The England national team is often overrated, overhyped and overpaid. However, this summer’s under-21 European Championship was supposed to be the one were England’s young Lions actually lived-up to the hype.
Gareth Southgate’s team were beaten 3-1 by the Azzurrini’s of Italy and exited the competition on Wednesday night.
They will go down as yet another England team that failed at international level, as they finished bottom of their group.
There was cause for optimism at the start of the campaign, as the likes of John Stones, Harry Kane, Saido Berahino and Danny Ings were named in a supposedly strong squad. Maybe that optimism was driven by pure blind faith that one day an England team will win an international tournament.
England was considered one of the favourites to win the tournament and not just by Fleet Street either. Their exit was slightly surprising, but through experience of following the England team you start to expect disappointment at international level.
Not to excuse the exit from the competition, but the junior lions did encounter misfortunate before the tournament had even started, as West Brom star Saido Berahino pulled out of the squad through injury. The Baggies striker was expected to be one of England’s key players at the tournament.
Southgate’s team then lost highly-rated Everton centre-back John Stones for the first two games of the tournament after he sustained concussion in training. Not the best preparation for the tournament ahead losing two of your best players.
England had a chance to field a much stronger squad in this tournament, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Jack Wilshere still eligible to feature.
Instead the midfielders that were selected were the likes of Jake Forster-Caskey, Nathaniel Chalobah and Jesse Lingard, who have collected most their appearances in the Championship.
An England midfield of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley, Wilshere and Sterling would no doubt have posed a far bigger threat to opposition in the Czech Republic. That midfield four would have given England a psychological advantage before the games even kicked-off, as it would have contained England’s brightest youngsters, which is surely what these tournaments are about?
However, it seemed that clubs won the battle between club vs. country and the quartet was given a rest instead of participating in the Euro’s. For me England missed a golden opportunity to make a big impact at the tournament by not picking these full internationals.
The England players who did appear against Italy lacked experience of top level club football. Only four out of the 11 who started for England against the Azzurrini were regulars for a Premier League club last season. In comparison ten out of Italy’s starting line-up played in Serie A on relatively regular basis last season.
The experience of playing in the top-flight of England or Italy is sure to make players stronger, both mentality and physically.
For me Southampton’s highly-rated midfielder James Ward-Prowse was underused. He did experience regular first team football with the Saints last season, but for some reason the 20-year-old was not used at all in the Italy game.
Young Chelsea star Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another player that may have seen more action. He came on as a substitute against Sweden and again against Italy. The 19-year-old looks to have a bright future, if he is nurtured in the right fashion.
For me England never take underage tournaments seriously and that is why the Three Lions are never successful at major international tournaments. Southgate and co. talked a good game prior to the campaign, but the admission of the likes of Barkley and Sterling was always going to harm the team’s chances of being successful at the Euros.
Some would say that neither have enjoyed a stellar campaign and are probably tired, but both are players who can make things happen. Some would also argue that neither played a part in the run-up to the tournament, so would have been outsiders. They still would add experience and quality to the team, which in the end England lacked.
Until England start taking these sorts of competitions seriously and not tying the under-21 managers hands behind his back, England will never be successful at a major tournament.
Did England under-21’s underachieve at the European Championships?