Saint Petersburg (AFP) – England’s young guns are talking about emulating Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves but four years ago they watched the World Cup on the back of spells at Burnley, Brighton, Carlisle and York.
Jesse Lingard cites Spain’s Iniesta as the player he most likes to watch.
“It’s just the way he graces the pitch,” Lingard said on Thursday. “He’s silky, an intelligent footballer and people have said I’m an intelligent footballer.
“I have to learn off these sorts of players that play in the same position as me.”
Alves, the Brazilian right-back not in Russia due to injury, is Kieran Trippier’s benchmark.
“He’s won nearly every trophy out there as an attacking full-back,” Trippier said. “He’s definitely a player I’ve admired and looked up to.”
But as England were kicking off their ill-fated campaign in Brazil in 2014, Lingard and Trippier were resting up after a long season in the Championship, Lingard on loan at Brighton and Trippier at Burnley.
That they are now preparing to face Tunisia in England’s opening game in Group G on Tuesday marks a remarkably rapid rise but their ascent is not unique, nor even the steepest, in Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, expected to start in Saint Petersburg, had just been playing for Carlisle in League One four years ago, the same division Dele Alli was establishing himself at Milton Keynes Dons and Harry Maguire at Sheffield United.
Nick Pope, meanwhile, was in League Two, keeping goal for York while Marcus Rashford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander-Arnold were yet to make a senior appearance, still playing youth football at Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.
It leaves England’s squad, the third youngest at the World Cup, low on experience but high on exuberance.
“For us it’s just about playing with that freedom and enjoyment but also going out there to win and play exciting football,” Lingard said.
– ‘Insight’ –
“We don’t fear the big stage. You’ve just got to enjoy it, embrace the moments. You’re with your team-mates playing football and it is a job you love doing.”
Lingard left his home in Warrington aged 12 to enrol with Manchester United but he needed four loan spells before finally making his debut under Louis van Gaal.
Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney were among those available to give advice but it was Paul Scholes whom Lingard looked up to most.
“I think it was just because I was around him at the time I was coming through,” Lingard said. “I just asked him questions like ‘do you go out?’, stuff like that. I was wondering, wanted to get an insight.”
Trippier was left sidelined by Manchester City’s rush of riches in 2008 and has emerged for England via Barnsley, Burnley and, most recently, a break-out season at Tottenham.
When Southgate handed him his debut against France a year ago this week, his parents were in the crowd, both in tears as they witnessed the apex of their son’s career.
In Volgograd on Tuesday, they will watch him reach a new peak.
“I’ve got my brothers out here, my dad, about 15 people in total so a lot of tickets to sort out,” Trippier said.
“And at home I’ve got my grandma who lives three doors down and the rest of my family. I think they’ll be watching us.”
It may not be the golden generation but England’s current crop have endured a winding journey to this point. Lingard says they are better for it.
“Of course there were doubts,” Lingard said.
“But it toughens you up. I think you know in your own head where you want to be and where you want to get to as a professional footballer. The dream is still alive and you’ve got to keep it alive.”