England under 21’s: Crash and burn or live and learn?

I don’t know about you but for me the main event this summer was the European under 21 Championships. I have been looking forward to the games, thinking with a team containing the next generation of England stars we should actually stand a chance of winning. Looking around at the groups they are littered with so-called ‘smaller’ footballing nations; Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Iceland and Switzerland. It is not unthinkable that with the millions spent on football in this country we should be able to develop the talent to have won this tournament, but we can’t even qualify from the group.

The England team was a team full of well-known faces, players that have come to prominence in the Premier League like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge. I still remember when the majority of under 21 players were maybe playing at Championship level or in the reserves of Premiership sides-  we are now dealing with superstar millionaire youngsters. Why can’t we deliver? We should have an inherent winning mentality, instead we have a laissez-faire attitude towards failure and think that it doesn’t matter.

The performances just weren’t good enough and when you compare our playing style to that of Spain you see a huge gulf in class. It is lucky the Premier League clubs have so much money to bring in the best players as we cannot rely on our own. Yes we can keep the ball passing backwards and sideways, but where’s the cutting edge? Where’s England’s Mata or Thiago type players? Where are the Ozil’s or Thomas Muller’s – the next superstars? The only one who fits this mould is Jack Wilshere who wasn’t allowed to play. England can continue to produce good centre-backs, but what about creative flair players, ball players who are as comfortable on the ball as they are driving their expensive cars.

For me the players looked sluggish, not up for it, some swaggered around the pitch looking like they had the ego of a superstar but not the talent … we are dealing with players that didn’t really seem to care. Phil Jones did come out and genuinely looked gutted to have lost and be out following last night’s game, but this didn’t come across all over the pitch.

10 of that squad will be eligible again for the next tournament, do we go there and say the winning doesn’t matter and it is all about experience or to we adopt a winning mentality? There needs to be more emphasis on the importance of under 21 football, we should see this as a team that can showcase our best young talent to the rest of the world and show everyone that England will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. I think there is a problem with the young players of today, imagine at 20 years old you are a millionaire - it could change anyone. Jordan Henderson just signed for Liverpool and his signing on fee was probably likely to be 10% of the transfer fee, so he could have £1.6m burning a hole in his sky rocket.

Let’s bring back the old YTS mentality - youngsters cleaning the boots of the senior players, learning what it is like to earn the right to play, rather than being propelled to superstardom too early in life; it is not natural and would be difficult for anyone of that age to deal with regardless. As soon as you get any kind of exposure you become extra popular with anyone from sponsors to potential WAG’s, it is very easy to lose touch with reality.

Maybe we expect too much, maybe there is too much pressure put on these young men to succeed, but unfortunately that is the nature of the beast that is competitive top level sport. Success breeds success and this is certainly the mentality we need to adopt if we are to become as successful on the international stage as we are with the Premier League sides in Europe.

At the moment the under 17’s World Cup is happening in Mexico, England have won their first match 2-0 against Rwanda – big wow you say, but this is the future and we need to see some hope for a nation that can only buy in talent on mass, rather than produce our own. The academy system at clubs is still relatively new and this group of players will be some of the first who may have had a structured upbringing in an academy system. There were some impressive goals scored by the young lion’s, check out the video, this hopefully will be a sign of things to come, even if it was against Rwanda.

Some will mention Stuart Pearce’s role in all of this, but it is the players that go out there and play; I think when you look at our players compared to other nations, we looked a long way behind technically and the fault lies with the clubs. As well as the coaching side it is the player management side that needs focusing on, protecting these kids from the pitfalls of fame and fortune and keeping them grounded, teaching them a mentality that not only is one of a winner but one of someone who doesn’t take what they have for granted.

We need widespread change to how our kids are coached and developed, why aren’t we adopting the techniques and structures of the French academy system or the Ajax way. The Premier League’s Elite Performance Plan may go some way to helping us develop this talent in the future and implement some of these techniques as well as give the youngsters more coaching time, which is currently capped as one of the lowest in Europe - thousands of hours behind France, Holland and Spain.

This is an article that I hoped I didn’t have to write but after yet another failure, we have to take stock. There is no reason we couldn’t have done better at the under 21 tournament, but this just highlights that there is a fundamental problem in football that has to change. Let’s hope the under 17’s can show us the future is bright, the future is England.

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  1. Psycho II says:

    If the players had the passion of Pearce and will to win it would go a hell of along way, should be giving all they have got! Sort it out England.

    • Stables kid says:

      The guy is tactically inept. As a City fan I know this. 6 months without a goal at home speaks volumes of the man. England don’t need a glorified tub thumping court jester they need someone who can craft Englands best young talent. This guy isn’t the man to do that.

  2. Cheeky 210 says:

    English football is at an all time low as we defend far too much. We our one of the most boring International matches. I do hope this rule about English Nationals will make us better and only time will tell. Maybe we will see this in Quatar world cup.
    National football is dead

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