After England Under 21s were knocked out of the European U21 Championships in Israel, many have queried why Stuart Pearce's boys were so poor.
A recent study into the percentage of minutes played by national U21 players in the big five European leagues showed that the English Premier League has hit a record low, we look at some of the clubs that are looking to buck the trend.
According to research by the CIES Football Observatory, England have gone from having roughly the equivalent percentage of national U21 players gaining minutes as France, Spain, and Germany, to markedly less than these other three leagues, all within the last eight seasons. In addition to this, Italy have risen to having the same amount as England.
Several teams towards the top of the Premier League seemed to have spurned the native U21 players within their youth system in favour of more well established players or U21 players from different league systems.
Champions Manchester United, so efficient at churning out homegrown players under Alex Ferguson, were the fifth best team in terms of minutes gained by English U21 players, and can certainly claim some respect for such a feat. But second placed Manchester City, and third placed Chelsea didn’t have a single minute between them, perhaps unsurprising given their wealthy owners.
Where this leaves the prospect of top level England players appearing, nurtured by the best teams in the league, is a valid question.
The answer though, appears to be in the chasing pack. The fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams; Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are three of the strongest in terms of English U21s getting game time.
Arsenal have their talisman Jack Wilshere to call on, still aged just 21, and have also shown that they are prepared to invest in young English players for large fees if they show enough promise (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and even earlier Theo Walcott).
Manager Arsene Wenger has long talked about bringing home-grown English players through into the first team, but aside from Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs, there are few youngsters ready to step up into the senior squad.
Liverpool have a mixture of home-grown talent such as Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson, Martin Kelly and Jon Flanagan, alongside players signed from, and having graduated from other clubs youth systems for significant sums (Raheem Stirling, Jonjo Shelvey, Jordan Ibe and Jordan Henderson).
They also appear to have the right man in command of the team for bringing such players through, with Brendan Rogers, a youth team manager at Chelsea before he was a senior manager, at the helm.
Tottenham have also increased their U21 batch, whether through a change in attitude or a gifted group of young players rising through their academy. Several youngsters have graduated through their youth team to the cusp of the first team.
Steven Caulker and Jake Livermore are chief among these, with 21-year-old Caulker making 28 appearances last season and Livermore making 56 over the last two seasons. Coupled with the emergence of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, two players signed young before making much of an impact at their clubs, as two of England’s most promising fullbacks, and the Spurs first team is looking decidedly homegrown in the future.
Other young English players who have impressed at Spurs, though often on loan from them, are Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Harry Kane – all of whom may be battling for a place on the bench next season.
Honourable mention to Southampton, who have had some wonderfully gifted youngsters break into the youth team this year, as well as an excellent debut season by new signing Nathaniel Clyne. The trick for them now, with more established teams hovering, will be keeping hold of them all.
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