This article originally appeared in The Football Pink: Issue 1 available to download here http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00ED1WO1A
BY BILLY TAYLOR
June 2013. During a summer where there was no major international football tournaments occurring, England’s faithful following turned their attentions to the under 21 side. With notable stars such as Thomas Ince, Jonjo Shelvy and former Crystal Palace sensation Wilfred Zaha, the side were expected to qualify from Group A with relative ease. England, being the eager and optimistic nation it is, might have even been thinking that they could win the competition. As we now know, this was certainly not the case as yet another England international side inevitable failed to live up to expectations: the under 21’s finished bottom with zero points.
When it comes to international football, this is an all too familiar story. The media and England followers alike believe that every time there is a major tournament, they have a chance of lifting a trophy (we need something to talk about other than 1966, right?) when we’re actually living in false hope. A possible reason for this is due to the positioning in the FIFA World Rankings. Up until very recently, the Three Lions have always been in and around the top ten despite being consistently average and unimpressive performance-wise despite getting the results that have propelled Roy Hodgson’s squad to be alongside the best teams in the world. How many times have you heard a pundit or columnist say “this year will be England’s” or ‘this is the best squad England have had in years”? Far too many for my liking.
Returning to the under 21s briefly, it’s easy to see why we put on such a dismal performance. The star players aren’t getting the right amount of competitive football in the season to be prepared for an international tournament. How many of these players would get into a Premier League starting line up? The answer to this question is no for people such as Connor Wickham, Josh McEachran, Nathan Delfounso, Craig Dawson and many others who play for first tier clubs but simply either rot on the bench or get loaned to sides in the lower divisions.
This is also a problem for the senior side.
Due to the mass influx of foreign imports into the Premier League in recent years as teams attempt to become even better by searching for talent overseas, the amount of English players starting for their respective clubs has declined. There were times when Joleon Lescott and James Milner were both regular choices for mega rich Manchester City, now they’re lucky to even a few minutes of the pitch towards the end of the game when the team is at full strength. Even star striker Wayne Rooney is no longer guaranteed a place in the United line up, with fellow team mate Danny Welbeck also not assured of a starting position. If England’s players were playing week-in, week-out regular football at the most competitive level then surely this would lead to a stronger national side.
Take a look at a team like Spain, currently the best nation in the world when it comes to the beautiful game. Their entire squad is full of world class players who could easily walk into any other side in world football. A majority of Spain’s under 21’s and seniors play their trade for one of the El Classico clubs, earning their place by working their way through the youth system and B teams. This is one of the main differences between the Spanish and the English. Talented, young English players (we shall use Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell as examples) play a season where they are the key men in their respective sides before they are quickly snapped up by one of the top four clubs and are never to be seen again. The team in question which has effectively ruined these players’ careers is Manchester City, who are focused on winning silverware, not providing a platform for home grown talent to improve.
This is not the case in the Bundesliga. Unlike the Premier League with it’s various billionaire investors, German outfits do not have a single company or individual that owns more than 50% of the club, which means that essentially the club remains in the hands of its founders at the expense of having no cash injections from abroad. This in turn means there are less flashy foreign imports due to clubs not having the financial privileges to turn their squad into a pick and mix of the best players from around the world. To put it simply, there is a greater reliance on home grown players in other leagues. In the English Premier League, 66.5% of players are foreign, which is a very clear majority. None of the other top leagues, such as Serie A (53%), the Bundesliga (45.5%) and La Liga (37.5%) come close to this figure, which is something that needs to be addressed urgently by the personnel at the FA.
With England’s golden age players rapidly approaching their retirement, it is time for England to focus more on developing the next crop of potential World Cup contenders. There are some signs that the Three Lions are on the right path however, with youngsters such as Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, Tom Cleverly, Daniel Sturridge and Phil Jones getting their fair share of playing time with big clubs and having drastically improved their game because of it. But if England want to finally achieve some silverware then the fate is going to lie with the new generation. The under 21 campaign was an eye opener that currently we are below the standard of other countries when it comes to developing footballers. Great players do not usually develop by being thrusted immediately into the big time, but instead gradually working their way from lower tiers and youth academies to the top level of the football pyramid.