Category Archives: Up in the stands

Pearce not qualified for senior job after dismal campaign

In the aftermath of England’s defeat to the Czech Republic in the Under 21 European Championship on Sunday night, the FA were quick to state that Stuart Pearce would remain in charge of the team at that level and that the offer of a two year extension, which was offered back in March, would not be withdrawn. Fans have a right to be sceptical over this decision as England were very poor in Denmark, but it is pleasing that this move will have all but ruled Pearce out of the running to be Fabio Capello’s successor when the Italians’ contract expires next summer.

While it would be naïve to lay all of the blame at the door of Stuart Pearce, there is no escaping the fact that his poor team selection and tactics had denied the opportunities of a side arguably better than the one he led to the final two years ago. They possessed two central defenders worth a combined £27 million pounds, a central midfielder who had just transferred for £20 million pounds and another who was being linked with moves to Manchester City and Chelsea for a fee of £30 Million. Daniel Sturridge was an in-form striker having struck eight goals in twelve matches in his loan spell at Bolton, while Scott Sinclair was coming off the back of a blistering play-off success in which he scored a hat-trick. Exciting players indeed, but only a few emerged with any real credit after three underwhelming team performances.

 Statistics reveal the story that England were the side who hit the most long balls, reaching a figure of sixty in their three group matches. It would be tempting to liken this showing to that of the full side’s catastrophe in South Africa last year, where the consensus was that we do not feel comfortable with the ball on the floor as other National teams such as Germany and Spain, who both had successful tournaments. The under 21s lacked cohesion and gave it away often in what is a familiar tale, but to go down the route of labelling this team as technically flawed and questioning coaching techniques at youth level, as the knee-jerk reaction from tournament failure suggests we do, would be an argument as dangerous as it would be convenient.

That the team had a tendency to go long should not be an accusation that Pearce only had long ball players at his disposal. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were both excellent in possession and their distribution from the back was mostly to feet. Jones especially looked technically sound and looks to be the most all-round centre-back England have produced for a while. Rio Ferdinand did a great job of bringing the ball forward in his younger days until this was negated by Sir Alex Ferguson. He must not do the same to Jones, who will be a vital commodity in this role as he can also play in defensive midfield. On the sides, Ryan Bertrand and Kyle Walker were confident and energetic; the latter continued an exceptional season by terrorising Spain and impressing against the Ukraine. At the back, there seems to be no problem and the tradition of producing solid defenders in this country is continuing, it is further forward where England’s troubles in this tournament stemmed.

It was in midfield where Pearce’s deficiencies in selection were to be found. That he persisted with Michael Mancienne for the second game after such a poor performance in the first was a huge error and it was not until Fabrice Muamba was introduced in the third match that Jordan Henderson looked comfortable crossing the half-way line, but by then he looked tired from a long season and the pressure of the big money move to Liverpool. In near blissful ignorance, Pearce gave him three starts despite clearly being in the grasp of fatigue. Errors of judgement such as this cannot be afforded in tournaments where the margin for error is very thin. Jack Rodwell, arguably the best passer in the squad, inexplicably only started one game, while Marc Albrighton and Henri Lansbury, two highly gifted midfielders, started none. Danny Rose, so clearly out of his depth, lasted two games before making way for Scott Sinclair. Decisions like this were indicative of Pearce’s ineptitude and England faced an early exit because of it. They were stripped of a vital asset in Jack Wilshere admittedly, but the FA had made that decision and Pearce could not deal with it.

The match with the Ukraine, which was England’s best chance to gain points, Pearce fielded a lop-sided four man midfield with three central midfielders. Daniel Sturridge drifted out to the right and England fell deeper and deeper until there was a huge chasm between the midfield and Danny Welbeck, who furrowed a lone cause. Hence why we struggled to a goal-less draw and hence why we achieved the most attempts at the long ball. Not only were tactics inadequate, but there have to be questions over mentality too. Before the tournament, Pearce spoke of work-rate, a fight to win and the pace and power of the team. It was like he wanted to participate in this tournament in order to win it at any cost, which is not what youth level football should be about. They came to Denmark to develop against the best in Europe, but it is hard to say they achieved that. When these players make the transition to senior level, you cannot imagine them taking to tournament football immediately as a result of this. One may look at the Germany side that won Sweden’s tournament in 2009 and provided the majority of the full squad that managed to reach the semi-finals in South Africa. They were fully ingrained in tournament success and matured very quickly to the demands of international football. This batch of England players cannot say the same.

Pearce will continue in this job for two more years, over-seeing the qualifying process for the next tournament in Israel in 2013 which begins in August, around the same time as the senior squad, of which Pearce is a part of the coaching staff, enter the final stretch of their campaign to qualify for Euro 2012. Capello will begin his last acts as manager, and it may be that the passionate former left-back that sits alongside him on the bench may have already failed his audition to be his successor.