ben Foster – Foster’s influence on West Bromwich Albion’s season very much reminds me of David Marshall’s impact on Cardiff City’s, both would be relegated from the Barclays Premier League if it weren’t for the man between the sticks. The 31 year-old, who last played for England against Ireland last May after making himself unavailable for international selection for two years, has produced some stunning performances for Pepe Mel’s Baggies this season, making him deserve my final World Cup spot ahead of Norwich City’s John Ruddy.
Leighton Baines – The Everton full-back has finally surpassed the recognition of Ashley Cole to snatch England’s regular left-back role, making him a near certainty to start at full-back for the Three Lions this summer. The ‘Mophead Merseysider’ has enjoyed a terrific season under new Toffees manager Roberto Martinez in alliance with fellow full-back Seamus Coleman, plus his free-kick ability also adds an extra incentive for Roy Hodgon’s side.
Gary Cahill – The former Bolton Wanderers centre-half has learned and matured expertly alongside Chelsea great John Terry at the heart of Jose Mourinho’s defence this season, turning him into a regular England international. Commanding in the air and just as courageous as former national captain Terry, Cahill will be vital to England keeping out the frightful likes of Luis Suarez, Mario Balotelli and Joel Campbell during their group stage fixtures.
Phil Jagielka – Just as domestic teammate Leighton Baines, Jagielka has been Everton’s backbone in their quest for Champions League football next term after fighting for the Barclay Premier League’s prestigious fourth-spot this year. The centre-half has done well to keep upcoming talent John Stones at bay at Goodison Park this season, who I’m sure will be a future England star, with Jagielka having a surprisingly good burst of pace for a defender, in which will hopefully see him partner Cahill at the back.
Glen Johnson – Only the impressive Martin Skrtel has featured more times this season than Johnson at title-chasing Liverpool, maintaining his long-standing career in the English top-flight. The 29 year-old has always been under criticism from some England fans for his advanced attacking role as a right-back, but he brings an added bonus in supporting the squad during counter-attacks, and has always been seen to get back down the other end to complete his defensive duties.
Kyle Walker – The Tottenham Hotspur full-back is still rated as a doubt for the FIFA World Cup finals after suffering a pelvic injury against Benfica back in March. Unfortunately for the 23 year-old, Walker hasn’t been able to displace Johnson as the regular right-back for England unlike Leighton Baines’ triumph over Ashley Cole, but he’s certainly the best of the rest within the English ranks. Blistering speed, strength, agility and attacking intent; it would be disappointing to lose Walker so close towards the Brazil bonanza.
Luke Shaw – Piping England centurion Ashley Cole to the squad is 18 year-old Luke Shaw of Southampton. The youngster has an impressive set of intelligent and mature shoulders for his age, with his raw ability prevailing this season after a sensational inclusion in this year’s Professional Footballer’s Association Team of the Year. Shaw’s World Cup display, if granted any, will be closely looked upon by the Barclay Premier League’s giants as Chelsea and Manchester United ponder moves.
Phil Jones – In association with Manchester United’s decline this season, Jones would be the only defensive addition for me in this year’s World Cup. Still only 22 years of age, it is clear from United’s fall from grace that Jones still has a lot to learn to fulfil the potential the Barclays Premier League champions saw in him whilst he was nurturing at Blackburn Rovers. But Jones’ adaptability and versatility could become valuable for Roy Hodgson if we continue to suffer knockout injuries, with the Red Devil looking to build on his nine international caps.
Frank Lampard – It’s hard to argue that ‘Fat Frank’ has still got it in his locker. The Chelsea midfield maestro has been at the centre of England’s midfielder for over a decade, with the 2014 World Cup questionably to be his last major championship in a Three Lions shirt. Below double figures this season with eight goals in all competitions, age is starting to take its toll on Lampard, but his footballing intelligence and experience is second to none and could be crucial when playing in blazing Brazil.
Steven Gerrard – No matter whether he lifts the Barclays Premier League trophy for the very first time in his career this weekend or not, Gerrard has experienced a breath-taking season with Liverpool. As England captain, you needn’t question his inclusion amongst Hodgson’s squad. At 33 years-old, the central midfielder still gives the top-flight’s young lads a run around with 13 league goals and 12 assists this campaign.
Jack Wilshere – The Arsenal livewire is reportedly already guaranteed a spot in Hodgson’s World Cup squad despite coming through another injury plagued season at the Emirates. Wilshere can be fairly inconsistent with his performances in an England shirt, but his sheer passion and hunger for the ball will give the Three Lions the tough edge in the centre of the park, the best first line of defence to protect our back-four.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Another Gunners youngster who has followed in the footsteps of fellow Southampton youth graduate Theo Walcott, and another rare winger who England can use to their disposal. The 19 year-old has been pegged back to only 15 Premier League appearances this season due to a persistent groin injury, but the Ox’s ability to beat a man and his turn of pace could be key in matching the athletic nature of native countries Uruguay and Costa Rica, and could be more of benefit against Italy.
Jordan Henderson – Relishing in what is easiest his most successful season at Liverpool since moving from Sunderland, Henderson deserves a recall into the national squad after his hard grafting work at Anfield this year. With Reds skipper Gerrard deployed regularly to a deeper role, Brendan Rodgers has allowed the 23 year-old to creep forward and bag himself a few goals this campaign and helped fuel the terrifying partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge with a handful of assists. England will need as many players high on confidence, with Henderson being regarded as one of the Barclays Premier Leagues most improved player this term.
Adam Lallana – The Southampton skipper capped off a fine season under Mauricio Pochettino with a place in the PFA’s Team of the Year alongside teammate Luke Shaw, in a year that have seen numerous Saints stars take to the international scene. Lallana has been joined by Shaw, Rickie Lambert and the injured Jay Rodriguez in the England squad recently, with the midfielder none more deserving his international spotlight after a blistering year down at St Marys. The 25 year-old has a great engine and work rate that inspire others around him, and with nine goals and six assists to his name this year, Lallana is proving to be a true professional having risen up through the leagues over his career.
Raheem Sterling – Regarded as one of Europe’s best young players by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, the boy has become a man this season in the Barclays Premier League. The 19 year-old winger earned himself a second England international cap against Denmark back in March after a breakthrough campaign for the former Queens Park Rangers youngster. Rodgers has cherished and been patient with Sterling’s reputation as our country’s next big talent, with the Jamaican born star rewarding his manager with ten goals in all competitions for the Reds.
Ross Barkley – The 20 year-old Everton hotshot is exactly the type of player Roberto Martinez would have greatly developed at Wigan Athletic, and now in his debut season at Goodison Park, he has enhanced Barkley’s international career from zero to hero. The energetic midfielder reaped rewards left, right and centre at the beginning of the season, catching the eye of the Barclay Premier League’s elite with his spectacular goalscoring ability and motoring enthusiasm. Despite tailgating slightly towards the end of this year, Barkley deserves his seat on the plane to Brazil as another injection of pace and passion in the line, capable of making a big impact from the bench.
Wayne Rooney – Still respected as England’s best striker despite failing to make an impression on any major championship, Rooney’s spot is never under threat given our lack of top-quality forwards. The Manchester United talisman has toppled the goalscoring charts at Old Trafford this season with 19 goals compared to Robin Van Persie’s 17, even though he failed to rediscover the spark between him and David Moyes during his tenure at the Barclays Premier League champions. With ‘Wazza’ becoming more versatile over his career with the Red Devils, his creativity can see the striker drop into a deeper role to add value to England’s midfielder, perhaps sitting behind lead striker Daniel Sturridge in the Three Lions’ first game against Italy.
Daniel Sturridge – The Liverpool hitman has risen through the ranks in England’s frontline options, making him almost a certainty to either partner or lead England’s attack during the World Cup. The 24 year-old has consistently improved since leaving Chelsea for Liverpool, developing a deadly duo with fellow Merseyside maestro Luis Suarez with the pair bagging 52 goals between them in the Barclays Premier League. Sturridge’s escalating efforts have also seen him partner Suarez up front in the PFA’s Team of the Year, in hope that England fans will be seeing much more of his famous dance goal celebration out in Brazil this summer.
Jermain Defoe – Despite leaving his loyal Tottenham Hotspur in the New Year, Defoe is still likely to be included in England’s set-up ranked on reputation and records. The striker endured a fantastic start to his new life in the Major League Soccer division with three goals in his first two goals for Toronto FC, before being hampered by a hamstring strain. Having netted 19 times in an England shirt over the course of his 55 international appearances, Defoe is still seen as a predatory finisher in front of goal and was one of only a handful of England players who starred at the finals in South Africa four years ago.
Rickie Lambert – The Southampton talisman has surprisingly rejoiced as a late ‘spring chicken’ England international having only earned his first international cap last August at the tender age of 31. Yet since scoring with his very first touch in the Three Lions’ 3-2 win over rivals Scotland at Wembley, the Saints striker has kept hold of his England prospects to make critics eat their word on those who thought Lambert would become the next Kevin Davies or David Nugent in earning the solitary appearance. Lambert’s netted 12 goals in the Barclays Premier League this term, and perhaps more impressively ten assists at Southampton, making him joint-second behind Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and LuisSuarez. Now 32 years of age, Lambert is still variably fruitful to England’s frontline force this summer.
Danny Welbeck – Another player relieved to see the season draw to a close off the back of Manchester United’s calamitous campaign, Welbeck makes up my striker selection ahead of West Ham United’s Andy Carroll. If it wasn’t for Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez rupturing his anterior cruciate knee ligament, the 23 year-old would have had to settle for a place on my stand-by list having never made the grade at Old Trafford. The forward is another that hasn’t lived up to expectations after profound loan spells; but his agility, versatility and beautiful balance up front could cause a stir or two in England’s opponents defence.
Seven stand-by players
John Ruddy – Despite being at the heart of Norwich City’s mission to stave off relegation since the surprise sacking of Chris Hughton, John Ruddy (12) has more Barclays Premier League clean sheets than Manchester City’s Joe Hart (11) this term, making him my preferred choice ahead of dipping into the Sky Bet Championship for Queens Park Rangers shot-stopper Rob Green.
Chris Smalling – Along with Manchester United teammate Phil Jones, many fancied the Red Devil duo to become England’s next best centre-half partnership since John Terry and Rio Ferdinand; but that’s gone down the pan. With Rio Ferdinand ageing, captain Nemanja Vidic departing and Smalling seemingly ahead of Jonny Evans in the pecking order, the 24 year-old has enjoyed the most productive spell of his career at the Barclays Premier League champions with 34 appearances. However the former Maidstone United defender is frequently liable to costly mistakes, and with United’s season left in tatters, his short supply of confidence could make matters worse for himself.
Ashley Cole – Regarded as one of the best, if not, the best left-back in the world only twelve months ago, Ashley Cole’s campaign at Chelsea has been one to forget for the England left-back under Jose Mourinho. The ‘Special One’s’ return has seen the 33 year-old take a back seat during the Blues’ Barclays Premier League challenge this year, featuring mostly on the bench due to Cesar Azpilicueta’s remarkable rise to the challenge. After being reduced to tears in Chelsea’s last home game against Norwich City last weekend, his reaction has fuelled speculation this will be his final season at Stamford Bridge.
Gareth Barry – The central midfielder’s England prospects have taken somewhat of a huge dip since falling out of favour at Manchester City, with his last appearance in a Three Lions shirt almost two years ago against Norway. However, the 33 year-old may have weaved himself back into Roy Hodgson’s plan after an assertive campaign on-loan to Roberto Martinez’s Everton. Coupled with young ace Ross Barkley, Barry’s shrewd shoulders has helped carved open the Toffee’s creativity this season and demonstrated he’s still made of the right stuff.
Michael Carrick – Well, it was either Michael Carrick or Tom Cleverley. Which would you prefer? And I wouldn’t want to be responsible for another comical Cleverley petition. The Manchester United midfielder has had a blinding season at Old Trafford for all the wrong reasons, easily enabling us to highlight his mistakes in the middle of the park and his inability to execute simple passes. Maybe my decision is based on reputation and experience, but I believe Carrick still has the raw ability to at least make the stand-by squad, with Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph perhaps the closest candidate to replace him this summer.
Tom Huddlestone – Hull City, under Steve Bruce, have endured an exceptional campaign back in the Barclays Premier League alongside Tony Pulis’ revelation at Crystal Palace. Securing their first ever European campaign next year in the UEFA Europa League, Huddlestone has been the engine force behind the Tiger’s sensational season which will also end with an appearance in the FA Cup final. The 27 year-old has flourished with four goals in 38 appearances in all competitions this season, finally calling an end to his 55-game goal drought and the demand for a much-needed haircut.
Andy Carroll – The pony-tailed forward has encountered another inevitable injury-plagued season at West Ham United, with the Hammers dearly missing his presence for the first-half of the Barclays Premier League campaign. Sam Allardyce’s mentality at Upton Park suits Carroll’s attributes, ones that are clearly evident when his strength and aerial ability helped clinch vital points for West Ham on his injury comeback. If it weren’t for the 25 year-old’s bullied existence, the Hammers could have been drawn into the relegation dogfight. Hoping he’ll stay injury free until mid-June, Carroll’s stunningly powerful winner against Sweden at UEFA Euro 2012 reminds us all what he is capable of if he puts his head in the game.
By Dan Church