English Premiership

England's U21s failure sparks well-worn debate

2015-06-26 14:40
Harry Kane (AFP)

London - Another tournament exit and another inquest, the failure of England's under 21s has prompted a familiar debate focussing on the power of Premier League clubs, the inflated wages of pampered players and a lack of conviction from the FA.

The battle lines were swiftly drawn after England's aspiring talent fell at the first hurdle of the European Championship, prompting some familiar soul searching as to why English players struggle at major tournaments.

Former England great Gary Lineker blasted the English Football Association's approach to the tournament as "exasperatingly amateurish" as a host of established top Premier League players were left behind.

Among England's 23-man squad only five players -- Carl Jenkinson, John Stones, James Ward-Prowse, Harry Kane and Danny Ings -- were Premier League regulars last season.

The decision to spare Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling, Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, Arsenal midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere and Manchester United defender Phil Jones raised eyebrows as did the FA's response after the tournament.

"Those players are established internationals," said the FA's director of elite development Dan Ashworth.

"It's like being a first-team player and asking them to come back and play in the U21s."

That cut little ice with Lineker, who had his say on Twitter after England finished bottom of a group that included Portugal, Sweden and Italy.

"We never learn. What a wasted opportunity to gather invaluable international experience. Exasperatingly amateurish approach!"

The fallout over why certain players were allowed to miss the tournament has been drawn into the wider debate surrounding the perennial struggle between national teams and the all-powerful Premier League.

Among certain pundits there is an assumption that some players were left out to avoid upsetting the clubs that pay their wages.

Former England midfielder and bete noire of the English soccer establishment Joey Barton as usual pulled no punches.

"The culture is rotten from top to bottom," he told BBC radio. "There is a problem with the Premier League being a lot stronger than the Football Association, which makes it impossible for England to build good teams.

"As some players get towards the top, they say: 'I'm too good for the 21s, because I've been in an England senior squad and I don't want to go to a tournament because I need to rest'."

It is not an accusation, however, that can be levelled solely against England.

Other countries also opted against fielding their strongest squads.

Italy chose not to pick AC Milan's Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy, PSG's Marco Verratti or Genoa's goalkeeper Mattia Perin. Germany did not pick World Cup winner Mario Goetze.

The post-mortem has also touched on the riches offered to young English players in the Premier League and whether early wealth crushes their motivation to succeed at the very top.

"The moment these lads show any innate ability they get too much money too early I'm afraid," former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson told the BBC.

"Before these kids hit the money trail, they want it absolutely. The problem is as soon as they get their first deal, unless they have been brought up properly to respect things like that, they have no chance."

If England are serious about challenging for the World Cup in the future they would do well to look at previous winners of the European under 21s.

The last three winners of the World Cup -- Germany, Spain and Italy -- have all won the continental youth title in the last 11 years.

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