England must fit best youngsters into Gareth Southgate’s structure to win World Cup, writes Danny Murphy

Danny Murphy
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I believe England will eventually win a second World Cup. We have good players and the best team do not always win the tournament. We have been a fraction away on different occasions in the past.

But to do so, we have to focus more on team structure and shape, rather than accommodating certain individuals. We don’t have players as good as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry anymore. Don’t get me wrong: we have good footballers, but not many ‘wow’ ones.

They were among the best two or three in the world in their roles — and we still didn’t win a tournament with them. So it should be all about the team structure and finding the players to suit that.

The level of quality and choice has dropped in the last couple of decades. In the 1990s, we had an abundance of top-class strikers. Later, when I was trying to get into the England midfield, I was competing with Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Owen Hargreaves.

It is a worry that we have fewer players to choose from. The Premier League attracts players from all over the world and is a fantastic competition because of it. But there is less room for manoeuvre for England as a consequence, which is why we have to examine other routes to success.

Look at Italy in last summer’s Euros. Antonio Conte settled on a 3-5-2 system and chose the players who adapted to it best. If you couldn’t, you missed out — regardless of your talent. Each player in that team knew his job inside out. If they were under pressure, the wide players dropped in to make a back five. If they were on the front foot, they knew to press high and the wide players would move a long way forward, sometimes creating a 3-3-4.

That is the sort of organisation and clarity we want from England under Gareth Southgate (left) and there were definitely some promising signs from the 1-0 defeat in Germany. Too often we have been stuck between the Premier League style — aggressive and energetic — and the slower tempo of the international game. For too long we have lacked identity, and I’d like to see an England side with quick, tenacious, athletic players.

You need a bit of guile, too, but pace is so important, especially when you don’t have a player like Xavi, of Spain, to dictate from central midfield.

When you don’t have someone to give you that sort of control, it is vital you can get behind the opposition’s defensive line. We saw that against Germany, when Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli and Kyle Walker all showed an ability to run past their man.

England’s best chance of success is to bring in the most promising young players as soon as they can — as long as they can adapt to Southgate’s idea of playing. Get the youngsters in early, give them experience and if they fail occasionally, that’s fine.

Then you hope that the best players, men like Harry Kane and Alli, transfer their club form to the international stage on a consistent basis. There is always an enormous pressure on England in tournament football, and Russia 2018 — assuming we qualify — will be no different.

That is why I hope that we keep the average age of the squad relatively young. I believe that younger players sometimes feel the stress of these occasions less than older players, and have fewer inhibitions.

The hope would be that they can take that freedom onto the pitch and fulfil their potential.

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