In 2018 football will not be coming home, as Russia were awarded the right to stage that year’s World Cup at the expense of England, Spain & Portugal and Belgium & Netherlands. So if we can’t host the tournament, what better way to stick two proverbial fingers up to those at FIFA than by winning it?
The phrase ‘Golden Generation’ has been attached to the England team for the last decade, with the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Owen, Rooney, Terry and Ashley Cole being labelled as the world-class players who would end England’s wait for a major international trophy. On paper at least it looked feasible but as proven in the last few tournaments, the Golden Generation have fallen short when it matters most.
Many of those players are still in the England set-up but approaching the wrong side of 30, so inevitably we turn toward the younger players breaking through and this week we’re looking at ten of the best English prospects out there. At the time of writing (December 2010) these players are 21 years of age or younger and would be nearing their peak come World Cup 2018.
We English fans have had a habit of hyping up any promising youngsters, so we won’t call this lot a Golden Generation yet, but it would be great if some of these players led the charge for World Cup glory in Eastern Europe.
10: Phil Jones – Blackburn Rovers, Age 18
Centre-backs are something which England has been blessed with for many years and one player tipped to be among the next great set of English defenders is Phil Jones. In 2009 at the age of 17 he made his debut for Blackburn Rovers and following some consistently good performances has received great praise from boss Sam Allardyce. Having recently signed a new contract until 2015, Jones is highly regarded at Ewood Park and is one for the future.
9: Danny Rose – Tottenham Hotspur, Age 20
Currently on loan to Championship side Bristol City, Danny Rose sprung to the attention of football fans everywhere with a stunning volley on his league debut for Spurs against great rivals Arsenal in 2010. Signed from Leeds for £1 million in 2007, the left winger is an energetic, talented player who is a regular fixture for the England Under-21’s. Here is the strike which made him an instant White Hart Lane hero…..
8: Victor Moses – Wigan Athletic, Age 19
Equally adept out on the wing or more centrally up front, Victor Moses has quickly established himself as a great prospect with impressive performances for Crystal Palace and Wigan. During the 2009/10 season, Moses became a sought-after talent after scoring five goals in eight games for Palace before joining Wigan Athletic for £2.5 millon on transfer deadline day in January 2010 as the Eagles went into administration. He’s also represented England at Under 16, 17 and 19 levels, winning the Golden Boot at the 2007 U-17 European Championships.
7: Connor Wickham – Ipswich Town, Age 17
The youngest player in the list and one which is exciting fans at Portman Road. Connor Wickham is the youngest player to represent the club, having made his debut aged 16 years and 11 days in 2009. The striker has been compared to Wayne Rooney at the same age and manager Roy Keane claims “the fans would lynch me if I sold him.” The likes of Arsenal and Tottenham are rumoured to be interested in Wickham who has played for the England Under 16’s and 17’s, scoring a great individual winner in the final of the 2010 U-17 European Championships against Spain.
6: Jonjo Shelvey – Liverpool, Age 18
Before joining Liverpool for £1.7 million in the summer of 2010, Jonjo Shelvey was being monitored by the country’s top clubs due to his displays for previous club Charlton Athletic. Whilst at the Valley he became the youngest player to play and score for the club, going on to make 42 appearances for them. Already likened to Steven Gerrard in his playing style, the attacking midfielder has an eye for goal and good distribution. Also capable of getting back to defend, he could be the next great box-to-box midfielder.
5: Jordan Henderson – Sunderland, Age 20
Sunderland’s midfield has gained much attention thanks to Lee Cattermole’s late tackles, but alongside him Jordan Henderson has been putting in some assured performances this season and last. He has played both on the right of midfield and in the centre, earning plaudits from his manager Steve Bruce and England Under 21 boss Stuart Pearce in the process. He scored his first goal in an England shirt with a volley against Romania in the U-21 European Championship playoffs before going on to make his full England debut in the recent friendly against France. Expect to see him adding to his one cap soon.
4: Kieran Gibbs – Arsenal, Age 21
A product of the hugely successful Arsenal youth system, Kieran Gibbs is the next promising left-back to emerge at the Emirates, following in the footsteps of Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy. Despite being behind Clichy in the pecking order, Gibbs has played for Arsenal in the Champions League and Premiership, catching the eye of England manager Fabio Capello who gave him his England debut in August 2010 against Hungary. Gibbs’ pace makes him a great threat down the left side. Defensively strong with good technique, he’s likely to be a big part of Arsenal’s future.
3: Jack Rodwell – Everton, Age 19
Jack Rodwell has worked his way through the ranks at Everton and is a highly regarded talent. The defensive midfielder became the youngest player to represent the Toffees in Europe when he came on as a substitute in a match against AZ Alkmaar in 2007. Now a regular for the England Under 21’s, he’s also played for his country at Under 16, 17 and Under 19 levels. Rodwell is firmly part of David Moyes’ plans, scoring his first Premier League goal in Everton’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in 2010 and he is potentially the future anchor of England’s midfield.
2: Andy Carroll – Newcastle United, Age 21
Newcastle’s number 9, Andy Carroll joins great Tyneside goalscorers Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer wearing the famous shirt and during his full debut Premier League season has impressed. Carroll first established himself upfront during the 2009/10 campaign as Newcastle cruised to the Championship title, scoring 17 league goals. His strength, aerial threat and ability with his feet have caused Premier League defences problems so far this season with 9 goals in 16 league games. He made his England debut during the friendly defeat by France last month and could be leading the England line in 2018 at the age of 28.
1. Jack Wilshere – Arsenal, Age 18
Jack Wilshere is quickly becoming one of the most exciting English football talents in years. Schooled at the Arsenal academy, Wilshere is strong, versatile and possesses great technical ability. Having spent half of last season on loan at Bolton Wanderers where he produced some good performances, the midfielder is now breaking into the Arsenal first team, already playing in 20 games this term. He has been likened to Paul Gascoigne for his close control and ability to beat players and made his England debut in the friendly against Hungary in 2010. Under the guidance of Arsene Wenger Wilshere has the opportunity to fulfill his undoubted huge potential and become a key player for Arsenal and England during the next decade.
There are some other great young English prospects out there who deserve a mention, Theo Walcott who is still just 21, Joe Hart who could be the long-term answer to England’s goalkeeping problems, plus the likes of Aaron Lennon, Micah Richards, Tom Huddlestone and Daniel Sturridge who will have successful futures in the game. It looks as if England do have a strong side that could have a good go at bringing home the World Cup in 2018.
However in years gone by the likes of Darren Caskey, Noel Whelan, Kevin Gallen and Danny Cadamarteri were hailed as the future of English football – even Julian Joachim was likened to Romario by his Leicester City boss Brian Little in 1993 – so let’s not get too carried away. But we can certainly hope the next crop of English players will live up to their promise and bring to an end England’s ever lengthening wait for international silverware. Maybe….just maybe.