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What does the future hold for England?

England went into the World Cup with the oldest squad in the tournament, with an average age of 28.7. Opinions were mixed with some claiming that there was plenty of experience in the squad, whilst others claimed that the squad was simply too old. As we all know, England were immensely disappointing, and at times looked slow and pedestrian in their football. Similarly, if we look at the 4 oldest teams in the competition – England, Brazil, Australia and Italy – they were all fairly disappointing when compared to pre-tournament expectations.

Now, let us look at the youngest teams in the tournament – Ghana, North Korea, Germany, Cameroon, Spain and Chile. These teams all had an average age of under 26. Four of these teams progressed to the second round, three were in the quarter-finals, two in the semi-finals and obviously Spain won the overall tournament. Now whilst this is by no means conclusive proof, there seems to be a suggestion that the younger teams performed better at these championships. Indeed, if we look at the style of play of these teams, Spain played their usual quick pass-and-move style, Germany played an attractive fast-paced attacking game, whilst Chile were one of the best teams to watch in the entire tournament, even out-playing Spain for a significant portion of their contest.

The Germans had no fewer than six players who won the U21 European Championships in 2009 in their squad for the 2010 World Cup, as well as three players from the current U21 qualifying side. These players included the majority of their critical players – goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defenders Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Dennis Aogo, midfielders Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos and striker Marko Marin.

So maybe this all suggests that it is time to jettison some of the older players from the squad and refresh the ranks with some younger players. Joe Hart will almost certainly come in as the first-choice keeper for the Euro 2012 qualifiers, replacing the ageing David James, and the now-questionable Robert Green. After impressing last season for Villa and England, James Milner will be pushing for a permanent position on either the right-hand side or the centre of England’s midfield. Having made it into the provisional 30-man squad, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and Michael Dawson are likely to press for a more permanent role in the squad, whilst those that just missed out, including the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill will be pressing for a position.

Emile Heskey has already announced his retirement from international football. It would be no surprise if the likes of Matthew Upson and Jamie Carragher were to follow in losing their spots in the squad. The biggest potential exclusion from the Euro 2012 qualifying squad could be former skipper, John Terry. Whilst he is an excellent defender, he lacks that extra yard of pace and he is potentially a disruptive influence on the squad. Combined with his attack on Capello during the tournament, it would be no major shock if his international career was coming to a close.

In the more distant future, things look promising for England. The U21 side was a losing finalist in the 2009 UEFA U21 European Championships, improving from their semi-final appearance in 2008. Similarly, the U19 team was a losing finalist in the 2009 U19 European Championship. The U17 side has recently won the 2010 U17 European Championships, beating a strong Spanish side in the final. This suggests that there are plenty of decent players coming through, but whether they will progress and be given the opportunity in the Premiership is a different matter.

So who are the potential future stars for England from these younger age groups? We take a quick look at 10 players who could become important players in the years to come.

1. Jack Wilshere – Arsenal (midfielder)

Jack Wilshere is only 18 years old, but is one of the most promising talents that England has produced for many years. One of the few English players at Arsenal, Wenger holds him in such high regard that he is seen as a potential replacement for Fabregas. A technically gifted player, he is excellent with the ball at his feet, and has been compared to Paul Gascoigne in terms of his potential ability.

2. Jack Rodwell – Everton (midfielder)

Jack Rodwell burst into the Everton team over the last couple of seasons as a talented midfielder. A former captain of both the England U16 and U18, he is expected to move back into a defensive role in the longer term, but his recent performances in the centre of midfield for Everton have led for calls for an opportunity at senior level.

3. Nathan Delfouneso – Aston Villa (striker)

Nathan Delfouneso has scored goals for fun at youth and reserve level in the past couple of years, and has continued that form at international level. Six goals in five games for the U17 team, ten goals in 22 games for the U19, including winning the Golden Boot at the 2009 U19 European Championships and a goal on his debut for the U21 team have showed his immense potential. His style, speed and technique have raised comparisons with the great Thierry Henry in the French media.

4. Tom Cruise – Arsenal (defender)

Despite sharing a name with the famous actor, Tom Cruise is proving himself as a good prospect for the future. He made his Arsenal debut last season at left-back against Olympiakos in the Champions League, and has impressed at youth level for England.

5. Ciaran Clark – Aston Villa (defender)

Ciaran Clark is a former England U18, U19 and U20 captain, as well as leading the Aston Villa academy and reserve teams to their respective titles. He impressed in the Peace Cup for Villa last summer against Juventus and Porto, and was man-of-the-match on his Villa debut last season against Fulham. A hugely talented central defender, he will be hoping to break into the Villa side this season.

6. Connor Wickham – Ipswich (striker)

Connor Wickham broke into the Ipswich squad last season, as well as starring for England U17 as they won the U17 European Championships. A brace in the semi-final as well as a goal in the final marked him out as a player to watch for the future. Arsenal and Tottenham are chasing the £10m-rated striker.

7. Josh McEachran – Chelsea (midfielder)

One of the stars of Chelsea’s youth Cup triumph last season, the young midfielder is one to watch for the future. A former England U16 captain, he was another star of the U17 title-winning England side earlier this year. Fleet of foot and with a great ability to read the game, he is a great prospect.

8. Conor Coady – Liverpool (midfielder)

The captain of the U17 winning England side, the young midfielder was the driving force in midfield alongside McEachran. Assuming he gets the opportunity to play first-team football in the coming years, he should be one to watch.

9. Jack Butland – Birmingham (goalkeeper)

Another U17 international, he began the tournament as the 2nd choice keeper. However, given his opportunity, he put in a series of excellent performances and retained his place in the team. Put in an excellent performance in the final in particular, and may be one to watch in a few years time.

10. Gary Gardner – Aston Villa (midfielder)

Played for England at U17, U19 and U20 level last season before a cruciate ligament injury ended his season early. The younger brother of Craig Gardner, he was scoring for fun for the Villa academy and reserve teams before his injury, and hopefully he can come back to fulfil the potential that he undoubtedly has.

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