Jerusalem’s Western Wall is also known as the “Wailing Wall”, due to the Jewish tradition of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple that once existed there (a bit of unexpected history for you there).
Before they board the plane back to England, Stuart Pearce, his players and the members of the FA that attended the tournament, could do worse things than take a detour through the Israeli capital and weep bitter tears, for their collective ineptitude reached a new nadir over the last 10 days.
Yesterday’s defeat against the host nation was as predictable an ending to a lamentable tournament as it was unfathomable when the U21 embarked on their trip to Israel after a solid qualifying campaign in which they had lost only once.
Defeat in the opening game against Italy was marred by a dire and prosaic approach to football but it arrived against one of the tournament’s favourite, while the abject performances against Norway and Israel highlighted how prehistorical England’s approach really is.
As a patient, English football is terminally ill but it is caught in a weird limbo where its GP – the Premier League – keeps issuing reassuring statements regarding its health, only to be presented with a much gloomier picture when, approximately once a year, it seeks the opinion of a different doctor – international football, obviously.
The GP’s disinterest is staggering, the weakening of his patient systematic and premeditated, all sacrificed on the altar of financial reward.
The Premier League has been so often described as the best league in the world that it has grown to believe the hyperbole, while the FA’s servile approach has been widely exploited by the clubs for which international football is nothing but a fastidious distraction.
Unlike Spain, Italy and Germany, the England team doesn’t offer a reliable spectrum of the country’s top flight and, consequentially, neither does the national U21 side.
Nine of the 11 players that started for Spain against Germany play first-team football in a Spanish side, compared to the four England players that played Premier League football last season.
The numbers are even more damning when one considers that the grand total of Premier League appearances across the England team was 76, compared to Spain’s 272. Those figures, undoubtedly, would have looked less tragic had the FA opted to summon to Israel all of the eligible players, rather than bend to commercial needs and field those players in meaningless friendlies.
When you consider that both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Rodwell started and, in Chamberlain’s case, starred for the under-21s in qualifying, this is quite staggering, but enough has been spoken about this already.
Stuart Pearce, who hadn’t hidden his disappointment at the FA’s decision, turned against his own players in the wake of yesterday’s defeat.
“I’m not coming out here and defending anyone. I’m sick to the back teeth of doing that in this tournament,” said Pearce. “The standard we’ve set ourselves over a three-year period is a million miles away from what we’ve shown in this period. I honestly don’t believe I should be here answering questions on behalf of [the players].
“They should be here answering questions on why their performances were so poor. I don’t think it’s my responsibility at this stage to answer for a performance as bad as that.”
It’s hard to disagree with Pearce – who, anyway, has more than his own fair share of mistakes to answer for, considering he’s only won three out of his 15 tournament matches in 90 minutes – for many players clearly didn’t want to be playing in the tournament and, without trying to offer an excuse, why would they?
Most of the England U21 players know their place in the team is ensured purely on the basis of being not the best the country has to offer, rather of being decent enough to earn the occasional league appearance – when they manage to be selected ahead of a foreign import – but clearly not good enough to play for the senior team, as some of their teammates who were abruptly summoned for friendlies against Ireland and Brazil.
One might consider the limited number of opportunities to don an England shirt as a further incentive to do well, but in the world the FA and the Premier League have contribute to create, a place on the bench and a substantial paycheck are an altogether more appealing prospect for many youngsters.
With £3 billion worth of TV rights set to be poured into the Premier League’s coffers, those paychecks are likely to bulge even more.
As for English football, well, frankly, who cares?
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