Chris Lakey: So who stays and who goes as England build again?
As the dust settles on England’s World Cup campaign, it’s perhaps time to ponder what happens next.
When competitions, particularly those that have involved lengthy campaigns, come to an end, there is often a rebuilding exercise: some footballer managers do tend to reconstruct for the sake of it, but in general there is room for improvement.
Argentina and Portugal might be considered among the World Cup finalists with most to do: they have ageing squads – Argentina were, at 29.3 years, the third oldest in the tournament, Portugal (28.3) 12th.
The link of course is that their respective megastars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may have kicked their last ball in anger at the finals.
England don’t have to worry about replacing big characters: at 26 years and 18 days only Nigeria had a younger squad.
So what questions face Gareth Southgate? Perhaps best to go through his squad...
Trent Alexander-Arnold: One for the future. In Russia for the experience - hope he gets a game in this afternoon’s third-place play-off game, for what it’s worth.
Dele Alli: Struggled a bit at times - suspect his thigh injury had an effect, but Alli should be regular England stock for a few years to come. Classy.
Jack Butland: Deserves to get a World Cup appearance on his CV today. Relegated with Stoke, he’d actually be my first choice keeper.
Gary Cahill: His last hurrah. At the age of 32 he was in Russia as experienced back-up. Done his bit, got the T-shirt.
Fabian Delph: Decent back-up, but little more than that. And at 28 possibly doesn’t have another big tournament in him.
Eric Dier: Southgate clearly thinks highly of him: not sure if role as a late sub for Henderson suits him. I’d prefer someone better.
Jordan Henderson: Did what I thought he would: had a good World Cup. Might not make the next one, but will be 30 for the Euros - his last hurrah.
Harry Kane: Campaign tapered off a little, but still a top performer. Only 24 - his best yet to come. Destined to be an England legend.
Phil Jones: Blows hot and cold for me. On his day he is an excellent player – hope he can become more consistent because there is a big role for him.
Jesse Lingard: Built to play for England – cracking skills, creative, good finisher. Just hope Jose doesn’t ruin him.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek: Another who was there for the experience - looks like he will be able to grow into the starting XI, but would like to see him playing regularly for a top-six side, getting European experience and getting a winning habit on the domestic front.
Harry Maguire: One of England’s top performers, and can be for years to come. Just 11 caps to his name – transformation to World Cup finals standard was incredible.
Jordan Pickford: Won great plaudits, but I think there is room for improvement with his distribution: he’s a good shot-stopper, but paints himself into a corner sometimes with the ball at his feet. I am probably the only person in the country not 100pc convinced by him.
Nick Pope: Another for the future: Hopefully, the trio of World Cup goalkeepers will keep raising the bar as they compete with each other for the shirt.
Marcus Rashford: Young man of whom much was expected. Perhaps didn’t get the minutes some had hoped for (me included), but this was a big step up and he will benefit. Again, hope Jose doesn’t knock out this young man’s natural talents.
Danny Rose: My preference at left back – although it is an area we need to improve.
John Stones: Grew in stature. Got the odd ricket in him but I think he looked more like a leader at the back. His style suits what Southgate wants – will take a good man to shift him.
Raheem Sterling: The scapegoat, despite working his socks off. A goal may have settled the raging hordes, but I’ll bet his team-mates were thankful for his efforts.
Kieran Trippier: Man of the tournament for England? Very impressive, good free-kick taker, as his effort against Croatia proved. Great stuff.
Kyle Walker: Immense pace, but not convinced the right centre back role in a three suits him: want to be watching from behind the sofa when he has the ball.
Jamie Vardy: Bit part role in Russia and, frankly, I don’t think he stacks up as an England regular.
Danny Welbeck: Ditto.
Ashley Young: Age (33) not in his side. Not a fan of right-footer playing at left back. Time for a replacement and I am not certain it is Danny Rose.
Time to step up
It was hard work looking for Norwich connections with the World Cup.
Aside from ex-Canary Age Hareide being in charge of Norway and Martin Olsson being in the Sweden squad, we didn’t have much – although that didn’t stop some claiming one-time loan player Harry Kane as “one of our own”.
It might be different for the 2020 European Championship – the final of which is at Wembley – when we could see James Maddison and Angus Gunn involved.
Maddison’s move to Leicester was an inevitable step up the footballing ladder for the talented midfielder: it would be a huge surprise if he doesn’t make the natural progression from the Under-21s into Gareth Southgate’s senior squad.
Maddison is a good package: talent, temperament, a good all-round egg.
Gunn would become a rarity: Norwich-born international players don’t grow on trees. Now at Southampton after his excellent season here on loan from Manchester City, the 22-year-old is expected to step up. But he faces competition, with Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope. But that’s the name of the game: stiff competition is necessary to bring the cream to the top.
The hierarchy at the FA have a plan: it is to ingrain a philosophy into its teams at all levels so that there is a smooth transition from youth player to senior international. What is required of a player at senior level should then be second nature. Southgate will have plenty of young players under consideration, dozens of them. So who else might be on his list?
Ryan Sessegnon was the wonder boy of the Championship last season and now Fulham have been promoted, will be tested to the full: he is just 18 years old so will take a little more care than most of the next generation, but such is his talent he will be difficult to ignore. Premier League football every week will have a maker-or-break effect on him.
Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham have had games under Southgate, but perhaps the managers was testing the water, giving them a taste. Expect the likes of Tom Davies, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah to enjoy the same experience.