It might have looked like you were watching one of the more underwhelming fixtures of the season at Anfield, but blink again and it wasn’t quite the case.
There were five Liverpool players starting in the International Friendly on Wednesday night – six if you included Daniel Agger who was playing for the opposing Denmark team. Those English players of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson strode out of the tunnel at Wembley for a European tie that made you wonder why you weren’t a bit more of a Waterloo Road fan, making the choice of what to watch that night much simpler.
This was the first time in 37 years that five players from just one club stood alongside each other draped in national colours. The last time was October 1977, under the management of Ron Greenwood, who was described by Bobby Moore as an “encyclopaedia of football”.
This would be Roy Hodgson’s second time managing ‘Liverpool’ as it were. His selection for both squad and bench drew wild speculation from critics and the public alike, mainly with his opting for Tom Cleverly (who has been the subject of 10,000 strong signature petition to ban him ‘from the World Cup squad’) but also the call up of Southampton left-back Luke Shaw to the squad, the 18 year old’s first game for the country.
Seeing as it was one of the last friendlies before the World Cup begins, Hodgson was certainly going to use the opportunity to experiment with some alternate players and combinations. It means that players like Leighton Baines (of Merseyside rivals to Liverpool, Everton) have already secured their place – since Hodgson decided to test out less favoured but more experienced Ashley Cole, who has been on the bench often under the guise of Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho.
It certainly wasn’t like watching the real Liverpool side play in the Premier League as of recent times however. There’s no Suarez to poach goals for one, something that an altogether more lonely Sturridge is obviously missing when he plays at an international level. His link up play with Wayne Rooney is something that certainly needs work and won’t just happen overnight. With little under a century of days until the Brazil World Cup kicks off, there’s not a lot of time to make it so.
Sterling on the other hand was very impressive. His position on the wing was as involved as could be, narrowly missing chances that were given his way, earning himself the man of the match and rightly so. The youngster has blistering pace, something England desperately need in the climes of Brazil and the battering of international football.
Henderson’s job was altogether more different, controlling the game rather than creating it. It was something that seemed to translate well from club to country – potentially reaffirming some value of the £20 million spent on him at Anfield. Johnson too looked relatively at home and comfortable with the demands of the night, but still faces stiff competition from Tottenham’s half a dozen years younger Kyle Walker, for the right back position.
Gerrard, a long standing staple of the England side, has almost certainly booked his seat on the plane too. For a long time it seemed that the national squad wouldn’t progress after what must have accidentally been dubbed the new ‘golden age’ – thankfully, the emerging talent from clubs such as Liverpool and now Southampton mean nothing but good news for a developing England team. Names such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and even Andros Townsend (with his impressive national debut at the start of October last year) are just the beginning of a new look and youthful England.
It shouldn’t be that five players from one team is an abnormal thing for the English side. It used to be that the manager of the national squad would have almost limitless choice over the country’s leagues in which to choose his 23 player line-up from. That seems laughable now, with the influx of money that the Premier League has and will continue to generate, clubs are looking to buy the best players in the world, not nurture those developing in their own country. Newcastle and Arsenal are made up of predominantly French players, and the larger clubs of the league are a mix of all nationalities.
Clubs like Liverpool need to lead the way. It would certainly make the national chances a bit more prosperous – certainly beyond the group stages are long devoid of an England team with a chance.