England miserably limped out of yet another tournament, this time it’s the U21s. There are some deep issues to address with English football and the development of our players. But there is another issue, which bothered me slightly regarding the squad selection by Stuart Pearce.
At the start of the season that has just ended, the reserve league was replaced by the new Barclay’s U21 Premier League, designed for a more suited and competitive development of players who are not able to get in their first teams.
Manchester United won the competition and quite impressively. Their squad featured 15 players who are eligible to play for England. Yet, not one was called up by Stuart Pearce for the U21 European Championships this summer. The immediate argument I would expect in support of Pearce is that these players are not playing for clubs at a higher enough level. So by saying that, you have to rule out the talented players of better clubs, because they tend to have the task of breaking through into a very tough first team — despite impressing at a still decent level and showing signs of the technical ability that frequently gets discussed.
From the skillful, dangerous and reliable Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole to the more dominant and professional Tom Thorpe, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Michael Keane, there were plenty of players that showed they had truly strong abilities this season for United, who came out as champions of the tournament designed by The FA to find the best young players. I’d like to know the reason why some of them, not all, were ignored by Pearce.
I struggle to see that perhaps more average Championship players are a better option. Anyone who has watched United’s U21 side this season will tell you that they could well have added that extra edge that was missing, in a fairly uninspiring defeat to Norway. A lot of these United players are being selected at lower levels, but I feel like they were just ignored because they’re not playing in a first team, which mostly comes down to the big club they are at.
However, maybe the case is that the U21 League is simply not good enough and therefore still slightly pointless despite being reformatted recently. This all really puts question marks behind the English game once again and what is being done to help young English players. The highly foreign populated Premier League leads to a tougher task of breaking through into first teams and the U21’s end up playing in a system which is maybe not even valued by the association which created it. These United players and even players from other U21 squads might not be anything sensational, but if Pearce is understandably arguing about the poor talent available, then maybe we should make the most of what we have and delve deeper than just a Championship first team-er.