England Under-21s: The future was bright before it became the dim present
By Rob Casey
Sunday 19 Jun 2011 22:43:00
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Despite very modest success at senior level, England have looked to the juniors in recent years for signs of promise in the future. But now that England’s Under-21s have failed to make it past the group stage of the European Championships, we have to try and fool ourselves that it’s because our best youngsters have already made the step up. So here goes the self-delusion…

Unlike the Czech Republic, who have now knocked us out of the continent’s top junior tournament, England do not regard Under-21 competitions as important enough for our best Under-21 players. So, without Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll, now established senior first-teamers, we struggled to win a single game. It was bound to happen.


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Of course, if we’d had a full strength squad then sure, we’d have beaten the Spanish, the Ukrainians and the Czechs, then gone on to win the tournament, then later the World Cup, then with the seniors as well. No problem.

That’s what I’m choosing to believe, anyway. Well, sort of, I suppose. Our biggest issue in Denmark was firepower. With Wilshere supplying Carroll, we’d have had no difficulty, built upon the solid defence we already have. It’s a reasonable claim.

But I guess we’ll never know what might have been.

Stuart Pearce’s Young Lions have the quality, and there are several individuals with a bright England future. But without his very best players, Pearce struggled to get his side playing like a team that believed they could go on and win the competition. So they didn’t.

The debate is sure to rage on about whether it’s best to rest our top youngsters or give them the tournament experience that’s so valuable. Is it wise to put our hottest talents through the heat of competitions below their elite level, or accept that they’ve made the step up now and give opportunities to others?

Whatever your thoughts, one thing is now fact. Another England squad exit a major tournament early after underperforming.

Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if the best players were available. Or maybe it would have. Either way, the future of the game has been sacrificed for the, well, erm…future of the game. Jack Wilshere is now a central part of the present England team and is the key to our success next year. Let’s hope that hampering his peers helps his older colleagues, because if the gamble doesn’t pay off, we’re stuck with another generation of losers.

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