We all know the history. World champions in 1966. The 'Robson Revival' of the 1980's. Euro 96, when 'Football came home'. The 'Golden Generation' which came and went.
Expectation turns to hope, hope becomes disappointment, disappointment turns to desperation, until finally we crash out of Euro 2016, humiliated by a country which boasts a population of just 320,000.
As we approach the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the expectation for most fans would be to just do us proud. Even the most die-hard England fan would struggle to dream of World Cup glory whilst another humiliating tournament would almost certainly spell disaster.
As for myself, I have always watched and supported England and I will always continue to do so. Whether it’s a qualification game against San Marino or a nail biting knockout tie against Germany, I will always support my country. However, I would be lying if I thought we were going to achieve great things this summer.
I still believe we have some great attacking players that can light up the World Cup in Russia. Harry Kane has had yet another great season. If it wasn’t for Mohamed Salah, he would have won a third consecutive Golden Boot. Raheem Sterling has just had his greatest season so far, scoring 18 and assisting 17 with title winners Manchester City. Leicester City's Jamie Vardy scored 20 goals in the Premier League, whilst also proving he can consistently score against top opponents. Jesse Lingard has developed into a key player at Manchester United, who has often kept France international Anthony Martial out of the side. And although Marcus Rashford hasn’t had the best season with United, he will go to Russia with no fear, possessing blistering pace to trouble opponents.
Although we have plenty of talent going forward, I still believe we lack real quality in one area, which will ultimately be our downfall when coming up against top opponents.
The problem? Our defence.
In the past we have always produced great defenders. Bobby Moore, the 1966 winning captain, is arguably our best ever. Aside from his leadership qualities, his ability to read the game along with his composure made him world class. The iconic tackle against Jairzinho in the 1970 World Cup is a perfect example of this. Terry Butcher, another great centre back, proved in one blood-soaked image that he would give everything to play for his country and refused to be told otherwise. Tony Adams was a supreme defender. Whether it was his mental and physical resilience on the pitch, his reading of the game or just his sheer desire, he became a rock at the back of the England team.
Further down the line, England's 'Golden Generation' produced an array of talent at the back. Two full backs, Gary Neville and Ashley Cole, made the right back and left back position their own for years. Although Neville wasn’t the most attacking player going forward, his defensive qualities along with his brilliant work rate made him one of the best. Cole was more of a threat going forward, but never sacrificed his defensive duties as a result of this. His pace, positioning and overall ability meant that he was once labelled as the best left back in the world.
Our two best centre backs during this period, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, were some of the greatest defenders our country has produced. Terry was a rock at the back, and the Chelsea legend's strong and commanding leadership meant he became an outstanding defender, often being including in England's best ever XI. Ferdinand was a different player to Terry. Whereas JT was often perceived as a no-nonsense English-style central defender, Ferdinand was viewed as a more modern type sweeper, who had the ability to bring the ball out of defence with his feet and who could start off attacks with neat passes to team mates. He was also world class at defending, making it look effortless at times. He would defend with his brain before his body.
Since then, England has been lacking real quality in defence. When Iceland knocked us out of Euro 2016, England's defence consisted of Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Danny Rose. These could hardly be called 'world class' and although Walker and Rose can be great going forward at times, there defensive capabilities can often be second best.
As we approach the World Cup, I feel our defence hasn’t improved enough to keep out the best opponents. John Stones, who has plenty of potential to be a future great, has struggled to get into the Man City side on many occasions this season. This has also been the case for Cahill, who has been left out of the Chelsea side on more than one occasion. In fact, none of the defenders picked for the summer have the right mix of quality, form, experience and overall fitness needed to keep the best out.
In my opinion, the best solution to this problem is playing with 3 at the back. It looks as if England manager Gareth Southgate is prepared for this. He has experimented with 3 at the back at times, allowing extra cover from the two wing backs. It has allowed England to be more solid at the back, whilst also providing the width needed from the wing backs to provide a threat going forward. Including players like Leicester City defender Harry Maguire allows England to lift their heads and play out with the ball. It has put a bit of optimism back into the England supporters.
Although England have been reasonably solid in defence as of late in qualifying and recent friendlies, I still believe we will fail against top opponents once the real football begins. I truly hope this isn't the case and they can prove myself and all the doubters wrong. I hope they can learn from previous experiences and become a solid team, instead of relying on certain individuals.
I will continue to support England no matter what and I will be watching eagerly once the tournament begins, hoping for a surprise or two. But from our recent tournaments, it will be a big ask.