In June this year Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development, proclaimed that it would take a decade before the benefits from changes made to youth development were observed.
These recent changes include the opening of the St. Georges Park complex, an innovative facility that brings all the England teams under one roof and the Elite Player Performance Plan, a system of hierarchical academies that encourages the movement of England’s best youth players to elite category one clubs.
Brooking also noted that the standard of coaching within the important development age groups of 12-16 was sub-standard, due partly to an undervaluation of the current full-time coaches who receive wages of around £15,000-16,000 a year.
He suggested these wages should be closer to £50,000, an investment which current world powerhouse Germany undertook ten years ago, spending €50million in the process.
The issue with not producing enough quality English players is not a new one; it seems to be rolled out after every miserable England performance or major tournament exit.
The underlying message that comes from the frequent criticism is that of a lack of technical skills, perhaps due to a direct style of play played by the national team throughout the 20th Century that relies on pace and intensity.
Carlos Alberto, the captain of the notorious Brazil 1970 World Cup winning team, put it best in 2007 when he said: “The most important thing that can happen to English players is that they improve their technique.”
Despite all this doom and gloom over the state of English youth development and their football in general, there are encouraging signs emanating from a number of players throughout the England age group sides, although particularly in the under 21s lead by new manager Gareth Southgate.
Below are a seven of England’s promising youth prospects, all of whom have been lauded by coaches for their technical ability.
RAVEL MORRISON, 20, West Ham (ENG U21)
Morrison joined West Ham from Manchester United in January 2012 with Sir Alex Ferguson noting his precocious talent whilst claiming the player needed a fresh start away from the city.
Loaned out to Lee Clark’s Birmingham for the 2012/13 season Morrison began to understand what was required of him on and off the pitch after a brief spell on the sidelines.
He’s not looked back since, playing 30 games for the Blues before returning to West Ham and scoring an outstanding individual goal against Tottenham earlier this year. He has the ability to beat men that most don’t have that has led some commentators to whisper the name Gascoigne after watching Morrison play.
LUKE SHAW, 18, Southampton (ENG U21)
With English players like Leighton Baines and Ashley Cole excelling at the left back position in the Premier League, many think the young Southampton full back will find it tough to displace either of the incumbents any time soon.
It only takes 90 minutes of watching him play to believe however that there is a real possibility of this happening in the next few years. The defender has a mature head on his shoulders for someone his age, looking accomplished with men running at him as well as possessing a strong first touch. Shaw put in an outstanding performance in the U21 qualifier against Finland last night, looking a class above many on the pitch.
JAMES WARD-PROWSE, 19, Southampton (ENG U21)
Another young talent from the renowned Southampton production line, Ward-Prowse made his Premier League debut against Manchester City in the Saint’s first match on their return to the top flight. He impressed all managing to hold his own against Yaya Toure at the age of 17.
Two years on Ward-Prowse has developed into a key member of Southampton’s midfield, creating their most chances with 23. The teenager showcases a strong all round passing game, retaining possession well, alongside being an accomplished dead ball taker. For an England team that must be looking to increase their ball retention, Ward-Prowse is an intriguing prospect for the future.
WILL HUGHES, 18, Derby (ENG U21)
Another technically gifted player playing for the U21s is the blonde haired Derby midfielder Will Hughes. Hughes has been linked heavily with Liverpool in the January transfer window after successive Derby managers Clough and McClaren admitted they would struggle to hold onto the playmaker but his sitting on the bench at a top flight club will only his hinder his development. At time he struggles with the physical aspect of the championship but as his frame fills out he will develop into a player capable of stepping onto the big stages.
JOHN STONES, 19, Everton (ENG U21)
Stones made an under the radar move to Everton from Championship outfit Barnsley in January of 2013. A right back at Barnsley, Stones has been playing in the centre for the U21s and his club manager Roberto Martinez has spoken of his potential at the new position.
A modern ball playing defender in the mould of Gary Cahill whom Southgate has given the confidence to use his technical ability to link with the midfield. Stones announced himself to many in the footballing world with a cheeky, chipped penalty against Juventus in a pre-season friendly.
DANNY CROWLEY, 16, Arsenal (ENG U17)
A diminutive, creative midfielder who joined Arsenal from a strong Villa youth team in the summer. Crowley has been dubbed the new Jack Wilshere due to his creative nature and strong technique. Look for Crowley to play in the Capital Cup in the next couple of years.
PATRICK ROBERTS, 16, Fulham (ENG U17)
Another talent from the U17 team Roberts possesses excellent close control and a confidence in his dribbling ability on the wing. Like Crowley, Roberts may be in line for a move to one of the elite clubs who are said to be monitoring him.
Key to these young players’ development towards the England senior team is for each one to be starting regularly in senior football, be it in the Premier League or the Championship. Several of the players who have started to make an impact in Hodgson’s team were previously loaned out by their clubs.
These include Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere who were taken under Owen Coyle’s wing at Bolton, Andros Townsend who played 101 games at 9 different clubs and Steven Caulker who made three different trips away from White Hart Lane.
I’m not saying that these players will definitely turn out to be world class all-round players, my point is that the impressive technical ability which they all display proves that England may have already started producing the type of players Brooking thought we wouldn't see for a decade.
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