England have crashed out of another tournament and chastised in the press for doing so but what expectations were they supposed to exceed? In any age group, other than the media pressure, does anyone actually envisage an England team succeeding at a tournament? The manager Stuart Pearce has been sacked and the reasoning behind it is that he failed to meet expectations set out prior to this under 21 tournament. It’s times like this that you have to realise that a managerial change means nothing when the talent pool is so heavily restricted and quite frankly, terrible.
If you were not from these shores and you looked at the current crop of English players at this Under 21 tournament in Israel, at no point would you have been worried. Pearce has been heavily restricted in the availability to pick the players he would like and that’s where the problem starts. Stats can show that there were good enough players out there with England having four full internationals in the squad. Four? This four included Jack Butland, Steven Caulker, Jordan Henderson and Wilfried Zaha. None of which would get into the senior squad today. Only Henderson has more than one cap with the fantastically grand total of five and that’s a sad indictment for a team such as England.
In comparison to Spain, who won the tournament with ease, they only had two full internationals in Thiago and Isco. Concrete proof that it is harder to win a full Spanish cap. However it is not this statistic that is meaningful; it is that all 11 players in Spain’s strongest team play top-division football. That amounts to 371 appearances with 272 of them in the league. Taking it further, nine of the 11 will be playing in the Champions League next season. Put into context, four players in the England team play top-division football with one of them being Craig Dawson. Now of those four players, not one of them plays for a top four club and the accumulated Premier League appearances is 76. With the powers of elimination, that automatically means that the other seven players play in the Championship. Other countries put a huge emphasis on tournament football except England. The FA have said that the senior team take priority but what priority exactly? The team that are struggling to qualify for tournaments? The team that once at the tournament are outplayed in nearly every game then coming home to media castigation every two years? Indeed this is the team that takes priority over any other age group below it. Not to put these players on a pedestal but where were Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Jack Rodwell? The latter of which played 5 minutes against Brasil rather than competing in a tournament which would have aided his footballing education exponentially. Using context again, after Spain won the World Cup Juan Mata won the Under 21 Championships a year later. He played in both and at no point is one made more important than the other.
It would seem that the stigma needs to be removed in this country that ‘dropping down’ a level to the under 21s is not a hindrance. Every other country uses it as a vital step in a young player’s career whereas in England it is seen as a step that would prove nothing. Case in point being Holland and their use of twelve senior internationals in their under 21 squad.
It puts many countries in good stead when it comes to tournaments for the lower international levels however it only seems to cause England problems when it comes to the hierarchy. Once problems have been uncovered a scapegoat is then needed. Once the avenue of poor technical ability has been exhausted, the system used by the current manager is then next in the firing line. It is at this stage that the only change is made and that’s the sad state of a top-down approach to English football. Football needs to be viewed with a bottom-up approach and if that isn’t strikingly obvious then the future is not bright, the future is Roja.