Having been miserably dumped out of both the Under 20 World Cup and Under 21 European Championships recently, the future of English football has been left scratching its head.
Finishing bottom of both their groups and managing just two draws and not a single win between them, England were stupendously beaten, exposing deep lying problems in the nation’s once flourishing youth system.
England’s Under 20s managed a draw in their process against lowly Iraq, whilst the Under 21s did even worse by losing all three of their matches against Norway, Israel and Italy respectively.
A set-up that once boasted the likes of Joe Hart, Theo Walcott, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, reaching the final of the European Championship in 2009 and quarter finals of the World Cup in 2011, has since become a mockery of World football.
England suffered from key withdrawals before this year’s Championship’s due to club’s wishes for main players to remain fresh for pre-season friendlies. Arsenal’s midfield maestro Jack Wilshere, young star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Manchester United’s Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck being among the absentees.
Former Under 21 manager Stuart Pearce was keen to field all four of them but was informed by The FA that they were unavailable for selection despite those involved achieving full fitness.
As a result it remains clear to football experts and supporters alike, the national set-up has rapidly become second fiddle to the needs and desires of the club game. In England, national player’s minds, the draw of donning the famous Three Lions appears to have lost a certain amount of its attraction.
In a time when the senior national team is crying out for hungry, young blood, Under 21 players have sent out a very clear message to the FA with where their loyalties appear to lie.
Putting aside club loyalties and any injuries, this season England’s Under 21 European Championship line-up would have been an entirely different side to that Stuart Pearce was lumbered with.
The players Pearce did field, no doubt gave 100% for their country and are hungry to wear the shirt, but with two players who have plied their trade in England’s second tier this season, Wilfried Zaha and Tom Ince, as the nation’s leading lights, England were never going to challenge for silverware.
Had England taken the Championship’s as seriously as rivals Spain, who had the likes of Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara and Manchester United’s David De Gea at their disposal, the team sheet could have been much more perilous.
With Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Kyle Walker all very much available for selection, England would have at the very least surpassed three defeats in three matches suffered by the current crop of talented youngsters.
In 2011, former Everton captain Phil Neville raised questions about players’ desire to get to the top after 12 players pulled out of an Under 21 match two seasons ago.
He said to reporters in 2011: “I find it disgraceful. I felt ashamed that players who have dropped down from the England team to the U21s are pulling out of friendly games against Italy.
“I don’t see those matches as friendly games at all. It was Italy away from home for England – you should want to play in that game.”
Singling out James Milner for individual praise after turning up every time he was picked for the Under 21s, Neville went on to blame hunger and desire for this particular instance, and today’s predicament appears to be no different.
The same question remains therefore, that as an English player, just where should your loyalties lie?
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