England manager Fabio Capello would have been criticised whichever set of players he had chosen to represent the Three Lions against Hungary on Wednesday night. The Italian has made wholesale changes to his squad, succumbing to the public demand of giving youth a chance ahead of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign which starts against Bulgaria on September 3rd.
Following England’s debacle in South Africa, culminating in a 4-1 defeat to rivals Germany, the country’s heaviest ever World Cup loss, calls were made for Capello to rip up his underachieving squad and start from scratch. Former Real Madrid manager Capello certainly seems to have been listening to the opinion polls with just 10 players of the squad he believed to be capable of winning the World Cup a few short months ago surviving the Italian’s sharpened axe. It seems the ‘Golden Generation’ really has come to an end.
With the timing of the friendly, just three days before the start of the new Premier League season, and player injuries explaining some of squad’s notable absentees, Capello has effectively signalled the end of a large amount of England careers. David James, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Matthew Upson, Ledley King, Robert Green and Peter Crouch, amongst others, have all been dropped. While Captain Rio Ferdinand and striker Jermain Defoe are both missing through injury. It is also thought Tottenham’s players have been rested ahead of their Champions League qualifier next week.
However it’s the inclusion of Arsenal youngsters Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere which remains Capello’s most surprising decision. While both have got outstanding potential, they are not yet the finished article and are unlikely to start regularly for the Gunners this season. Wilshere has yet to make a first-team Premier League start for Arsenal and yet is deemed good enough to represent his country. Wilshere is clearly an exciting talent and offers hope for the future of England but he needs the chance to develop sufficiently at club level before being thrown onto the international stage. Meanwhile Gibbs has played only 11 competitive games for the club and is unlikely to break into Wenger’s side ahead of French international Gael Clichy this season. Given time both players are likely to play regular football at the highest level, but until then Capello has to look at players playing week in, week out. The international stage should be one for experienced players at the top of their game and not be used as a nursery for players who have failed to make a genuine impact at club level.
Theo Walcott has also been included in the squad, a decision which represents a major u-turn for Capello after axing him from his World Cup party. Of course Walcott deserves another opportunity following his heroics in Zagreb, but the winger will also find it difficult to play regular football with the competition in Arsenal’s all-star midfield this season. While the match is only a meaningless friendly of real inconvenience to Premier League managers, Capello obviously believes these young players have what it takes to become regular internationals. However their inability to get a game for their clubs is a worry.
Likewise at Manchester City where the development of talented pair Joe Hart and Adam Johnson is being blocked by the club’s high volume of spending. The lack of top flight opportunities given to emerging English talent remains a major problem for the national side and it is certainly not Capello’s fault that he has such little options to choose from. Young English players cannot get games for their clubs in the Premier League because their development is often sacrificed for short-term success. Top flight managers do not have the time to develop and nurture young English talent in what is ultimately a results business. Managers will not risk losing valuable points by giving young English talent an opportunity to impress over more experienced players at the club.
The future of English football certainly looks bleak. Unless the whole youth set-up in this country is radically overhauled then England will always struggle to compete against the top sides in world football. Holland and Spain are light years ahead of England in how they look to devlelop their youngsters. Young Enlglish players now face competition from foreign imports to get into a club’s youth academiey, let alone their first team. The Premier League need to think of a way to help young English players learn at the highest level. While the league’s new home-grown rule is a step in the right direction it is not radical enough to change clubs’ views on developing young English talent. Sadly for England the country’s inability to nurture and progress young talent could take years to address.