There was no doubt Roy Hodgson was looking to the future when he picked the 26-man provisional Three Lions squad he has been running the rule over during the last week or so.
Ever since he took the reins in 2012, just before the last Euros, he has been offering up chances to England’s best young players, and often leaving more experienced campaigners out.
In 2010, the England squad average age that travelled to South Africa for the World Cup was nearly 30, but by the time England headed to Brazil two years ago, that figure had been trimmed to 26.
Now though, with the emergence of a number of talented, and in-form, players in their early twenties and teens, it is younger still – the England squad average age is less than 25. It not only looks good for this summer, but also beyond.
One of those young stars Hodgson was keen to see at close-hand was Manchester United’s teenage forward Marcus Rashford. England had already qualified for France by the time Rashford celebrated his 18th birthday, and it wasn’t until February that he made his first-team debut, scoring a brace in their 5-1 Europa League win over Midtjylland, before getting two more to beat Arsenal in his Premier League bow three days later. He ended his first season with eight goals in 18 appearances.
“The competition for him is quite strong but he deserves to be selected in this larger group and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do, albeit we may only have a chance to see that for one week before I name the final 23,” said Hodgson.
“I’m pleased that I am able to include someone who’s had such an outstanding end to the season – a young player who has a big future if he continues to develop.
“If he does well, there’s no reason why he couldn’t knock someone off their perch, but I must make it clear that will be harder than some people expect because people who’ve played over the last two years have done a very good job for us in qualifying.”
There are four 30-year-olds in Hodgson’s long squad, which he must cut down to 23 early next week, while three other older heads have been left at home – Phil Jagielka, Michael Carrick and Leighton Baines.
But the manager believes the players he has selected will bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm as they attempt to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time for England.
Hodgson said: “Leighton hasn’t played for us for well over a year – he’s been injured a long time. In his absence Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand have filled the breach. Michael has played a part for us on a regular basis over the last two years and has been unfortunate himself with injuries.
“I wanted to take one more player in the attacking section so only picked seven rather than the classic eight defenders, so Phil has missed out. I’ve spoken to them – they’re players I respect and admire – but there’s only 23 places.”
And speaking of the England squad average age, he added: “The squad this time is younger, there are a lot of players that haven’t got a lot of international experience but they’ve shown over the last few games they’re an exciting, hungry and energetic bunch with a lot of running in the team.
All of these things are positives and we hope the faith we have in them is rewarded. The one thing I do know is they won’t let anyone down for want of trying. If people can show the same faith and tolerance as the coaching staff, who knows where that’ll lead us?”
The deadline for Hodgson to submit his 23-man squad to UEFA is on Tuesday…