England manager has removed the anxiety and brooding air of negativity that comes with having players worrying about whether they will make the final cut for World Cup
Roy Hodgson has got England off to a terrific start, before they've even kicked a ball. By naming his 23-man squad for the World Cup before they head to their training camp in Portugal on Sunday he has bypassed a host of troubling issues that traditionally accompany these camps.
Every such camp I've been in has included a faction of players who are worried about their fate. Will it be me going home? You're all looking at each other, sizing each other up.
That type of worry sets in very quickly. There is an initial feeling of pride on receiving the text to say you have made the provisional England squad. Yes, really, a text – from "Mich" (Michelle Farrer, director of Club England team operations) – means you're in, it's when you get a phone call from the manager that you know you've not made it. If you don't get a text or a phone call you know you were never even close. But that is soon replaced by anxiety over whether you've really made it into the manager's thoughts and plans for the final 23 or whether you're just effectively a standby and 10 days later will be dispatched home to your sofa.
It is one of the most excruciating feelings you can have with England, wondering if you're going through all that rigmarole – training and holding camps and tension – only to miss the final cut. You have that niggle in the back of your mind.
It sounds schoolboyish but you start trying to work out who to be buddies with – are they going? Are they staying? Little groups begin to form. Where is everyone standing in the team photo? What does that mean? Why is he doing a small groups photo with Frank Lampard and Stevie G? Where is everyone standing on the steps of the aeroplane? It all sounds very stupid to an outsider, but when you've spent all season long trying to beat your fellow countrymen you have that competitive view in your head.
Having that pent-up anxiety in the camp is asking for trouble. It means there is a brooding air of negativity, and you never know quite how it might manifest itself. In the famous case of Gazza not making the France 98 squad, it all ended in a trashed hotel room. Ten days of waiting, hoping, not knowing, dreams blown. All of that has an effect on others; it encourages the constant little chats and assessments about who is doing well, who looks tired, who's got a niggle, who might stay and who might not. But Hodgson has avoided all that. For Ashley Cole, not being included in the squad at such an early point has done him a big favour. There are no false hopes.
Being uber competitive footballers, everyone will still talk about who is going to make the starting XI. Assessing the opposition closely. That's inevitable. And the official kit handout is key as a clue. At the 2002 World Cup I was No22, in Germany 2006 it was No13, and by South Africa 2010 I was finally given the hallowed No1 shirt. But even if you're not in the No1 shirt, you'll still be trying to stake a claim for a starting place.
Hodgson's next task will be to get the mood right. This is the end of the domestic season, so naturally you've got some players who are excited by what they've achieved, such as James Milner and Joe Hart, and you'll have others who are deeply disappointed and need picking up. The challenge is, at least initially, that all of these people are thrown together. As a Portsmouth player I remember in 2010 sitting down for a team meal across the table from Frank Lampard and John Terry and thinking, "You just beat us in the FA Cup final‚" and then we were relegated. How will Jack Wilshere be feeling after Arsenal's FA Cup final? It takes a while for those strong emotions to fade, before everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
Then there's the tempo to get used to. For the older players being in camp is familiar, but for the younger ones – Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling for example – it will be a case of finding their feet. No doubt they will spend the first few days running about like kids in a sweetshop. I remember going into the games room for the first time and just wanting to touch everything, in and out of everyone's hotel room, talking, excited. But with age comes experience and you soon learn to settle into something more akin to a marathon runner's approach. There are four weeks of this. Pace yourself.
There's been much talk of this being a squad for the future. But I don't think you pick a squad for a tournament in four years' time. That is not helpful in the development of young players who need to know what it is like to have to perform now. That's the reality, whenever the World Cup campaign. But Hodgson has been done a disservice in that sort of criticism. If you look at the young players involved – Sterling, Barkley, Luke Shaw, Jordan Henderson – these are players who we have been raving about all season. They have more than earned their place. Let's hope they enjoy it and grab every opportunity.
David James has donated his fee for this column to charity