Where do England go from here?

You are granted a certain amount of respect after your side has been knocked out of a major tournament. Other journalists nod awkwardly at you in the mixed zone, almost as if there has been a bereavement.

Where do England go from here?

Eventually one came over to the English press pack in the bowels of the stadium in Sao Paulo and said: “Well, at least you’re used to this.”

Indeed so. All too used to it, in fact. All the optimism and expectation generated by a fine performance against Italy had been replaced by a familiar sinking feeling and a quick internet search for the earliest flight home.

England were ponderous in their defeat against Uruguay, intimidated, lacking in ideas or creativity, a shell of the team they had been just five days previously.

Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker, summed it up well yesterday when he said the players looked “scared”, the pressure ensuring they were unable to bring their club form to the international arena.

But what now?

Certainly it was hard not to feel sorry for Steven Gerrard as he was asked that question in the mixed zone, pain etched across his face.

Seventy days ago he brought his Liverpool players into a huddle after their victory over Manchester City and told them “this does not slip”. Well it did, firstly against Chelsea and now against Uruguay.

It would be unfair to lay blame for both defeats at Gerrard’s feet but at 34 he has reached a time where experience and age becomes a stick to beat him with rather than a positive to be shouted about.

“It’s not the moment now,” he said when questioned whether he has an international future after the World Cup. “But as I said before the tournament I’ll be respectful to you guys so let’s see what happens over the next four or five days and we’ll talk again.”

In all likelihood, England will be needing a new captain, though, and there aren’t too many candidates to choose from.

Wayne Rooney is one by dint of his experience, Joe Hart and Gary Cahill potentially are others. After that, well, there aren’t too many to choose from.

It seems almost inconceivable that Roy Hodgson will not remain in situ. Support for him within the FA remains strong, although defeat to Costa Rica in the final group game could alter that position.

As with the captaincy, there are few alternatives. The FA do not want to turn abroad again, and there are only three Englishmen managing in the Premier League at present. None of Sam Allardyce, Steve Bruce or Alan Pardew would be able to present a compelling case. And it is easy to forget how much optimism there was just a week ago.

The youngsters — Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson — were thriving in a training camp atmosphere that has been described as extremely positive throughout the trip.

I spent the day before the Uruguay game with Trevor Brooking, who will retire from his role as The FA’s director of football development (effectively in charge of bringing through youngsters), and he was effusive about the possibility of future success.

“It will be an exciting time in the next four to six years in English football,” said Brooking. “I think 2018, 2020 is the time when quite a few of our younger players would get a bit of experience.

“Roy has done really well to include some of those in this tournament. Obviously you have 2016, 2018, 2020 ahead, if you give them a little time.

“Just the fact Roy has had five or six weeks to work with them during the tournament will augur well going forward.

“I have been involved with the younger teams for a little while so you could see the younger players coming through.

“If you look at the two lads, John Stones and John Flanagan, who came with us to Miami (for the pre-tournament training camp) and then went back, of that 25-man squad 10 of them are 23 or under (Henderson has since turned 24).

“I think that augurs well. People like Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley, those players are getting massive experience.

“Even someone like Jack Wilshere, who has been injured for a couple of years, is still only 22. There is a really good, young nucleus in the squad.”

Brooking is right; there is talent coming through, and it could be of the requisite standard.

There are further plans afoot to ensure all young sides at St George’s Park — the national football centre, a mythical place that was once thought likely to cure all ills in English football — play in the same formation and style as the senior team to ensure continuity.

But we don’t know when this will genuinely have an impact.

The likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may realistically need another four years before they are ready, but does that mean England write off Euro 2016?

At present it is difficult to know what to expect from the immediate future of the English national team, apart from more of the same and a reliance on youth.

“We have bags of quality, bags of people coming through,” said Hart, the goalkeeper.

“We have great leaders, great experienced players in that dressing room and have just come up short in those two games.

“I speak for the players when I say we are proud to play for Roy Hodgson. He is a great manager, a very passionate man and someone I have an awful lot of respect for and I hope to continue playing for him.

“Have we made progress over the last two years? Saying yes sounds like a stupid thing to say, but I do.”

But the unarguable, inescapable fact is that England are almost certain to exit a World Cup at the group stages for the first time since 1958.

There are unlikely to be any high-profile casualties, with Gerrard certain to be afforded the respect his dedication to the England cause deserves if he departs the stage.

So on we go, trusting in youth this time and the prospect of brighter days ahead.

Yet the fear remains that we will once again be comforted by foreign journalists in foreign fields as another campaign ends in bitter and familiar disappointment.

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