English hopes are low
England stalwarts point to lack of real experience in Southgate squad
Sol Campbell and Steve McManaman believe there is one major reason why England will be flying home early from this summer's World Cup finals, as they both predict a defensive disaster for Gareth Southgate's side.
Speaking exclusively to The Herald, Campbell and McManaman - who played in the same England team at Euro'96, France'98 and Euro 2000 - have backed Southgate's class of 2018 to perform better than many of their critics have predicted in Russia, with expectations at an all-time low for a nation who tend to have unrealistically inflated expectations ahead of every major tournament.
"Going forward, they are in great shape, everyone is buzzing and everyone is flying. The only issue for me is the backline and the keeper and that is going to be a big problem," Paddy Power ambassador Campbell told The Herald.
"I look at the defenders and the goalkeeper and we need something to fall into place pretty rapidly for it to work because it looks like a weak area.
"Defenders, keepers and the unit need time together to get into the groove. They need to understand how to work together and it can take a long time for that to kick in, but the players in this England team have barely ever played together before.
"We have had injuries to defenders this season, players out of form in that position and then you look at the keeper situation and it is a big problem."
Everton's Jordan Pickford looks set to start for England in their opening game against Tunisia on Monday despite only making his senior international debut last November, with Southgate's three-man defensive line untested against top quality opposition.
That has inspired former Liverpool and Real Madrid star McManaman to suggest England lack the experience and class required to emerge as surprise contenders to reach the World Cup final in Moscow on July 15.
"We are heading into this World Cup feeling like England have no chance and that may well be the case, but you start off believing there is some hope," McManaman told The Herald.
"Look at the Portugal side that won Euro 2016 and aside from one player in Cristiano Ronaldo, who was injured for the final, they were a very average side. Strange things can happen in knock-out football, but I don't see England getting close to winning this World Cup.
"You go through the England squad and they have some good players, but there are also far too many questions at a number of levels, from the defensive line, to the whether the manager has enough experience and whether England will under-perform yet again.
"I'm hoping they can go out and believe they can beat anyone, but the reality might be that they lack the defensive strength to go beyond the quarter-finals this time.
"We have some good defenders, but they have not played together too often and when you come up against Germany, Brazil or Spain in the latter stages of the competition, you can see England getting picked apart at the back."
Campbell was a member of England's 'golden generation' that also included A-list stars such as Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney and he suggests that team should have achieved more on the international stage.
"When you looked around that dressing room in some of the England squads I was a part of and saw the players in there, you wondered why we were not going closer to winning tournaments," he adds. "I first came into the England squad at Euro 96 and we nearly won that competition, while I believe we had a team to win the World Cup two years later, only for a red card for David Beckham and some very dubious refereeing decisions costing us against Argentina at France'98.
"After that, we never got it right for whatever reason. So many of the England players were winning trophies at club level, but we didn't click for whatever reason when it came to the big international competitions.
"Maybe the lack of expectations around the team this time will help the players. We had to deal with a lot of pressure and hype and maybe that didn't help us, but we cannot use that as an excuse.
"There was no reason why that group of players should not have performed a lot better in World Cups and Euros, but it didn't happen for us and it is one of the big regrets for me.
"Hopefully the England players who will get a chance to play in a World Cup this summer will have a different experience to enjoy."
- Sol Campbell spoke to The Herald in association with Paddy Power. Read his football columns at http://news.paddypower.com