England manager Gareth Southgate will continue putting faith in “the innocence of youth” as he prepares to face a Brazil side he rates as the best in the world.
Southgate has already handed 13 debuts in as many matches as Three Lions boss, leaning heavily on players he worked with in the Football Association’s development teams, and has summoned another three – Dominic Solanke, Lewis Cook and Angus Gunn – to join the squad ahead of Tuesday’s prestige friendly.
Eric Dier, England’s fifth youngest post-war captain at 23, will retain the armband after a highly encouraging 0-0 draw against world champions Germany on Friday and Southgate is hoping to see another show of promise at Wembley.
“Young players bring enthusiasm, energy and they bring no cynicism. I think that’s healthy for everybody,” he said.
“If you spoke to any of the staff or players this week, that has been the environment. The innocence of youth can be wonderful. In some instances it can be a real advantage, maybe in others it can be a disadvantage. We’ve got to try and play on the strengths of it and help them as much as possible through the difficult moments they are going to have.
“We think it’s the right route to go, a path that can pay benefits for us as a country moving forward.
“Whether that’s next summer or beyond, whether that’s for me as a manager or other people, I think we’ve got to make decisions that are right for England.”
There was the hint of a warning to experienced players such as Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jermain Defoe, all overlooked for duty this month, too.
“I saw more in one game (against Germany) from some of those youngsters than you might see in many more games from other players,” Southgate added.
“For me it was an exciting performance because I saw young players expressing themselves.”
The national boss accepted some of his call-ups appeared premature. Solanke and Cook are genuine novices at club level but have effectively been rewarded for their efforts in this year’s Under-20 World Cup triumph, where they were top scorer and tournament-winning captain respectively.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, meanwhile, was named man of the match against Germany despite swapping Chelsea for a loan at Crystal Palace citing a lack of first-team opportunities.
Southgate, it seems, is ready to step in and develop the best talent on the senior international stage if Premier League managers are reluctant to do it for him.
“What we’ve been able to do in the last couple of matches is give opportunities to people, involve some young players and I think that has shown people we have some good players in this country,” he said.
“It’s also put out a broader debate around opportunities for young English players, because some of what we’ve had to do is ridiculous really. When Phil Jones came off the other night we were playing Germany with a side that have got about 80 caps between them.
“That’s the moment in time we’re at with English football. That is one of the barriers we’ve got to overcome, so maybe we’ve got to approach it slightly differently: give some of these youngsters the opportunity even though you’d like to say ‘they’ve got to earn the right, they’ve got to play a couple of seasons in the Premier League’.
“I don’t think we have that luxury. If they’re good enough I think we’ve got to give them the confidence to come in and perform.”
That will be no easy task against a Brazil side brimming with talent. The Selecao qualified for Russia 2018 at a canter, reinvigorated by Tite’s arrival as coach, and boast enviable attacking riches led by the world’s most expensive player, Neymar.
He has able assistance in the shape of Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho and Chelsea’s Willian meaning a repeat of last week’s stalemate appears unlikely.
Brazil are officially ranked second in the world by FIFA, behind Germany, but Southgate sees his final game of 2017 as the toughest of all.
“We’re playing the best team in the world who have annihilated everybody in South American qualification, which is the hardest way to the finals,” he said.
“The players you’re talking about have individual technical qualities, speed and acceleration, that our individuals have to be able to cope with.
“We have to make sure that we’re savvy in the way we’re set up but, in the end, we have to be able to deal with those players on a one-on-one basis at times. That will be a challenge we haven’t faced up to now.”
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