Young Lions? Gareth Southgate's England is more youthful than nearly every other major nation at the World Cup

 
Joe Hall
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England v Slovenia - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
Gareth Southgate has demonstrated a willingness to play youngsters like Harry Winks (Source: Getty)

The inclusion of uncapped youngsters Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham and Joe Gomez in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad is just the latest indication of the manager’s willingness to play raw talent in the national team.

In a year in which England’s various youth-level sides have conquered the world, the senior outfit has also said goodbye to the last remaining member of the so-called Golden Generation in Wayne Rooney, who retired from international football.

The numbers reflect a changing of the guard. Fewer than half of the most-commonly used 23 players in England’s World Cup qualifying campaign were involved at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, while nine of them have only made their competitive international debuts in the years since. A further five players used only peripherally in qualifying also received their first caps in the last three years.

Read more: Five future Three Lions stars who shone at the under-20 World Cup

Southgate’s willingness to include Chelsea loanees Loftus-Cheek and Abraham and Liverpool defender Gomez in his squads — alongside other young players such as Tottenham’s Harry Winks — is reflected in a Three Lions side that looks more fresh-faced than most other major footballing nations.

The average age of the 23 players who appeared in the most minutes during England’s qualifying campaign — of which all but one game was managed by Southgate — was 25.9.

Nation Average age
Spain 28.3
Germany 28.2
Mexico 28
Portugal 27.8
Chile 27.7
Wales 27.4
Poland 27.2
Belgium 27
Croatia 26.8
Brazil 26.6
Argentina 26.5
Germany 26.4
Switzerland 26.4
Holland 26.4
Uruguay 26.3
England 25.9
France 25.7
Colombia 25.7
Denmark 25.6
Peru 25.3

England’s record goalscorer Rooney and Chelsea defender Gary Cahill were the oldest two players at 32 and 31 respectively, while 20-year-old Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford was the youngest.

Of the 20 best-ranked nations, only four had a younger average age among their 23 most-selected players – the same size as a World Cup squad — than England. Just two of them, France and Denmark, were in Europe.

By contrast, Spain and Italy’s most commonly-used men had an average age of 28.3 and 28.2 respectively.

Germany, Argentina and Brazil’s average age were all roughly half a year older than England’s at 26.4, 26.5 and 26.6 respectively.

Yet while England selected few players on the wrong side of 30 — Cahill and Rooney being the only two — they were not excessively generous towards complete novices either.

Southgate and previous manager Sam Allardyce deployed five players aged 23 or younger amongst their 23 favourites.

France, Denmark and Brazil led the way on that front with seven, while Spain and Belgium selected just two players.

The makeup of Southgate’s squad could change between now and when England travel to Russia — it could even become younger than its now should 27-year-old Jordan Henderson with a 20-year-old Winks or a 30-year-old Joe Hart with a 23-year-old Jordan Pickford.

Yet as it stands, England’s current squad already has an above-average share of fresh legs.

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