The England national team: failure to launch

Another anti-climax in a major international tournament for the Three Lions leaves a poignant reminder that we need to inspire creativity in our homegrown players to succeed on the national scene. Or does it?

 There has been a flood of insights into why the England U-21’s are failing to produce displays to match their European counterparts, with most concluding on the notion that there is not enough creativity in the teams play. Glenn Hoddle has been the most vocal about the state of the national game, slamming the decision making in attacking positions. 

We started in the right way and there were players with the ability to keep hold of the ball. But it was all about the last third.

It doesn’t matter what level you’re playing at, that’s where you make the difference and England just didn’t have that cutting edge. Norway had less chances but they got the ball in the back of net.

That’s the disappointing side. The football was better in the first period and I liked what I was seeing. We just weren’t clinical in finishing and we are struggling right now, there’s no doubt about that.

He continued to state that this is the cause of England’s downfall at senior level and needs to be addressed through out the national levels.

There’s a much bigger picture to this on how we change it and that goes through the younger age groups and up to the Under-21s.”

Hoddle is correct in his observations, creativity has been greatly lacking in the English side since Paul Scholes’ premature retirement after Euro 2004. Replacements have come and gone, but none have filled the boots of a man they call ‘Sat-Nav’ on the training ground. However, this is not the fundamental problem in the England camp, yet is often used as a censor for the real problem infecting the hopes of the national game.

A week before the U-21 European Championship kicked off, Roy Hodgson named his senior squad for the upcoming international friendlies against Republic of Ireland and Brazil. Among the regular names were youngsters Danny Welbeck, Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Jack Rodwell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, all of whom were eligible to feature in the U-21 tournament. Here is a look at a team that would have been eligible to play against Italy, Norway and Israel:

Jack Butland, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Steven Caulker, Jack Rodwell, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Tom Ince, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck.

I doubt I am on my own in thinking that this team would struggle to beat Norway and Israel, and create a fantastic tie against the Italians. So what, or who, stopped Stuart Pearce picking these players? There have been arguments saying that fatigue has set in and the clubs that own them will have requested that they do not compete in the tournament based in Israel. However, considering the adverse effect this could have on club-country relations, it is highly unlikely. There is a bigger chance that Hodgson and The FA feel that the players would benefit from training with the senior squad rather than gaining invaluable tournament experience against players they will be featuring against for years to come.

Former England manager, Graham Taylor, believes that a selection crisis in the national set-up has affected the chances of winning silverware for years.

People might say the senior side is more important, but we need players who have experienced tournament football. That’s where England have not produced over the years when they come to play in tournaments.”

Taylor continued by mentioning how the Premier League has had a negative affect on the England team. 

We’ve all seen this coming“, Taylor said. “Change was needed when the Premier League was formed in the early 1990s and you could say that the Premier League has been one of the major commercial successes of Europe. It’s a fantastic league but it has been at the expense of English players.

We get the tremendous amount of money that has now come into football and it means the top four or five clubs are looking for the best players, not in England, but in the world. I think it’s something that shouldn’t surprise us but it doesn’t make selection for the national side easy at all, especially when you have the run of injuries that Roy’s had.

When you compare England’s position to that of their rivals, there is an obvious difference: the best eligible players always play. Last time it was Juan Mata turning up for Spain to lead them to glory, this year there are even more household names in the squads. Italy have Insigne, Veratti and Destro; Spain have Thiago Alcantara, Isco, De Gea and Muniain to name a few. It won’t be a surprise to see either of these two nations have a victorious campaign and continue to have successful senior teams.

Not only must we see a change in the technical development of our future stars, we have to see a mental development. Time and time again England have seen players turn up unprepared compared to their peers and it has seen them final to reach a major final since their victorious World Cup campaign in 1966. The Premier League, players, management and The FA need to work together in order to save the national side, otherwise it could see England slip down the rankings and into international obscurity.