The UEFA U-21 Tournament currently taking place in Israel has been a good watch for all fútbol (soccer) fans who have been able to watch some games, if not all. There has been some quality play, some entertaining games, and some players to keep an eye on heading forward.
What the tournament has also produced is another disappointing and meek elimination for an England team. A 3-1 loss on Saturday to Norway ensured a loss in the first two games of group play. After the game, I noted on my twitter feed how the game said a lot about the current set-up of English national teams.
Yet, after having watched Italy easily beat Israel 4-0 in the other game of the day, I had an epiphany. What hit me was that everything currently wrong with England, is only exaggerated and highlighted by how Italy has done so far in the tournament.
The first deficiency that came to mind is coaching. In Italy coach Devis Mangia, I see a man who recognized a tactical flaw and corrected it, while England coach Stuart Pearce failed to do such a thing. After their 1-0 win over England, Mangia saw that forward Manolo Gabbiandi played much better and was more of a threat than Fabio Borini while deciding compensating for the loss of Luca Marrone by inserting Alessandro Florenzi to play and support Marco Verratti in the midfield.
In came Gabbiandi and Florenzi into the starting eleven for the Azzurrini to play against Israel, and the result was an Italy team that had more bite in attack and did a better job of converting scoring chances. Pearce on the other hand, while making changes to his starting eleven from the loss to Italy, failed to properly address or change the issue of the opposition being able to easily create scoring chances when reaching the final third.
Another England deficiency highlighted by Italy’s play so far in this tournament is that of overall squad talent and depth. Italy has a number of players who you as a fan could easily see playing for the Italian senior national team at the World Cup next summer.
A player like Verratti, who has already played for the senior team will be at the World Cup next summer, presuming he is in form and healthy while he could be joined by Florenzi and Lorenzo Insigne in Brazil. That’s not counting at least five other players who will be senior national team players in a few years. For England, goalkeeper Jack Butland and winger Wilfried Zaha are the only ones I can see with any future at the senior level.
Italy’s success so far at the tournament also highlights the deficiencies in properly developing young players to excel for club and country. Watching the games and looking at the players that played for both teams on Saturday, I got the feeling that while many English clubs are failing to properly teach their youth players how to play with certain skill and tactical sense needed at the top level; Italian clubs are far ahead in this area.
Additionally, while Italy U-21 has a squad of players who are either being serviceable to important contributors for their Serie A or B clubs and playing on a regular basis, England U-21 players as a whole are not able to get a chance to do so. While a Connor Wickham only played sparingly for Sunderland, a team who battled relegation, Gabbiandi was playing regularly for mid table Bologna.
To think that a talent like Insigne would have probably been told off from trying to be a soccer player, much less a world class talent at that, because of his build, highlights how and why Italy and it’s play so far in the UEFA U-21 Tournament highlights the deficiencies that England has had in the tournament and in general.