While that goal may not seem as far-fetched as it once did, the issues that Dyke said have held England back for nearly 50 years since their only victory in 1966 remain relevant ahead of Monday’s opening Group B match against Iran.
A Premier League overflowing with global talent means England coach Gareth Southgate will have fewer homegrown stars in his front line.
In 2013, Dyke described this as a “frightening trend” and said “English football is a tanker that needs to be turned around”.
“The problem is serious, very serious,” he said in a speech that proved right, and England has so far met or surpassed its goals.
Those key goals include reaching the semifinals of the 2020 European Championships as a “minimum.” England lost to Italy on penalties in the final of last year’s tournament, which was delayed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the last World Cup in Russia, Southgate led his team to the semi-finals, which was ahead of Dyke’s schedule.
As part of his nine-year plan, Dyke also wanted progress to be reflected at the youth level.
“I want to see us do well in the 2017 U-20 World Cup,” he said.
England won that tournament and the U17s the same year.
Dyke’s goals are spot-on – England’s trajectory over the past four years points to a serious challenge in Qatar. But Southgate still feels he is hampered by the same problems that plagued his predecessors.
Nine years ago, Dyke was talking about only 32% of English players in the starting line-ups of Premier League clubs. The picture Southgate painted when he announced his 26-man squad last week could not have been more encouraging.
“Everyone says we have a lot of depth, but last year we were 31% of the league,” Southgate said. “The fact that we currently only have four English goalkeepers playing in the Premier League has been hidden because the team has performed so well. Left backs, not playing much.
Despite the Manchester City star managing 40 minutes of action following a shoulder operation in September, Southgate has highlighted defensive midfield as an area of focus for English academies when it comes to selecting Calvin Phillips.
Southgate’s squad in Qatar did not include a single player who made it to the final of the Under-20 World Cup-winning side. Only Phil Foden and Conor Gallagher made it out of the under-17 winning team.
However, this year’s squad is considered to have generational talent in the form of Foden, Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish in particular. But England enter this World Cup with a sense of what might have been.
Successes in 2018 and Euro 2020 are ahead of the curve with the promise of a group of players ripe for this year’s competition. Last year, Southgate may have expected Mason Greenwood to establish himself at the forefront of Manchester United’s attack and as a real rival to Harry Kane at center forward for England.
Looked as excited as any Englishman since Wayne Rooney. But the forward, who has been charged with attempted rape, restraint, coercive behavior and assault, has not played since January after being suspended by United.
Jadon Sancho’s form has dropped alarmingly since joining United from Borussia Dortmund in 2021 for a reported £100m and is no longer in the picture for England. To a lesser extent, club-mate Marcus Rashford has failed to develop as expected, but is still part of Southgate’s squad after an excellent start to the season.
Injuries to Chelsea’s fullbacks Reece James and Ben Chilwell also dealt a blow to England’s preparations. But if Southgate doesn’t have the power to control any of those situations, his reluctance to make Foden a focal point of his team is evident.
Likened to City great David Silva at club level, and for the national team, he is widely regarded as the player England have missed since Paul Gascoigne in the 1990s. Yet Southgate has failed to find a consistent place for the 22-year-old forward in midfield or attack.
For a country that has long struggled to maintain possession against the better teams, a player who can manipulate the ball like Foden should be a fixture. Instead, there is no guarantee he will start against Iran or in which position.
Southgate’s handling of Foden and Grealish has fueled the belief among some that the coach is too conservative and too reliant on a trusted few. Harry Maguire is expected to be at the heart of the defense despite United’s relegation this season. Raheem Sterling has had a difficult start to life at Chelsea but is poised to become prominent. Phillips and Kyle Walker are in the squad despite injuries.
But all have produced consistently for England – especially in major tournaments.
While critics may accuse Southgate of blind faith, he can point to the lack of options that Dyke cited nine years ago.
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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson