Written by Rhys Paul
Wayne Rooney’s recent announcement that the 2018 World Cup will be his last for England means the team will be entering a new age in two years time. The current national team skipper can be regarded as the last of the ‘golden generation’ of whom so much was expected of. A lot has changed since Rooney was the exciting youngster brimming with potential in a squad dominated by the likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. These days he is the star name in a squad that is devoid of the quality it had ten years previously. As a result, Rooney’s contribution has come under the spotlight more so than ever before and this has invariably seen him receive more criticism. Whatever your opinion on Rooney is, his departure from the national set-up marks the end of an era that promised so much and delivered so little – not too dissimilar from Rooney’s own international career. The four years between Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 will be one of transition as both the team and supporters come to terms with a new generation. It might not be a complete overhaul – especially with a number of youngsters already established members of the squad – but the landscape of the England team should be one of fresh faces and ones who have little connection to the team’s past failings. It is always difficult to predict a national team so far in the future and the unpredictability of the sport makes it even more difficult (who would have anticipated Marcus Rashford’s rapid rise?). Nevertheless, the players mentioned are a mix of individuals almost certain to feature in the tournament and those who are in a very good position to join them.
There will be an entirely different set of goalkeepers vying to be England’s No.1. Jack Butland is already on the verge of possessing that title and he will still only be 29 years old by 2022. Goalkeepers have a longer shelf-life than outfield players (just look at Gianluigi Buffon), so Butland should be established as one of the top keepers in the world if he continues to improve at the level he is. His position is by no means guaranteed, however especially with Joe Hart’s recent plight coming at the age of 29. Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford is one of the immediate names to spring to mind when discussing future England goalkeepers. He has worked his way up the divisions with six successive loan spells and looks poised to finally break into the Sunderland first-team following Vito Mannone’s injury.
Just further north in Newcastle, Freddie Woodman has been touted by many to actually be in contention for the No.1 spot by 2022. He will be 25, so – if he is to break into the senior squad – 2022 will surely be the time to do so. His recent promotion to the under-21’s (coincidentally after Pickford pulled out) is a sign he is moving in the right direction and he is highly rated by the Toon Army. West Ham’s Sam Howes has primarily been an understudy to Woodman from under-17 to under-19 level, but he has improved significantly over the last couple of years. He is still a dark horse for the squad at this stage and, in truth, another young goalkeeper might make a name for himself between now and 2022. Daniel Bentley and Alex McCarthy of Brentford and Southampton respectively also deserve a mention, but the former might struggle to get noticed until he makes the step-up to the Premier League and the latter needs to establish himself as first choice somewhere in order to fulfill the potential he showed at Reading.
With several promising youngsters already beginning to emerge, the quality of the defenders available should be better than the current options. John Stones looks the brightest defensive prospect for sometime and he is already being nurtured as the heart of the England defence. England’s most expensive defender will be an important member of the first-team and, as one of the more experienced players, might even be England captain. It is easy to forget just how young Luke Shaw is, but his role in the set-up could come under threat if injuries regularly disturb his football. If they do not, he has the potential to be one of England’s biggest stars in six years time.
Rob Holding and Joe Gomez were poached from the Championship by Arsenal and Liverpool respectively, and both have impressed in their appearances so far. It’s difficult to overlook the fact that players at the ‘top’ teams get called-up because of who they play for and this will fortunately benefit Holding and Gomez who might have otherwise slipped under the radar at another club. Reece Oxford might only be 23 in six years time, but if he continues to rise through the England ranks he is he will surely be in contention and he might be the recipient of a surprise call-up to the 2022 World Cup squad. Much depends on how the West Ham star is nurtured and whether he can stay focused on his football in spite of all the attention he is attracting. I do feel he is better equipped to be a defensive midfielder, but I expect that position to already be occupied by a familiar face.
There was talk that Cameron Humphreys might break into the Manchester City first-team as early as the 2015/16 season. Whilst that didn’t quite come to fruition, it says a lot about the talent of the centre-back. He will face stiff competition from fellow City defender, Tosin Adarabioyo who is arguably City’s brightest defensive prospect – at least in the eyes of manager Pep Guardiola. Arsenal’s Tafari Moore and Manchester United’s Cameron Borthwick-Jackson could be in the running too. Along with Stones and Shaw, Chris Smalling might also still be a member of the squad. Nathaniel Clyne could join them, but that will depend on the level of competition for their places and whether or not they have retired from international football (they will be 32 and 31 in 2022).
Some of the most exciting youngsters in the current England set-up are midfielders. Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley have been in-and-around the first team for a few years and all three will still be under thirty in 2022. It seems a safe bet to assume Sterling will be an ever-present member in the starting XI, but the other two will have to find a way to break into the team on a regular basis if they wish to ever become big players on the international stage. Tottenham duo, Dele Alli and Eric Dier will almost certainly be joining them. Dier was one of the few to come out of Euro 2016 with a good reputation and he can be a mainstay in the midfield if he is played just in front of the back four. Alli was one of the biggest Euro 2016 disappointments, but he will 26 years old in 2022, so he has plenty of time to come good and learn how to balance the demands of club and international football. I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say that Jack Wilshere also has an England future. At 32 he will be one of the older players in the 2022 squad, yet much will depend on the extent injuries continue to affect him. A fully-fit Jack Wilshere is very dangerous and his experience could provide a much-needed balance.
It seems like Nathan Redmond has been tipped for England for his entire career. He was a future star at Birmingham and glimpses of his talents were shown at Norwich, so could Southampton finally be the club who propel him onto the international stage? He first needs to develop consistency, but that will surely come soon enough and by 2022, he should really be a regular in the squad. I am a huge admirer of Patrick Roberts, but his move to Manchester City could ruin his career. His talents are wasted in the Scottish Premier League, but at only 19 years old, he has time on his side to make a name for himself – whether that is at City or not. A lot has been expected of Ruben Loftus-Cheek so he deserves a mention, but his career has stalled in the last twelve months and he will need to get it back on track to avoid becoming the ‘Michael Johnson’ of his generation.
Another winger who has the potential to go far is Liverpool’s Ryan Kent. He will benefit hugely from the faith Jurgen Klopp places in youth and he could follow in the footsteps of Sterling and Jordan Ibe as somebody who enjoys first-team football at Anfield early on in their career. Josh Onomah and Daniel Crowley also look promising. Onomah seems better positioned to make the squad at the moment as Crowley might struggle to get noticed in a packed and relatively youthful Arsenal midfield. Elsewhere, West Brom’s Jonathan Leko could be 2022’s surprise inclusion.
It is hoped that by 2022, Harry Kane would have learnt how to replicate his club form for his country. At 29, he will be in his prime, so there is no reason why he cannot lead the line for England in Qatar. He will be joined by Marcus Rashford with the teenager possibly even starting ahead of Kane as the lone striker. His rise so far has been astonishing and he could complete that rise by leading the line for England at the World Cup.
There are several exciting prospects that could compete for a place alongside Kane and Rashford. Dominic Solanke seems a safe bet to join them. He has demonstrated great movement on the ball and 41 goals in 39 games in 2014/15 for Chelsea’s under-21’s is impressive – although plenty of players have failed to live up to the potential they showed at youth level. He’s already training with the Chelsea first-team and, having been an ever-present member in the England under-16’s to under-21’s, he seems destined for a senior call-up.
Ademola Lookman has attracted the attention of Liverpool and Arsenal among others. He’s looked exciting for Charlton and – in six years times – he could already be a part of the England set-up. Emile Smith-Rowe is capable of playing on either the wing or upfront, and I believe he has the potential to be the next breakout star for England. Currently only 16 years old, Arsenal have high hopes for him, especially after he rejected Barcelona to stay in North London.
Time will tell if players on this list can live up to their potential, but they currently represent some of the brightest propsects England have to offer. Naturally some will struggle, but there could yet be light at the end of the tunnel (or rather beyond the Round of 16) for England supporters come the 2022 World Cup.
What would your future England side look like? Let us know in the comments below!