Picking an England World Cup squad- lessons for Gareth Southgate

With 24 hours to go until Gareth Southgate names England’s World Cup squad here are some notes he should be taking from the bitter experiences of his predecessors.

1.Make the cut early

Lesson learned from- Glenn Hoddle 1998

Hoddle took a gradual approach to picking his 23 for France in 1998. Initially he held an England B international in which Matt Le Tissier scored a hat-trick but then didn’t include Le Tiss in his bulging 30 man squad. Hoddle then went through a series of warm up games after which he cut 5 from his reduced 28 man squad to a final 23- stunning the nation by leaving out Gazza and splitting up the class of ’92 by dropping Nicky Butt & Phil Neville.

What were the consequences?

Hoddle caused rifts between himself and his players partly due to his lack of diplomacy and more over upsetting the apple cart so late in the day. whilst he was probably right not to pick Gascoigne he allowed the situation to rumble on with Gazza believing himself to be untouchable and the late calls shot morale.

Gazza 2
The picture that did for Gazza in 1998- all too late

Alternative Approach?

Name the 23 early rather than hope for the best with Gazza so everyone is familiar with the re-jigged plan and dressing room splits don’t occur before you set off.

Will Southgate learn?

It sounds like he has with the manager (who was in the 1998 squad) stating repeatedly he  is picking his 23 tomorrow along with 5 standbys so “everyone knows where they stand.”

2. If you’re taking a gamble don’t double down

Lesson learned from- Sven-Goran Eriksson 2006

With his hugely talented squad in place Eriksson’s plans took a turn when Wayne Rooney pulled up injured in the penultimate game of the Premier League season. But with Rooney making a swift recovery Eriksson picked him along with Michael Owen who’d only recently returned from injury and untried teenager Theo Walcott- a player it was later revealed Eriksson had never seen play.

Walcott was too raw for a World Cup

What were the consequences?

Disastrous! Taking Rooney (his best player) was understandable but also taking Owen and Walcott was reckless. Owen got a long-term injury in the group phase and it became immediately obvious Walcott wasn’t ready for international football. It all meant when Rooney was sent off against Portugal England had just one viable striker- Peter Crouch.

Alternative Approach?

Erikkson should have left Walcott out knowing Owen & Rooney were gambles and picked a reliable forward, most likely Jermain Defoe or Andy Johnson to ensure he always had a workable if unspectacular plan B.

Will Southgate learn?

We’ll see but if he does take Adam Lallana it would be a major risk to also take perms-crocks Jack Wilshere & Danny Welbeck


3. Don’t go on qualifying form

Lesson learned from- Fabio Capello 2010

England were brilliant in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, drubbing a Croatia side that had beaten them twice in Euro 2008 qualifying. A key player in qualifying was Aston Villa forward Emile Heskey whose strength and unselfish streak made him a perfect foil for Wayne Rooney. But Heskey wasn’t getting a game at Villa in the 2009-10 season and was short on fitness and confidence.

What were the consequences?

Awful! Husky started out by falling on and injuring Rio Ferdinand in training and was dumped after 2 listless displays against the USA & Algeria. Whenever Capello looked to the bench for a change his only striking option was the big man Peter Crouch and a demoralised Heskey.

Alternative Approach?

On form Darren Bent should have gone after a prolific season with Sunderland. Whilst he wasn’t a like for like swap Bent was at least a different option off the bench. At the time it was argued Heskey was key to the way Capello wanted to play but he had to abandon that anyway when it became clear Heskey wasn’t up to it.

England v USA: Group C - 2010 FIFA World Cup
Heskey endured a torrid 2010 World Cup

Will Southgate learn?

It seems so with Joe Hart reportedly out after starting England’s first 9 qualifiers but enduring an awful season at West Ham.


4. Don’t pick a youngster if he isn’t going to play

Lesson learned from- Roy Hodgson 2014

Hodgson had a 2 from 3 decision at left-back ahead of Brazil 2014.  He had veteran Ashley Cole who was in and out of Chelsea’s team, Everton’s Leighton Baines who was in good form but came with doubts about his defending and breakthrough star Luke Shaw from Southampton. Hodgson left out Cole and took two very attack minded left-backs.

What were the consequences?

England went into an opening game in Amazonian heat with a choice of 2 left-backs who were defensively suspect but could bomb-on. With the opportunity to bomb on in Manaus limited Italy set about exposing Baines’ defensive weaknesses and dominated the Everton left-back in the first half and then exploited him for the winner in the second.

Alternative Approach?

Take the steady Cole who could offer a defensive platform against the talented Italian and Uruguayan attackers with one of the Shaw or Baines providing the back-up. It became clear early in the tournament Hodgson felt Shaw was too much of a risk to start games and was stuck with Baines.

Shaw wasn’t trusted until England were eliminated

Will Southgate learn?

It remains to be seen, a wild-card pick is great but is has to be for a player who will play some role on the pitch not just sit on the bench to gain experience- we are not Brazil who could afford to leave Ronaldo on the bench throughout USA 1994.

5. There’s a difference between not injured and match fit

Lesson learned from- Bobby Robson 1986

You could say Rooney in 2006 & Beckham in 2002 were other examples of this but Bobby Robson’s faith in his namesake Bryan in 1986 was the most obvious example. Bryan had missed much of the second half of Manchester United’s 1985-86 campaign but was captain and considered by Bobby to be England’s best player. He was picked for Mexico ’86 despite nursing a shoulder problem but was able to get on a pitch, train and play football in the build up and started the tournament.

What were the consequences?

An early exit for Bryan. Bobby adopted the team shape to accommodate a half fit Bryan and England struggled to get going and Bryan reinjured himself in the second group game and was out for the duration.

Alternative Approach?

Pick someone else perhaps Steve McMahon or even Gordan Cowans who were fully fit and able to fill a defensive midfield role. Much as it would have been preferable to see a fully fit Robson taking on Diego Maradona as opposed to Peter Reid’s carthorse impression it was simply wishful thinking to think Robson would be ready.

Captain Marvel just wasn’t fit enough in Mexico

Will Southgate learn

We’ll see, Adam Lallana has played very little this season and would be a similar risk but otherwise barring a disaster in the FA Cup or Champions League finals England haven’t had a huge name get injured at the wrong time.

6. Go on form not reputation

Lesson learned from- every manager since Bobby Robson 1992-2016

The mistake England managers make over and over again! Where do we look- Graham Taylor leaving golden boot winner Ian Wright at home and taking Alan Smith to Euro ’92, Roy Hodgson picking Jack Wilshere (after only 1 start in a season) over Leicester title winner Danny Drinkwater at Euro 2016, Joe Cole over Adam Johnson in 2010, leaving behind 21-year-old David Beckham at Euro ’96, Owen over Defoe & Bent in 2006 the list goes on and on…

What were the consequences?

We haven’t won anything for 52 years!

Alternative Approach?

Pick players who are playing well!

Will Southgate learn?

So far Southgate has stuck to this in the friendlies dropping a series of out of form players including at different times Gary Cahill, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and it would seem Joe Hart. Will he keep to that tomorrow?

Hart is reportedly out

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