The World Cup wasn’t meant to end like this, but at the same time it wasn’t really meant to beginning or middle like this.
England’s semi-final defeat is still hard to process but we’re used to finishing bottom of easy groups and being dispatched in the round of 16, so it’s progress.
Gareth Southgate has a clear identity in place and a talented crop of youngsters upon which to build the future around. Dare I say it, it’s all a bit German.
And who better to look to for inspiration than our German brethren?
In 2010 Joachim Low took a squad containing 15 players aged 25 or younger all the way to the semi-finals where they were beaten by an immaculate Spanish side.
As a side note, Germany finished the tournament by beating Uruguay 3-2 in a pulsating third place play-off, so there’s still joy to be had from the World Cup for England fans.
Four years later those young pretenders had developed into world beaters as Mario Gotze’s strike secured a fourth World Cup.
It’s something Southgate himself acknowledges, saying “This is either a moment of rare hope and we sink back or we build in the way that Germany did in 2010.”
So what lessons can Southgate take from the Germans if we are to go one further and end
52 56 years of hurt?
Pencils at the ready.
Stick with your core
It might seem obvious but continuity is key to England’s success over the next four years.
Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos all had fewer than 11 caps heading into the 2010 World Cup.
Heading into the 2014 World Cup they had formed the spine of Germany’s side, with none of the sextet possessing fewer than 39 caps.
England’s spine is actually more advanced than Germany’s was in 2010, with John Stones, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Harry Kane all now experienced internationals.
Ensuring the less experienced members of the squad- Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek- are given the chance to continuing growing on the international stage will be vital to our chances in Qatar.
Don’t be afraid to look abroad
This one goes for players and coaches alike.
On the back of Germany’s 2010 campaign Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira joined Real Madrid, while Jerome Boateng move to Man City. A year later Per Mertesacker arrived at Arsenal.
The moves ended the monopoly German clubs over the international squad, with every member of Germany’s 2010 squad playing their football at home, just as England’s current squad all represent English sides.
England’s leading lights at youth level have already taken the plunge and dug their passports out.
If Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho had been given six more months he’d arguably have been part of Southgate’s World Cup plans, while Mason Mount was named Vitesse’s Player of the Year after starring in the Eredivisie.
Marcus McGuane, Chris Willock, Reece Oxford, Mandela Egbo, Kaylen Hinds and Ademola Lookman also have varying experience of playing football abroad.
The tactical lessons they will have picked up from having to adapt to a different style of football will be invaluable to England moving forward.
It’s proof that there’s no need to be hesitant when looking outside of English football. At the same time, Southgate shouldn’t ignore those playing abroad.
Don’t stand still
If there’s one piece of criticism you could aim at Germany’s 2014 squad it’s that the young talent pushing the more seasoned professionals never really progressed.
Of the players aged 23 or younger at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships only Julian Draxler and Joshua Kimmich were first-team starters in 2018.
Leon Goretzka, Niklas Sule, Timo Werner and Julian Brandt arrived at the World Cup with zero senior tournament experience under their belts.
The nature of a tournament only coming around every four years means players will come from nowhere to star: Kylian Mbappe is a prime example.
But if too many of your squad are experiencing the sounds and smells of a World Cup for the first time it can lead to difficulties.
England are the current holders of the Under-20 World Cup, Under-19 European Championships and Under-17 World Cup, so the talent is clearly there.
It’s all about how we avoid that talent stagnating and ensure they see plenty of first-team football- both club and international- over the next four years.
Invest plenty of efforts in finding a centre-mid
Thanks to Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane the future of England’s attack is in safe hands.
Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Sancho look like they’ve got the necessary talent to add to England’s midfield options while Ryan Sessegnon is tailor-made for the left wing-back role.
Where England are lacking is in the centre of the pitch. A player to get hold of the ball and set tempo.
Jordan Henderson had a fine World Cup but was overwhelmed by Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in the semi-final.
Outside of Henderson our options currently look limited.
Adam Lallana and Harry Winks are likely to come back into Southgate’s squad if they can get themselves fit, but neither is an undisputed starter at their respective clubs.
Lewis Cook, who’s won the Under-17 Euros, Under-20 World Cup and 2018 Toulon Tournament with England, will need a big season with Bournemouth to force his way into the international picture.
So finding someone who’s comfortable taking the ball anywhere on the pitch and able to take England up the field with one and two touch passing will be a priority for Southgate.
Hopefully the FA are working with the country’s top scientists to clone Kroos.