England's bright future on show in the under-21s

Published Add your comment

Football News

Eight wins on the bounce, no goals conceded, 18 scored - all looks rosy for Stuart Pearce's England under-21 side.

Thursday night's 3-0 friendly victory over Romania at Adams Park kept the winning streak alive, a streak that stretches back to mid-November 2011.

That evening, Pearce's side went down 2-1 to Belgium in the regional stages of Euro 2013 qualifying.

The team that day included some excellent players, players who would go on to full national team success like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

But while the likes of Jack Butland, Craig Dawson and Jordan Henderson remain as part of the England under-21 set-up, it seems the next generation of talent has stepped up and taken the team up a level.

And that's what's great about the under-21s. Like collegiate sport in America, youth team football is in a near constant state of flux. That makes it frustrating, but thrilling. Top talent jumps up a level early, whether that's to the full national team or the next age group. Teams rarely stay together, but in that brief moment when they do, you catch a glimpse of the future.

You don't have to sit sullenly through years of stagnation, as is the case with the full national team. Never the same old faces, the tired old formations. Change is good, and it's fun to watch.

The likes of Wilfried Zaha, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, Nathianel Chalobah - these are the Premier League stars of the future.

18-year-old Sterling has already had a taste of the top flight. A blistering opening few months led to a new contract and an England cap. Brendan Rodgers has since tucked him away, fearing burnout, but he's proved his mettle at the highest level.  

Nathianel Chalobah, the rangy Chelsea defender-stroke-midfielder currently on loan at Watford has recently worked his way into Pearce's thinking.

The Sierra-Leone born Chelsea academy graduate has enjoyed a hugely successful youth team career. Two FA Youth Cup triumphs with Chelsea in 2010 and 2012 were punctuated by a 2010 European Championship victory with England - a side Chabolah captained at age 15.

His performances at Watford have helped a rag-tag bunch of loan kids and seasoned Championship veterans towards the summit of the table, and within touching distance of the Premier League.

Equally comfortable in defence or midfield, his ability and technique sets him apart. A languid style gives the impression of time and space, but he's a great athlete, capable of skirting past the quicker players on the green.

His man of the match performance in front of the Sky cameras against Brighton earlier this year was a textbook deep-lying midfielder performance.

Still just 18-years-old, he'll be looking to make an impact with Chelsea next season. And perhaps he's part of the reason why Frank Lampard doesn't have a new contract?

Will Hughes at Derby has been playing regular first-team football in the Championship this term, after getting a starting berth as a 17-year-old at Pride Park.

Quick on the ball, but quicker in his head, Hughes is one of the next generation of England players actually comfortable in possession, confident enough to beat an opponent. More like Jack Wilshere than Jake Livermore. And that's more like it for England.

Tom Carroll at Tottenham is another cut from a similar cloth. A fixture on the Spurs bench, Andre Villas-Boas has used him recently as a sub when looking for a goal in the latter stages.

All of his six Premier League appearances for Spurs have come this season, after a couple of loan spells, and the 20-year-old will be looking to kick on.

Luke Shaw at Southampton, like Sterling, is one already making an impression in the Premier League. A call-up to the under-21s for the 17-year-old has been put on hold due to injury, but rumours of a £16.5m move to the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea is as good an indication as any of world-class potential.

And he's not the only talent from the south coast. Everybody knows about the recent graduates, the Walcott's and Bale's, but Calum Chambers was the match-winner for England under-19s against Turkey on Thursday night - a side captained by another Southampton starlet James Ward-Prowse.

You might remember him from the opening fixture of the season, Ward-Prowse thrown in by Nigel Adkins against the defending champions. 

A sign of a top young player is temperament, the ability to trust technique under the fiercest of pressures. They don't come much more nerve-racking than a visit to City on opening day, but Ward-Prowse came out with plenty of credit.

The star of the show against Turkey for the under-19s was Nick Powell, despite a late missed penalty. The Manchester United man possesses that rare ability to look like he's operating on a higher plane, free from the hustle and bustle of the midfield he actually finds himself in.

His counterpart for the under-21s is undoubtedly Wilfried Zaha. The two are soon to be teammates at Old Trafford, once Zaha completes his move from Crystal Palace in the summer.

The pin-legged winger scored his first under-21 goal, a wonderful touch and take from the left channel, across the box and then whipped into the far corner. Premier League quality written all over it.

But Zaha's all about the sheer enjoyment, and in that sense he's like an old-fashioned street performer. He loves beating players, putting them on their backsides, and one run in particular was startlingly brilliant.

But, a single criticism levelled at the young man has been his goalscoring record, and a little more composure in front of goal will provide that gloss on an already mesmerising prospect. It was all that was missing from that jinking run.

The future for England looks bright. All these attacking players invariably hog the spotlight, but it's the defence that's kept eight consecutive clean sheets.

Few keepers look as composed and commanding as Jack Butland, and Joe Hart, who's struggled this season, cannot afford too many more below-par campaigns.

Be careful not to curse this group with the "golden generation" tag, but if you must, if you can't help yourself, at least have the courtesy to whisper it quietly. 

Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE:


Article Comments

Read more

Report author of article

Please let us know if you believe this article is in violation of our editorial policy, please only report articles for one of the following reasons.

Report author


This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

Want more content like this?

Like our GiveMeSport Facebook Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to Facebook, don't ask me again

Follow GiveMeSport on Twitter and you will get this directly to you.

Already Following, don't ask me again

Like our GiveMeSport Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to G+, don't ask me again