We could start with some cliché about England never learning when it comes to international tournaments, but then there really is no other way to begin.
It was embarrassing that Steven Caulker felt the need to talk up the U21 squad’s prospects for the final and that he would like to see “us up against Spain.” I’m sure he would. It would also have been a good final, or at least a good way to mark a significant step by beating any of the following: Germany, Italy or The Netherlands. But England don’t think like that, choosing not to acknowledge all the possibilities for failure along the way.
Three defeats from three, so what’s the best course of action? Well Stuart Pearce needs to be brought up in discussion. Whose fault is it? Are English youth players just not good enough? Surely even a half decent coach could bring about a little more fight from a group of youngsters, many of whom are attached to Premier League clubs. But Pearce was quick to downplay the quality of his squad, rather than identifying the complete absence of anything worthwhile keeping him in the dugout.
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Three losses and one goal scored – and largely in an abject manner. All the while Spain have cruised through the group stages in a way that can almost be described as a waltz, effortlessly charming yet as devastating as ever.
Wilfried Zaha was the first out of the door to confess his shock at the result of the whole tournament for England. Wilfried Zaha, a player who has been hyped to the hill and back. Oh he’s been fantastic for Crystal Palace, apparently. Palace, a team who were competing in the second tier of English football. In Comparison, Italy were focused around the often exquisite Marco Verratti; The Netherlands were able to call upon Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher; and as for Spain, Thiago, captaining his nation, was outstanding, David De Gea continued on from his fine form of last season, but Isco in particular has been beyond magnificent.
Nations like Spain are reaping the rewards of these tournaments at senior level, and they will do for many, many more years to come. What happens when Xavi and Xabi Alonso decide to hang up their boots from international football? Simple, Javi Martinez will step in – a player who regularly competed with the Spanish youth teams – and, of course, players like Thiago are showing why they’re not only capable of making the step up, but also that they’re good enough to dictate the game for some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
England are forever too quick to talk up their prospects of victory instead of focusing on the long-term effects that tournaments like these have. No one needed England to win, but the FA and Roy Hodgson, I’m sure, would have been keen to see some progression in the way of good football and the integration of players who may make the step up permanently to the senior side in the near future.
Arsenal have often been at war with England in the past, with Arsene Wenger battling to keep Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere away from international duty following a demanding domestic campaign. But why wasn’t Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain involved? Like Isco and Thiago, the Arsenal youngster has Champions League experience, he’s played for the senior team, and above all is good enough to make a difference.
There is so much evidence to suggest England have no idea what they’re doing. In the past, and in order to feed his own ego with the hopes of success and glory, Pearce has looked to bring in young players who have turned out for the senior side. Was that to make his life a little easier? Why, when Zaha was clearly one of his better players this time around, didn’t Pearce properly coach his team and star players to play the game to their own strengths? Again, it shouldn’t matter about winning the competition, the emphasis of these tournaments is on development. Spain are hardly going to parade the European U21 trophy around as if to try and grab some gratification. Their victory parades come following World Cups and European Championships; it’s all about building for the bigger picture and yet you don’t sense that England quite understand that. For Pearce especially, it just looks to be another opportunity to enhance his own CV.
The intelligence of the Spanish and Germans should be greatly admired. Of Course, it helps when academies all over their respective nations are excelling at bringing through youngsters, but it’s completely backwards in England, starting at the very top.
Both the senior team and the U21s are coached in a manner that isn’t befitting of modern football. Hodgson’s team rely on a ‘traditional’ 4-4-2 with no real playmaker when Jack Wilshere isn’t available. The U21s are coached by a man who seems to relentlessly fight against the ropes that are pulling surrounding nations into the modern era. It’s the back-to-basics long ball football that rises to the fore when the teams struggle. Instead of persisting with what is deemed to be right and what will bring results in the future, the coaches revert to what they know best, all the while hampering the technical development of future senior team regulars.
It’s embarrassing that a country like England is so poor on the international front, an issue which stems from the inability to properly educate young footballers. But the misery is compounded when such ridiculous statements are put forth. Where is the evidence that England can indeed navigate through the groups and rounds of the U21 tournament and emerge in the final against Spain? It’s this false hope and feeling of dejection that drags over into the senior team and prolongs failure.
Are England on the wrong path to developing its youngsters?
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