The Kids May Never Be More Than Alright...

Jack Wilshere never got better, Theo Walcott hasn't improved, so why are we assuming that Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Daniel Sturridge etc will be better in two years?

Last Updated: 25/06/14 at 09:35 Post Comment

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Daniel Sturridge

Daniel Sturridge

When the good ship England sinks into the seas of international humiliation, we cling onto wreckage to stop ourselves from drowning. The old players have failed time and again; we tire of the same old faces making the same old excuses and promising that next time it will all be different.

So we turn to the young, untried players for hope. We want to believe in untainted youth and that is exactly the rubber ring to which England are being asked to cling as we attempt to stay afloat in the international waters of the future.

But for all the talk of England's good young players offering hope for the future, we need to be aware that England's history is littered with players who were 'the future', only to stagnate and then never develop into the top-notch player it was assumed they'd become. In fact, the current squad has several players who fall into that category.

When you look at Phil Jones aged 21, is he any better now than he was two years ago? Will he get significantly better? Jack Wilshere's form seemed to peak when he was out injured 18 months ago. Now 22, his decline since is remarkable. He hasn't got better, he's got worse. Will he become a world-class midfielder?

Is Danny Welbeck at 24 and long-thought of as a young striker of much potential, really a whole lot better than he was three years ago? Chris Smalling, 24, was hailed as one of England's best young defenders at Fulham but now looks short of international standard by some distance.

Theo Walcott is now in his mid 20s and would you really feel he's made significant progress since he was 20? Is he going to be significantly better in two years? When James Milner broke into the Leeds side as a teenager, he was another thought to have much future potential for England. Now 28, that seems a long time ago and he remains a solid hard worker but nothing more. Is Joe Hart, now 27, really significantly better than three or four years ago? He's not. And of course Wayne Rooney was long vaunted as the key to England's success after an explosive international start but that oft-predicated future England peak never came. He'd actually peaked very young.

So when Daniel Sturridge is hailed as England's striker for the next three or four years after a great domestic season, we should take it with a pinch of salt. History would suggest he might not get any better than he is now - which is still not good enough, as his squandering of several chances in the last three games proved. Indeed, it is as or more likely he may become significantly worse. Similarly, for all of Raheem Sterling's impressive form for the last six months, we can't by any means take it for granted that he'll be significantly better for England in two years' time. The same goes for Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw. Good at 20 does not mean world-beater at 23 when it comes to England.

The failure to push on after a promising start is surely not just an English thing, but our keenness for liberation from ordinariness makes us invest more in the hope they offer. I'm a fan of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as much as anyone else, but the idea that he's on an inevitable curve towards England greatness - I heard him talked of as a future captain this week - is pure folly. It might happen but then, we thought that about Wilshere two years ago. It's not excessive cynicism to think it might well not happen.

Improvement does occasionally occur. Jordan Henderson, now 24, is certainly an improved player in the last season, but would you really want to rely on Henderson flourishing into a top international player in two years' time? It is just as easily to imagine him being another one about whom we say 'well he was good a couple of years ago'. We seem to say that about a lot of English players, generation after generation.

Perhaps it is the desperate hope that the young players will be the ones to change our fortunes that heaps pressure on them, over-inflates their worth and leads ultimately to their failure to deliver? When it comes to England, all too often, the kids turn out not to be the future and soon enough become the past.

John Nicholson - he's on Twitter

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