Roy Hodgson gives England youth a chance to shine against Italy
The news that England would play a friendly three days before the start of the new season prompted the predictable groans from Premier League managers throughout the land.
England's 2012 fixtures
- Friendly v Italy - 15 August in Berne, Switzerland
- World Cup qualifier v Moldova - 7 September in Chisinau
- World Cup qualifier v Ukraine - 11 September at Wembley
- World Cup qualifier v San Marino - 12 October at Wembley
- World Cup qualifier v Poland - 16 October in Warsaw
- Friendly v Sweden - 14 November in Stockholm
But rather than spark another club versus country row, England manager Roy Hodgson has taken the opportunity to experiment. The established names have been given a rest and youth has been given a chance.
Ryan Bertrand's extraordinary rise continues with his first call-up to the senior squad after impressing Hodgson with his performances in Team GB's Olympic team. But he is not alone.
Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge have also been summoned from Stuart Pearce's Olympic party, while the Tottenham youngsters Steven Caulker and Jake Livermore are included in the England squad for the first time.
Much of these decisions have been forced by circumstance and timing but Hodgson is attempting to strike a balance between fielding a new-look side and calling up talented young players likely to be involved in the World Cup campaign in 2014.
The core of his most senior players will, of course, be retained for the important competitive matches that lie in England's path in the coming months but Hodgson plans to gradually bleed his most talented youngsters into a squad already brimming with experience.
England by the numbers
- In total, 10 of the players who went to Euro 2012 have been picked
- Five members of Stuart Pearce's Olympics squad are also involved
"Roy Hodgson was very clear that he would always use friendlies to have a look at people he hadn't seen before or to develop new ideas," Gary Neville, Hodgson's assistant, said on Thursday.
"He has good ideas about what he wants to do with this friendly. It is the only environment he will have to look at people, but they have to be the right players and they have to be ready."
Bertrand is not afraid of the biggest stage. In May he became the first player of the modern era to make his Champions League debut in the final itself. The Chelsea full-back's contribution may not have been as eye-catching as Didier Drogba's but he had a key role in helping to stifle Bayern Munich's flying wingers.
A year ago he had only one Chelsea appearance to his name but he begins the new season with a Champions League winners' medal, having starred at an Olympic football tournament and now with a senior England call-up to his name.
The Southwark-born full-back joined Gillingham as a nine-year-old, moving to Chelsea on a scholarship at the age of 15 after a tribunal. But success has taken time. Bertrand went out on loan to Bournemouth, Oldham, Norwich, Reading and, last season, Nottingham Forest.
Those experiences have helped him to develop into a dependable, pacy left-back in the mould of Ashley Cole. His calm assurance and maturity have attracted rave reviews and his set-piece delivery is an increasingly impressive weapon.
Caulker's performances on loan at Swansea last season only enhanced his reputation as one of the most capable young centre-backs in England. Very few youth players have broken into the Tottenham first team but Caulker's fierce spirit and physical attributes have taken him to the brink at the dawn of the new season.
Caulker was a talented 800m runner as a teenager but chose football, partly because he struggled badly with nerves before big races. His football career began in central midfield. It was during a spell at Hounslow Borough as a teenager that he was shifted into the heart of the defence. After one appearance there, he was offered trials by Spurs, Chelsea, Reading and Queens Park Rangers.
Tall, athletic and comfortable on the ball, Caulker is the archetypal 'modern' defender. The future looks bright for Spurs and England.
Harry Redknapp predicted Livermore's meteoric rise last season. "He could be an England player," the then Tottenham manager said. "The sky is the limit for Jake. His attitude is so good, he wants to get to the top. When you have that attitude there's no reason why you can't."
At the age of 16, Livermore chose Spurs over Arsenal. Last season he came of age in the Tottenham midfield, impressing with his range of passing, eye for a tackle and mature judgement. Like Bertrand, success has come because of hard work. Loan spells at MK Dons, Crewe, Derby County, Peterborough, Ipswich and Leeds United have come and gone but in 2011-12, his chance came at Spurs.
Livermore made 38 appearances in all competitions last season, matching many of the game's most celebrated midfield generals stride for stride. Nothing in his blueprint suggests he will be cowed by the challenge of playing for his country.
BEST OF THE REST
Bertrand, Caulker and Livermore are joined by a handful of more established youngsters in this England squad. Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge showed enough towards the end of last season and again at the Olympic Games to suggest they are more than ready.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came away from Euro 2012 with his reputation greatly enhanced and the inclusion of the fit-again Jack Rodwell is recognition of a talent that many believe will blossom when he leaves his injury problems behind.
It is easy to forget Kyle Walker is only 22 and many believe he would have pushed Glen Johnson hard for the starting position on the right of England's defence at Euro 2012.
England squad in full
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Jack Butland (Birmingham City), John Ruddy (Norwich City).
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Steven Caulker (Tottenham Hotspur), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur).
Midfielders: Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Jake Livermore (Tottenham Hotspur), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Jack Rodwell (Everton), Ashley Young (Manchester United).
Forwards: Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea), Theo Walcott (Arsenal).