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England’s decline from youth level

Trong Nhan Doan writes about England’s decline at the international level, and hypothesizes the cause of this decline, linking it with a decline in playing time earned by young players.

Gareth Southgate elected to field Jake Livermore and Eric Dier in the friendly against Germany, which was probably the weakest midfield partnership in England’s recent history.

Other than the duo, Southgate didn’t have much choice. James Milner converted to a left-back earlier this season. Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph have fallen in the pecking order. Jordan Henderson is recovering from his foot injury. Tom Cleverley, Jonjo Shelvey, Lee Cattermole, and Jack Cork expose the lack of depth in the national pool selection, which explains the team’s poor results in recent competitions.

England has been far from impressive in the last decade. The Three Lions have reached the quarterfinal only once in the last five international competitions. The lowest point was their elimination from UEFA Euro 2016, losing 1-2 to the underdogs, Iceland in the round of 16.

Ironically, the Young Lions have been improving in the youth competitions. England Under-19 finished in the top three four times out of the last seven UEFA competitions, while the short-staffed Under-21 has qualified for the final tournament in the last six editions.

In terms of consistency, England is the No.4 country in the youth competitions, behind France, Germany, and Spain. However, while those three nations have reached finals in the senior competitions as well, the Three Lions are struggling to make even the final four for the first time since 1990.

Youth tournaments serve as a breaking ground for a lot of promising players, which the national team can inherit from a promising young generation. Paul Pogba, Samuel Umtiti, who won the 2013 FIFA Under 20 Championship, played in the final of the recent Euro. Meanwhile, Germany won the 2009 UEFA Under 21 Championship with the core composed of Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels.

English young stars might be overhyped and overpriced, but it can’t be denied they have the calibre since they are enjoying the best training facilities in Europe. The problem lies with the team, which is not providing enough playing time for their youngsters.

According to The Telegraph, English players only played 31 percent of total minutes in the Premier League last season, the fewest in the top five European league competitions. Of those 18 English players who made the semi-final round of 2016 UEFA Under-19 tournament, only Ademola Lookman has made it to his senior club squad.

On the other hand, only four out of 18 players from the France’s winning squad have made less than 10 appearances for their respective senior teams. Kylian Mbappe, Issa Diop, Ousmane Dembele, Allan Saint-Maximin and Alban Lafont are on the standby list for South Korea this summer, while Izzy Brown, Dominic Solanke, Ashley Maitland-Niles are playing on loan for some low-key clubs.

English players are deprived of the opportunity. Big clubs are spending millions to land the biggest stars possible in the transfer market, who in turn are taking playing time away from the wonderkids. 12 out of 18 young players that represented England last summer are employed by the top seven clubs in Premier League, whose coaches are unwilling to field the youngsters to comply with the immediate success pressure from the chairman.

While it is somewhat understandable to see the limited opportunities given to youngsters in big clubs, the situation isn’t better in the mid table teams. The likes of Sunderland and Swansea have been shopping actively in the recent transfer windows thanks to the vast increase in television money. In addition, the potential financial hit from relegation because of the Football League Championship Financial Fair Play urges them to upgrade their squads.

England came to Germany in 2006 with the finest squad in the recent history. Of those 23 players, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Wayne Bridge, Michael Carrick, Stewart Downing, Peter Crouch and Theo Walcott had established their credentials at West Ham, Middlesbrough or Southampton.

The current generation doesn’t have the same luxury as their predecessors. As mentioned before, teams entering the season looking to survive for another day are spending a chunk of money to bolster their squad. Players like Fernando Llorente, Jordie Clasie, Gylfi Sigurdsson have the calibre to be employed by Europa League-bound teams rather than saving their teams from the relegation. The youngsters, as a result, are overlooked from the depth chart.

The rest of Europe, barring elite clubs such as Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris St. Germain, doesn’t have the luxury to compete in the transfer market. Focusing on young players’ development and selling them at the right time is how they manage their budgets. In return, the players have a proving ground to showcase their talent.

Young players need playing time to develop in both physically and tactically. Ligue 1 and Bundesliga are the two top five league that provide the most playing time for domestic players. As a result, France and Germany are the top two teams in Europe at the moment.

Netherlands is showing a similar setback from the expired training regime. The same applies to Portugal, where fewer players are on the scouting radar. English players, like I said, enjoy the most luxurious training facilities. They have the potential, but they don’t have minutes they desperately need.

Trong Nhan Doan

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