England need fundamental changes in order to succeed

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For the second successive European Championships, England's Under-21 side exited at the group stage after an underwhelming performance during the opening round.

To lose to the teams they did - a decent Italian side and the tournament favourites Portugal - is not in itself a disgrace and England losing at the group stage is hardly unique to youth level.

However, there is definite improvement to be made before performance standards get close to England's notoriously high expectations.

While change is needed, the proposed solutions and excuses featured in the mainstream press post-exit are both wide of the mark and symptomatic of an attitude problem seemingly endemic across English football.

After the 3-1 defeat to Italy, attention immediately turned to the absence of high-profile young players from the English set-up. Any side, especially England, would feel more confident if they had the option of playing Premier League stars such as Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling. However, the knee-jerk excuse of missing individuals is the oldest football excuse in the book.


What was the big excuse of 2002? David Beckham's injury. What about when the 'Golden Generation' fell short in both 2004 and 2006? It was the absence/poor form of Wayne Rooney and the devious evil of a winking Ronaldo.

Even at England's lowest recent point, the humbling home defeat to Croatia and the failure to qualify for Euro 2008, what was the key factor for the failure: Steve 'Wally with the Brolly' McClaren.

The individual may have played a part, but to focus solely on the singular is lazy and easy. It is the solution that sounds decisive, but does nothing to address the bigger problems that have and continue to eat away at the English game.

In the case of 2008, the failure of McClaren and the connected individual dramas surrounding the likes of Beckham, Rooney and Michael Owen was focused on to paper over the horrifying thought that English football just isn't that good.

Blaming singular flaws does not address tactical systems that often favoured stars over sense and, crucially, youth development that simply does not nurture and develop the kind of football that brings the success the tabloids seem convinced England should be challenging for.

Take the case of the absence of Barkley and Sterling. Even if they had been part of the squad, were they a different sort of player to Ward-Prowse or Redmond? These two marquee outlets are variations of a player that England has churned out for years: pacy wingers and direct attacking midfielders.

Their inclusion would not have changed the problems that really cost England's tournament hopes: a narrow defence that left acres of space for opposing attackers out wide; a rigid central midfield that opponents simply passed around; a focus on direct passing that cost possession far, far too often.

England must follow Spain and Germany

By focusing on the individual, English football overlooks what really changes the fortunes of sides: development and coaching at youth. Take the long-held examples of Spain and Germany. Throughout the early-to-mid 1990s, both sides were dogged with accusations of stagnation and a desperate need to reform to change their future.

Both sides took time to change, but are now reaping huge reward. Spain ended decades of misery to become one of history's greatest ever international sides that constantly brought through new stars thanks to a domestic system that helped develop various brands of footballing talent. Players like David Silva, Llorente, Mata and De Gea - truly world-class players - were long out the side due to the sheer volume of talent.

Likewise, Germany's victory in 2014 was the high-point of the long development process that began in the early-2000s and has been developed a breathtaking side with depth and variety of talent.

Every tournament saw developments and new additions, culminating in a world championship-winning side featuring many members of the same youth champions of 2009 and a constant line of new stars being slowly brought into the team and raised on the clearly-defined footballing philosophy.

Time lessons were learned

Perhaps England will learn a similar lesson. The development of St. George's Park could lead to a host of new, varied players and a growth of footballing philosophy that feeds into later international sides.

However, with the continuing monetisation of the English top division at the expense of youth development and a government selling off the pitches upon which a new generation could be trained, it seems the old ways will continue for a whole yet.

The poorness of England's development system means only exceptional individuals can come through: they rise to stardom in spite of the system, not because of it.

Unless the change begins, the national game will have to remain clinging on to individual hope; individuals who will then become the scapegoats when the same problems of the past continue to hamper the future.

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