Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughEngland - The Green Shoots of Promise - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough England - The Green Shoots of Promise - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

England – The Green Shoots of Promise

Suffice to say that following England’s catastrophic demise in last year’s World Cup, any hope that any England side would win a major tournament anytime soon, all but disappeared.

Before the tournament, despite successfully qualifying by scoring more goals than any other side in the whole European qualification process, optimism hadn’t reached fever pitch like previous tournaments.

But despite the slightly reserved nature of the excitement no-one could have been prepared for what transpired in South Africa. This demise led many to ask – if they hadn’t already – why do England fail at major tournaments and why do they seem to be so far behind other passionate footballing nations, such as Spain and Germany.

Fingers were pointed to the ream of German players that had been promoted from the side that played England in the European Under-21 Championship final just a year earlier and made such an impression on the biggest stage in world football.

Four players: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil, who played in the side that beat England 4-0 in the final of the European Under-21 Championship, also beat England 4-1 in Bloemfontein, twelve months later. By comparison only one England player made the same elevation: James Milner.

Confidence in the English game had already hit an all-time low after Steve McLaren’s disastrous tenure in-charge. And now after Stuart Pearce’s fruitless attempt with the Under-21s in Denmark, it would appear English football was once again in complete turmoil, or so we’re led to believe.

For a long time there have been many accusations levelled at English football regarding their ability to not only coach their own world class players but also produce their own world class coaches.

It is true that compared to the aforementioned countries, England have vastly lower numbers of qualified coaches. This does seem to suggest that England is severely hampered in their attempts to reconstruct the class, and success, of 66’.

Journalists, fans and almost everyone involved in football seem to be obsessed with ‘winning’ tournaments, with the equation being, winning youth football tournaments equals a winning full international side.

The reality is that very few of the players who play at these youth tournaments make the grade at full international level. It is correct that the best or ‘Golden’ player roster at both the European Under-21 tournament and the highly prestigious FIFA Under-20 tournament is full of star names from the past and present.

In the FIFA Under-20 tournament a certain Diego Armando Maradona won the best player award in 1979, and as if fated to do so, Lionel Andrés Messi won the same award in 2005. Other names to win the same award were the classy Croatian, Robert Prosinecki and more recently two more Argentinians in Javier Saviola (2001) and Manchester City bound Sergio Aguero (2007).

As for the UEFA Under-21 tournament, a whole host of world class players have won what’s called the Golden Player award. Rudi Voller, Laurent Blanc, Davor Suker, Luis Figo, Fabio Cannavaro, Andres Pirlo and Petr Cech have all won this prestigious award.

But if you look deeper at the squads that have taken part in both tournaments, they aren’t exactly littered with household names. Plus, there is no real correlation between success in youth football and then success at national level.

You could point to the Spanish and Italian teams that won youth tournaments in the late 90s and early 00s and then went on to win tournaments at senior level, but you can also point to Germany who, prior to their 2009 win in the Under-21 tournament, have only ever won one youth tournament, and that was way back in 1981 in the FIFA Under-20 tournament.

The idea shouldn’t be to win these tournaments, but to continually produce three or four exceptional talents every age group. Which international team has eleven players that are from the same age group? The answer is none. The best teams constantly produce players of high quality and then successfully integrate them into the international set-up.

As far as England is concerned, they have failed to produce quality replacements or even challenges to the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Cole, Gerrard, Beckham, Lampard and Owen – the so-called Golden Generation – for many years now. However, despite all the signs tending to suggest a very daunting future for English football there are green shoots of promise.

Just before England kicked off their World Cup campaign in South Africa, the Under-17 side beat Spain, of all nations, 3-2 in the final of the European Championships.

Before that, England also reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-21 tournament in 2007, before being beaten 13-12 in an epic penalty shootout against Holland. They went one better in 2009, but an under strength side were trashed 4-0 by Germany.

Unfortunately the recent performances of Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s side in the European Under-21 Championships seemed to have turned any short-lived national buoyancy into the same old cynicism.

But a strange thing has happened this summer with both Liverpool and Manchester United already spending big money strengthening their squads in preparation for the new season.

Ordinarily this wasn’t anything too unusual, but what was strange about the signings was that the clubs didn’t sign an Eastern European starlet or some unknown African sensation. They signed young English talent.

Liverpool spent £20m on both the energetic midfielder Jordan Henderson and England winger Stuart Downing, whilst United forked out £16m for the very promising Phil Jones, and then £20m England winger Ashley Young.

Add to that the signing of Andy Carroll to Liverpool in January, and the money Manchester City previously have spent on James Milner and Adam Johnson. If you then throw in the precocious talents of Jack Wilshere and Josh McEachran and the potential striking options in Daniel Sturridge and Connor Wickham and the future doesn’t seem so bleak.

There is no doubt England need to improve but will it ever get any worse than what transpired in South Africa? The green shoots of promise are there and you don’t have to look too hard to find them.

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