Is it just me, or was anybody else considerably underwhelmed and uninspired by Stuart Pearce’s latest selection for the England Under 21 squad?
In fact, the disfunctional mechanism of the country’s development system has to be questioned in its entirety.
Too often are we witnessing inclusions based on name or the club they represent, while others force an entry and remain in the fray despite the unlikelihood of ever impacting on the senior setup. The turnover of players is high, yet the productivity is frighteningly unconvincing.
It’s mismanagement, not misfortune, that has seen the nation go without a major trophy since 1966 while the Under 21 side hasn’t won the European Championships since 1984.
The functionality of Pearce’s operation is simple in essence - unearth a burgeoning crop of players, help polish the rough edges of their inexperience, offer a schooling to nurture their international credentials, and provide a feeder system for Roy Hodgson’s side.
But looking at the 23-man brotherhood for the European Championships in Israel next month, it’s difficult to see which individuals will shape the future in a manner that the nation’s footballing ancestry and tradition demands.
Goalkeeper Jack Butland has the attitude, foresight and attributes to make the cut following a move to Stoke City. Steven Caulker, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw all have chances after enhancing their first team involvements; Craig Dawson sharpened his own caliber after excelling on loan at Bolton, while Man United’s Wilfried Zaha has proven ability which will be strengthened at Old Trafford.
However, arguments in favour of Leeds United’s Tom Lees, Forest’s Henri Lansbury, Blackburn Rovers’ Jason Lowe, Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey and striker Marvin Sordell are severely limited. Chelsea’s Nat Chalobah and Josh McEachran will either stagnate beneath the riches of Roman Abromovich at Stamford Bridge, continue to be banded about on loan at Championship level or indeed sign a permanent deal at a club plying its trade in England’s second tier.
Inconsistency and temperament has hindered Andros Townsend’s progression on occasions and, though the winger has a willingness to play, he faces stiff competition from the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling who already have calls to the senior side.
Skipper Jordan Henderson has a lot to do to convince fans that he can compete on the world stage and Tom Ince endured a quieter second half to the season despite the arrival of his dad, Paul, at the Bloomfield Road helm. And I can only presume a shortage of strikers has paved the way for Sunderland’s Connor Wickham who hasn’t looked like emulating his £8m price tag yet. And I can assure you that Nathan Delfouneso, a replacement for Wigan’s injured Callum McManaman, will never be granted a senior nod.
It’s been a problem for some time. Howard Wilkinson’s and David Platt’s respective sides after the Millennium harboured imposters, with the majority failing to make the cut for a Three Lions berth.
But the troubles at this level have merely been a manifestation of inadequate attention and finance afforded to the nation’s youngsters from grassroots level and in to their teens. You wonder, over the years, how many rough diamonds have slipped or been pushed in to an unrecoverable hinterland.
Fingers crossed that the FA’s revolutionary national football centre, St George’s Park, will address these blatant flaws and provide more resources to help play catch up with continental Europe and engender a common culture across all its representatives.
A philosophy to ‘coach the coaches’, combined with the Future Game strategy and the Elite Player Performance Plan overhaul of club academies and advancements from Lilleshall Hall and Bisham Abbey, will hopefully spark a change and a revival in the English game.
At the moment we’re light years behind the likes of Spain, Germany and Holland but only time will tell as to whether this latest £105m investment in Burton pays dividends.
A revamp is necessary, the country is crying out for the next enrolment of youth, which also means club academies and Premier League managers will have to play their part because drowning out and inhibiting hungry apprentices in favour of expensive foreigners isn’t the answer to evolution.