By 90Min
June 18, 2018

Supporting England is a strange and often unrewarding experience. For the majority of the two-year gap in between a major tournament, we find ourselves slagging off the majority of the players who occupy a place in the nation team set up as we adopt a fierce club over country approach. Humorously, we also opt not to watch any drab friendlies involving our, erm, beloved (?) Three Lions as we have 'better things to do'. 

It hasn't always been like this though. As seen through Gazza's tears at Italy 1990,  and Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce's six-year long release of hurt after converting his penalty against Spain at EURO 96; playing for, as well as supporting England, is supposed to mean a lot. In recent years however, the pride felt when doing so has waned somewhat. 

Albert Einstein is rumoured to have once said: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. In that respect, it has felt like the entire national team set up has in fact been insane for some time now. 

Calling up the same old names, playing the same old way, the likes of Jack Wilshere - who somehow made Roy Hodgson's squad for EURO 2016 despite starting just once for Arsenal all season - as well as Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart all consistently getting into the team despite their club form declining has been, to put it bluntly, boring. 

It is phenomenally disillusioning to see a system that is obviously failing, but never changing. 

However, it seems to be different now. The squad is a far cry from the supposedly halcyon days of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen and Rio Ferdinand - players who, on paper, you would back to go all the way - but in some regard, the lack of experience this time round is refreshing and exciting. 

Gareth Southgate has filled the national team set up with a youthful exuberance seldom seen at senior level for many, many moons. In the past, where the players seemed coy when talking to the media - almost as if it was a chore - Southgate's players have almost embraced that side of their job. It is an open camp, and one that is expressing itself off the pitch, as well as on it. 

The recent media day at Wembley, where all 23 players were present to talk to numerous media outlets, was a breath of fresh air and showed a real progression from previous years where the two parties seemed almost at war with each other. 

The squad were reportedly told not to read the news during the 2006 World Cup, whilst Lampard has admitted that they 'were fearful of making a mistake and reading about it the next day in the Daily Mail'. 

Now, only a few outlets have continued in that vein. One particular source - who won't be named - has set their sights on Raheem Sterling for what seems like ages now. Most recently, they've sought after vilifying the Manchester City forward for his tattoo in memory of his late father. 

While that is unsurprising in its own right from the media, the squad's clear backing of Sterling has been a more unfamiliar sight, and it has been an embodiment of what is now an extremely tight knit team. 

Jermain Defoe raised the point of boredom being an issue in the camp at major tournaments - he and Rooney spent one afternoon together watching the Everton striker's entire wedding video. In the current squad, however, that doesn't appear to be an issue. 

A youthful squad - one with just 22.5 average caps between them if the reported starting XI for the opener against Tunisia is true - appears to be bonding well. 

The squad have allegedly been enjoying watching popular TV show 'Love Island' together as well as playing video games with each other; as childish as that could be regarded, it is different. It is refreshing. And if the aforementioned Einstein quote is to be true, it could reap different results to previous failings. 

One factor that could also be highlighted as significant - albeit taken with a pinch of salt - is the influence of Pep Guardiola. When the City boss was managing Barcelona, Spain won the World Cup. When he was with Bayern Munich, Germany were victorious. 

Now he is in England, you would hope that his clear influence on the City players within the Three Lions' ranks will transpire over to the international scene. 

Southgate certainly looks to have taken a bit of inspiration from the ever changing, tactically dominated game. He is set to adopt a system where the side can transition from defence to attack through the wing backs forming a five at the back when defending, and additional support when attacking. With young minds throughout the set up, these tactics should be taken on board more naturally than teaching an old dog new tricks. 

Just five players remain from the 23 that travelled to Brazil four years ago. The players donning the Three Lions on their chests in Russia this time around are all there on merit. Their reputations haven't got them there; they've played their way onto the plane. 

Anyone who writes them off should do so at their own peril. Harry Kane, sat at home watching from his sofa four years ago, now captains his country on the world's biggest stage. He has consistently been written off in his career, loaned out numerous times to being told he may not have a future at Tottenham. Now he goes to Russia as one of Europe's most feared forwards. 

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has found game time so hard to come by at Chelsea, boldly left his childhood club on loan to Crystal Palace to play his way into Southgate's thinking. Nick Pope, the surprise call up into the squad, was a milkman when Fabio Capello's charges failed in South Africa eight years ago. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold had barely reached adulthood before playing in a Champions League final and going to a World Cup. 

They are hungry, eager to impress, and raring to go in what is the biggest month of their short careers. 

Additionally, while we must bite our tongues before England have kicked a ball themselves, a number of favourites for the tournament have looked underwhelming so far. France scraped to victory over Australia thanks to VAR and an own goal. 

Argentina were held by an Iceland side with a film director in goal and a right back who works for a salt company. Germany, the reigning world champions, succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Mexico. Brazil were also uninspiring, while Spain looked vulnerable. 

It is certainly there for England to 'bring it home', if you will pander to the insistence of a nation, but it is admittedly hard not to get swept up in it all. Maybe, just maybe, football is coming home after all...

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