I read an interesting article by The Times’ Oliver Kay this morning regarding the England U17s winning the European Championship in Liechtenstein. He writes:
Even as they got off the plane, FA officials were sending joyous texts about the first age-group success of an England men’s side since a team including Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes and Robbie Fowler — David Beckham, although he had played for Manchester United’s first team, did not even make the squad — won the European Under-18 Championship on home soil in 1993.
An England Under-17 team reached the final of the same tournament in 2007, narrowly losing 1-0 against Spain. Three years later, a starting line-up of players now aged 19 or 20 have started a combined total of five Premier League matches — Danny Welbeck two, Victor Moses two and Danny Rose one. Dan Gosling, of Everton, was among the substitutes.
Based on that snapshot, it looks like a genuine decline in the talent breaking through, at least in the Premier League.
Obviously this ignores the likes of Phil Jones (a current England U18 international, who started seven times for Blackburn Rovers last season, and even won the Man of the Match award on his full debut against Chelsea), plus Rodwell (19), Wilshere (18) and Delfouneso (19), who would all have been in the same age group, and who are getting relatively regular Premier League football.
It seems that the larger clubs, Spurs included, are happier to send their promising talents out on loan to league clubs to gain their experience, whilst instead offering squad places to older (and often foreign) players. Young players rarely get thrown in at the deep end, with managers knowing how high the stakes are.
Interestingly, one of Spurs’ biggest success stories, Lennon, was very much thrown in. He was expected to be a bit-part player in the 2005/6 season, with Wayne Routledge ahead of him in the pecking order. With Routledge injured, however, Lennon took his chance, and ended up playing 27 league games, and being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year.
I’m not suggesting that we should be throwing young players straight into the team – far from it. But it’s interesting to see managers taking a more cautious approach, when previously it’s been seen as worthwhile to take a risk with a young player once in a while.
Kay’s comparison is a useful one, and it will be interesting to take a look back at the current England U17s in three years time,to see how many have made the break through.
As an aside, good luck to the England U19s against the Ukraine this afternoon – Steven Caulker and Dean Parrett are starting the game, with John Bostock and Andros Townsend on the bench.
NB: Spurs’ Harry Kane missed out on the European Championship due to injury.