The city’s fans may be Scouse before they’re English – but Everton and Liverpool players could have a big part to play in the national side, according to IAN DOYLE
MENTION the England national team to football supporters on Merseyside, and the response from many will be the same.
A shrug of the shoulders.
Even by the standards of fans of major clubs in the north of the country to distance themselves from the Three Lions, the region is vociferous in its independence.
Not for nothing do the travelling Kop sing songs and have banners declaring “We’re not English, we are Scouse”.
Yet there are plenty of signs to suggest both Liverpool and Everton could prove influential in shaping England’s international future.
From the senior squad through to the under-16s, there is plenty of representation from both Merseyside clubs in the national set-up.
But it’s the progress of so many players in recent years that indicates the respective academies at Kirkby and Finch Farm are helping deliver players who can succeed at the highest international level.
Arguably the most exciting prospect to emerge from the current crop is Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling.
Such is the 17-year-old’s rapid progress that during 2012 as well as his debut for his club side, he has also made his first appearances for England at U19 and U21 level along with a first-ever call up to the full squad by Roy Hodgson in September.
And Birkenhead-born former Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa defender Kenny Swain, now a coach with England U16s and U17s, believes the youngster is a prime example of the new wave of player embodied by Barcelona’s conveyor belt of homegrown talent.
“Raheem has a lot of positive qualities that everyone is looking for such as pace, and wonderful balance,” says Swain. “He can really trouble defenders.
“Raheem is not going to be a big lad and that is always a fear in the game these days. Size is always a bit of an issue but I think it is less of one now because of the success of Barcelona in Spain.
“Raheem has this ability that if he is knocked over he jumps straight back up again. He has got some great physical qualities even though he isn't a muscular, beasty lad.”
Sterling made an immediate impact with a nerveless performance on his full Premier League debut against Manchester City in August, a quality underlined in an even more impressive showing at Goodison on his derby debut last Sunday.
“He also has a confident streak that has always been in his nature,” adds Swain. “You need confidence if you are playing for a club like Liverpool at the highest level.
“If you walk out in front of 40,000 or 60,000 people for the first time it can be the most stimulating, intoxicating moment of your life and you could see by the look on his face when he came off the pitch at the end of the game against Manchester City that he really enjoyed it.”
Swain believes the success of Sterling has shown how the youth set-up at both club and country level is beginning to bear fruit, a timely development given the recently unveiled new FA football headquarters in Burton.
“We are so proud when we see kids we have worked with come through, especially in the Premier League, and we have got better at that,” he adds.
“He has got pace, ability and physical qualities and that gives him a better chance than most. He has got great balance, is very, very direct and has also got a change of pace.
“He has got pure speed but he has also got acceleration, which is a rare attribute.
“ I really think Liverpool can expect big things from him.”
Sterling is not alone. With Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers giving youth an opportunity, Andre Wisdom has followed the winger’s path by breaking into the first team at Anfield and being elevated to England’s under-21 squad.
Jonjo Shelvey is another to have benefited from Rodgers’ faith and was given a senior cap as a late substitute against San Marino last month.
Martin Kelly had already made his senior breakthrough for England in May and was one of six Liverpool players in the Euro 2012 squad that, of course, was skippered by academy graduate Steven Gerrard and included under-21 captain Jordan Henderson.
Everton, too, are gaining more prominent representation for England, not least with Leighton Baines challenging for Ashley Cole’s left-back spot and Phil Jagielka assuming a regular centre-back role as replacement for the retired John Terry. The Goodison influence also extends to the youth levels, with Ross Barkley widely regarded as the greatest hope.
Injury has hampered the 18-year-old’s progress in recent years but, already with a clutch of Everton first-team appearances under his belt, Barkley has started to realise some of his potential during a loan spell with npower Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, netting two goals in a 3-0 win at Ipswich Town last week.
“Ross has got better and better since he came here,” says Owls manager Dave Jones. “The lad has a very bright future and playing games in the Championship will certainly help his development.
“Ross is a kid and going to make mistakes, but he’s some player when he drives on and plays the way he does.”
Everton’s academy has gained a fine reputation during the past decade and has been responsible for the development of other current England internationals, most notably Wayne Rooney, who was at Goodison when he became England’s youngest-ever player in 2003 – a record since broken by Theo Walcott – and youngest-ever goalscorer, with his performances at Euro 2004 ultimately earning his move to Manchester United.
Jack Rodwell, long feted as an England regular of the future, made his breakthrough last season before Manchester City gambled on his potential with a summer swoop for the midfielder.
There are plenty of other talents bubbling below the surface on both sides of Stanley Park.
Liverpool’s Conor Coady became the first England player to lift a trophy in 17 years when he captained the team to a UEFA U17 Championship triumph in 2010, and was part of Noel Blake’s squad that competed in the UEFA U19 Championships this summer alongside Anfield team-mate Jack Robinson.
Also in that squad was Barkley and Everton colleagues Hallum Hope, John Lundstram and Luke Garbutt, while Jake Bidwell, on loan at Brentford, has also represented his country at that level.
Many fans of Liverpool and Everton may turn their nose up at England. But in Brazil 2014, Russia 2018 and beyond, the national team’s World Cup hopes look set to become increasingly reliant on Merseyside.
England's next generation are in action later this month against Northern Ireland in their latest under-21 international.
The game takes place on Tuesday, November 13, at Blackpool's Bloomfield Road and tickets are available to buy online at www.blackpoolfc.co.uk/tickets.