England have had mixed success recently with bringing through young talent at major international tournaments – Wayne Rooney made a positive impact at Euro 2004 but Theo Walcott didn’t make an appearance at the 2006 World Cup.
To Walcott’s credit, he clearly wasn’t ready to answer his nation’s call of duty when Sven-Göran Eriksson made him a surprise inclusion in his squad for Germany at the expense of Jermain Defoe.
Six years on, it is another Arsenal prodigy who has been thrown in at the deep end, with Roy Hodgson handing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a ticket to Poland and Ukraine.
But is the 18-year-old any more ready than Walcott was?
He has only started six games for the Gunners – albeit six more than Walcott had before he went to Germany – in fact, Walcott did not even play in the Premier League until the following season.
It would be harsh then to write Oxlade-Chamberlain off as “one for the future” – he is an exciting player, and much like Rooney in his first international tournament, he could prove to be an unknown quantity for opposition defences.
Arsène Wenger seemed hesitant to cave in to Arsenal supporters’ demands that Oxlade-Chamberlain be given more game-time – they even booed their manager when he subbed the young forward off against Manchester United at The Emirates.
But Hodgson wouldn’t have taken the youngster if he planned on keeping him on the bench all the time, and if he wants to get England supporters on his side quickly then there is no better way than by giving them a glimpse of the future.
Hodgson would be wise to blood Oxlade-Chamberlain in England’s warm up matches before Euro 2012 starting with Norway on Saturday, to get a feel for whether he is ready to be a starter or merely an impact sub, or neither.
Eight years ago a bullish young striker from Merseyside terrified the life out of Les Bleus and put them to the sword in England’s Euro 2004 curtain-raiser.
It was probably the last good decision Eriksson made, but hopefully Hodgson shows similar bravery and unleashes Oxlade-Chamberlain on Patrice Evra and France.
Hodgson will be breathing a little bit easier on Thursday upon hearing the news that Scott Parker is fit to train ahead of England’s friendly with Norway.
Parker, as demonstrated in the Premier League, is without question the best midfielder in Europe at screening the defence and any hopes England have of progressing through the group rest on his shoulders.
It’s quite farcical that Hodgson has not made Parker his captain after he did such an impressive job in England’s previous outing but he cannot be foolish enough to leave him out of his starting line-up.
England will have to play to their strengths in Poland and Ukraine, and that will mean a tight defence with a lot of men behind the ball and Parker thrives when adopting that siege mentality.
Things are certainly looking up for England if Parker is back to fitness and form.
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