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Jack: A small step for England, a giant step for inexperience?

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Kristian Jack
10/11/2013 6:57:15 PM
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English football wasn't having a good week until a ball was finally kicked in anger shortly past 8pm local time at Wembley on Friday night.

With no club matches and a full week's worth of newspapers to fill, the stories across the land were of the current state of the national team and whether or not a young kid called Adnan could one day play for them.

It was, quite frankly, a frustrating week for the consumer. Sports fans demand quick resolutions. The great thing about sport is that it rarely goes away and it delivers strong, forthright messages straight to you, whether or not you want to receive them.

Whether or not England need an FA commission, a teenager born in Belgium, or even Glenn Hoddle, to help them are questions the future will answer.

On Friday what they needed the most were three points in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Montenegro in Group H.

What coach Roy Hodgson needed the most was a victory that was easy on the eyes and a 4-1 win gave him just that.

For now, there will be no more headlines from ex-internationals having their two cents on the problems for England, with the attention instead turning to Andros Townsend, Tottenham's winger who had a man of a match performance on his debut.

Hodgson's decision to use the attack-minded Townsend and Danny Welbeck out wide, helping out Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, appeared to be brave but, upon reflection, against a very average opponent, was a very sensible decision.

The use of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the middle, starting for a 55th time together for England, wasn't a sensible decision but, for once, that wasn't the story on this day.

The two wingers worked well stretching the field in the opening half, and intelligently coming narrower as the game wore on to help full backs, Kyle Walker and, more often, Leighton Baines, provide overlaps in wide areas. Baines is not as composed defensively as the injured Ashley Cole but he is unquestionably superior in the final third, which is needed, particularly, against mediocre opposition.

Townsend and Welbeck's desire to cut in helped Rooney and Sturridge to find more space as the Montenegro defenders looked uncomfortable against what was often a front four.

Townsend will be the toast of England after an excellent debut, which included a goal, and deserves all of the headlines that will come his way.

It is quite unusual for an English player to be given his first cap in such an important match but this speaks to the value of the league he plays in. The English Premier League has been criticized on many platforms for now only being 'one third English' and not helping the national team enough but Townsend's performance at Wembley on Friday counters that point.

The 22-year-old has started each of Tottenham's last six league games and, although he has been inconsistent, he has been very important for Andre Villas-Boas and his staff, often shining against clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea.

Townsend's maturation process has been enhanced by the league, in which he plays in, being much stronger than many of the teams he will face while playing for England. On Friday he will have had butterflies at representing his country for the first time but once he settled in the game he probably realized he was playing a side that would struggle to beat the majority of the Premier League teams he faces regularly.

Montenegro, of course, have some excellent footballers but missed a key quartet at Wembley, struggled at keeping the ball when they got it and tired badly in the second half.

Townsend is far from the finished article, however, and this now becomes the next challenge for him and Hodgson. The English press have a reputation for building a player up and Saturday's newspapers will have a field day with the country's newest hero.

How he and the entire English camp react is very crucial, not just for him but for the culture they absolutely must set going forward.

Athletes across the world are excelling at a high level younger than they ever have before. This very week in Pittsburgh I sat in the crowd watching a 22-year-old rookie pitcher get close to throwing a no-hitter in the biggest baseball game of his life with his team in a 'win or go home' playoff game. The average age of quarterbacks in the NFL has never been younger and we now live in a world where an 18-year-old number one overall pick can go from the draft to playing in the National Hockey League in a matter of months. Experience has never been valued less by coaches but when their young phenoms excel it is up to them to temper expectations and, above all, continue to make them better.

Nine years ago a 22-year-old right winger made his debut for England, scored a goal and was very impressive that night against Ukraine. Now Shaun-Wright Phillips is playing outside of the Premier League and will never play for his country again. Another example of a wasted talent, not nurtured at the club and international level properly. Many England players have gone down the same path, but in a world where youngsters are excelling more and more it is up to England to ensure Townsend, and the likes of Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and many others, do not do the same.

Expectations with the national team have never been lower in England. Should they beat Poland on Tuesday and qualify for the 2014 World Cup, no one expects them to do any damage in Brazil, so while they continue to try and make small steps towards short term, achievable goals it is imperative they make large steps to help achieve long term, ambitious goals.

England celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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