After a year of previously unparalleled success at youth level, things have seldom looked so bright for the English Men’s National Team going into a summer tournament.
With the under-17s and the under-19s both winning the World Cup in their age groups, the under-21s making it to the semi-final of their World Cup and the under-20s performing well at the Toulon tournament, all that is required now is a good showing from the senior team in next summer’s World Cup.
At this late stage, there is perhaps not enough time for any of the talents in the Young Lions squads to make the transition into the full team. But in 2022, things could be much different.
Jon Mackenzie has drawn up a potential England XI for the World Cup in Qatar.
GK – Jordan Pickford (Everton)
By 2022, Jordan Pickford will be 28 years old: the prime age for a goalkeeper. The youngster from the North East burst onto the scene with Sunderland last season and showed a proficiency for shot-stopping – of which he had plenty of practice for the Black Cats – ball distribution and, if critics of Joe Hart are still not placated, the offers a commanding presence in the box.
Pickford has not yet debuted for the senior squad but has made appearances at ever level of the youth set-up. Having now moved to Everton who have managed to put their managerial woes behind them for the time being, Pickford is well-placed to break into the national team and put Joe Hart under pressure.
RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a born and bred Liverpudlian who has spent his whole career so far playing for his hometown club. As a result of an injury crisis which hit the Liverpool right back position, not to mention a real lack of squad depth, 19-year-old Alexander-Arnold has been given the run of the right side of defence on a number of occasions this season and looked generally impressive doing so.
Having been given the nod for the Champions League qualifying fixture against German club Hoffenheim, the youngster went on to score a sumptuous free kick becoming the third youngest player to score on a European debut for Liverpool. Alexander-Arnold is in good company here, though: the two younger European goal-scoring debutants are Michael Owen and David Fairclough.
With another goal coming in the Champions League group stage match against Maribor, a number of Liverpool fans have remarked laconically that Trent Alexander-Arnold now has more Champions League goals than Everton.
With youth caps already under his belt, it is surely only a matter of time before Liverpool’s right-back-in-waiting is given the nod for the senior team.
CB – John Stones (Manchester City)
This young centre back needs no introduction. Moving to Manchester City from Everton for a hefty sum, there was always going to be pressure heaped on John Stones’ young shoulder, not least because he heralded in a managerial shift at the club which saw the much-vaunted Pep Guardiola brought in.
And despite his many detractors as his first season wore on, Stones has slowly become the rock upon which Pep has built his church. Playing alongside Nicolas Otamendi, it is now hard to compare the two to what many considered to be a fragile centre back pairing last year.
That Stones will be playing for England in 2022 is also hard to doubt. The 23-year-old already has 20 caps to his name and, looking forwards to the Qatar World Cup, will be at the peak of his career. The question is: how many trophies will he have behind him at this point?
CB – Michael Keane (Everton)
Michael Keane feels like John Stones a few years ago. Playing for Everton having moved there from a Yorkshire side beginning with B, there are also many pundits who doubt his potential. Gareth Southgate, though, is not one of this crowd. Giving Keane a debut and a subsequent three caps, it seems that Keane is here to stay.
Keane and Stones also feel like very similar players. Strong but mobile, they both read the game exceptionally well: attributes which are only matched by their ability on the ball. Turning 29 in the January before the Qatar World Cup kicks off, Michael Keane will be at the prime of his playing career. The future in the centre of defence is certainly positive for England.
LB – Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)
At the tender age of 17, Ryan Sessegnon already has an incredible 37 appearances for Fulham’s first team. With his aggressive overlapping runs and whipped crosses, the youngster has proven to be integral to the way Fulham play. He has even chipped in with six goals along the way.
By the time 2022 comes around, Sessegnon will only be 22 years old. However, in the intervening period, expect him to have garnered so much experience that he will have little trouble making the transition into the senior side.
Sessegnon already has experience for England, mind. He was part of the under-19s squad who took the World Cup by storm this summer. Don’t expect him to stay at Fulham too long if they don’t make it out of the Championship this season. But do look out for him on the left-hand-side for England in the next few years.
CM – Harry Winks (Tottenham Hotspur)
Harry Winks is already a household name. During the course of this year’s Champions League competition, he held Real Madrid’s midfield at bay in the Bernabeu before helping his team to all three points in the return fixture.
In what was a baptism of fire for the 21-year-old, he took to the top table of European football as though he had been born for it, earning himself an England call-up in the process. Whilst Winks had already been capped for England, in the 1-0 win over Lithuania in the World Cup qualifying groups, Winks will be hoping he can use the friendly fixtures against Germany and Brazil to continue his meteoric rise on the internation stage.
By the time the Qatar tournament comes around, expect the then-26-year-old Winks to be a stalwart in the centre of the midfield.
CM – Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea)
Despite finding himself on loan at languishing Crystal Palace, Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be thankful for the game time he is getting in the Premier League. Aged just 21, Loftus-Cheek has already picked up 22 appearances for Chelsea before this loan spell and, with the arrival of Roy Hodgson into the dug-out of Selhurst Park, the Chelsea loanee can expect to add to this tally.
Loftus-Cheek is the sort of player that England have missed in recent years. A ball carrier who moves the play gracefully from phase to phase, he would slot in nicely alongside Winks in the middle of the park for the national team. Hitting 26 just before the 2022 tournament begins, all that remains now is for him to translate his youth caps into senior caps.
RW – Phil Foden (Manchester City)
This year was the year of Phil Foden. Beginning the season with accolades from none other than Pep Guardiola after his breakout performance against Barcelona in a pre-season friendly, the youngster capped it off with a couple of goals in the under-17s World Cup Final before being named the player of the tournament.
At only 17 years old, Foden has his whole career ahead of him. His first priority, though, will be to accrue first-team appearances at the highest level. Foden is yet to make a full appearance for Manchester City and, given the wealth of riches they have available to them, he may feel as though his best chance is elsewhere. Following his City teammate to Germany might not be the worst idea for him.
As for his international career, the next step is to follow the under-17s squad through to the under-19s and continue to impress at youth level. If he can do so, the full call-up won’t be far away. One thing is for certain: by 2022, a 22-year-old Phil Foden will certainly be in contention to make the World Cup squad.
CAM – Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
It feels as though Dele Alli has been around forever. And it’s not hard to see why: an incredible 154 league appearances split between MK Dons and Tottenham all before the player has even reached 22 years old. First team experience is clearly vital for the development of a player, then, and Alli has it in spadefuls.
Now a first-team regular for Spurs, though, he can turn his attention to the England team. Having debuted at the age of 19 under Roy Hodgson, Alli now has 22 England caps to his name. Don’t expect that figure to do anything but rise. By 2022, he will have a World Cup under his belt and five more years of experience. He will surely be a shoe-in in the number 10 spot.
LW – Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Before Jadon Sancho signed for Borussia Dortmund, you could count on your fingers the number of English players to have played in the Bundesliga. That indicates just how brave a move it was for the then-Manchester-City-youth player. Incredibly enough, the youngster has now made two full appearances for BVB as well as a number of starts for their second team.
If this remarkable upward trajectory continues, it will be hard for the England management to ignore the London-born forward player. So seriously do Dortmund take him that, in the run-up to the under-17s World Cup, they refused to let him attend the tournament.
Like Phil Foden, Sancho will also be 22 by the time the Qatar World Cup comes around. By then he will have progressed through the ranks of the youth set-up and likely into the senior squad itself. With Dele Alli giving testament to the importance of first-team experience, expect Jadon Sancho to confirm this with his career.
CF – Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Harry Kane defies expectations. For one thing, unbelievably enough, there are some people who still remain unconvinced as to his ability. For another thing, the 24-year-old is one of the few success stories of English youth development even if he found his way onto the Spurs senior squad almost by accident.
Now the first name on the team sheet for both club and country, Kane is spoken about in the same breath as the trifecta of Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. By 2022, he will likely have left Tottenham to make a name for himself in Europe. He will have league titles and Champions League titles, no doubt. But he will still be towing the line for England.
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