One of the more negative statements that gets relayed surrounding the current state of the England squad is the concept that most of Roy Hogdson’s squad coming from big clubs is a problem. Much of the fear surrounding England’s young talents is that they won’t get game-time at big clubs where they’re not seen as first choice, but in my opinion this is a lazy myth. BBC commentator Darren Fletcher stated during a live debate on phone in show 606: (paraphrasing) “How on earth is Danny Welbeck going to get a game ahead of Robin Van Persie.” What the BBC man, strangely failed to acknowledge, was the nine appearances in all competitions already made this season by the 21 year old for his club side.
Other names have been caught up in this bizarre theory that England’s best prospects aren’t playing football. At Manchester United despite being at a club that plays close to 60 games in all competitions, people fear for Tom Cleverley’s chances of maintaining a starting berth. Similar to Welbeck, the 23 year old has already managed 6 appearances in all competitions for one the biggest clubs in the world. Fighting to win trophies on four fronts few managers are more dependent on using a squad and rotation than Sir Alex Ferguson. In his last two fixtures the legendary manager operated with a diamond system but will likely chop and change formations regularly to beat different opponents. The all-out attack formation worked against Newcastle United’s makeshift defence but is unlikely to be kept for every occasion due to the calibre of United’s wingers. This chopping and changing leaves the two youngsters unlikely to play in every game, but certain to get chances to impress and play alongside some of the best players the Premier League has to offer during their development.
The clumsy argument hasn’t just been launched in the direction of Manchester United’s stars, concerns were also raised about how often Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play at the Emirates. While the former’s contract disputes have appeared to see Arsene Wenger favour other players more highly for the Gunners this term, Walcott has been a first team regular for a few seasons now at Arsenal. While the younger starlet, Chamberlain has already played six times in all competitions for one of England’s best teams.
I also think this needless negativity escapes a bigger point, don’t you want your country’s best players playing for the nation’s best clubs? The four mentioned players are all likely to get Champions League experience at the teams they represent and that is the competition most similar to international football. The competition is also often played at a higher standard than many international contests. I’ve always believed the calibre of player and coach England should aim for should be capable of playing at Champions League level. While it isn’t always possible to get players and coaches of that ability, and occasionally a talent is so great that isn’t always necessary to have a Champions League baptism before taking to the international stage, see Mesut Ozil at the 2010 World Cup.
Without wanting to contradict myself I want to see the best English talent, playing at biggest clubs regularly to improve by playing around the best players possible. Surely playing alongside for example a player of the quality and intelligence of Santi Carzola benefits the English prospects around him. Also Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry must have relished and improved regularly due to having world class performers such as Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany alongside them. The only negative that springs to mind is that when playing along such talented players, the short-comings of less talented English performers can be masked. Lescott’s level of performance was markedly different alongside Kompany than when Stefan Savic had to deputise for the Belgian. There was also more of an x-factor surrounding Chris Smalling during 2010-2011 season than the following year. Much of this in my opinion came from the confidence of knowing your playing alongside one of the world’s best, in Nemanja Vidic. Rather than an often altered backline and sometimes shifted to right back, where the former Fulham man looked much less comfortable.
One clear point I want to make is that I don’t believe the England squad should be an exclusive top six club, if someone’s playing at a level befitting of Champions League, or top six Premier League level they should be considered regardless of club. I believe Adam Lallana is currently displaying the quality and swagger of an elite attacking midfielder and should be rewarded with a place in the England squad regardless of the fact his team are struggling. There are other eligible England players that this argument could used for Leon Britton and Nathan Dyer at Swansea spring to mind.
My main point is we should be glad that we have young players likely to play at the highest level with their club sides. The experiences in Europe and in playing in high profile Premier League matches can only be a benefit to their international careers. The one England player I do fear for is Daniel Sturridge who is unlikely to start many games at Chelsea, and may well be England’s best striker apart from Wayne Rooney. The 23 year old played the best football of his career as the focal point of Bolton Wanderers, and may benefit from being the first name on a teamsheet at a mid-table club. But as Chelsea fans aggressively pointed out to me last week, a hamstring injury has restricted the former Manchester City man recently.
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