There have been a lot of questions about whether the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Harry Kane should play for the England under-21 team at this summer’s European Championship.
It seems to me it makes sense for Gareth Southgate to field a strong team in France.
Whether he will be able to field a strong team is unlikely to be in his hands and a number of England’s top young players are set for a rest this summer.
England have not won a trophy at senior level since winning the World Cup in 1966, but their under-21 side did get to the final of the European Championships in 2009.
The Three Lions cubs were beaten by Germany with a number of the players from their team going on to win the World Cup last year in Brazil. In fact six of Germany’s starting line-up that day where in the Die Mannschaft squad who claimed victory in Brazil.
It seems that success breeds success. The likes of Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Manuel Neuer all have gone on to have very successful careers at both club level and in international football.
All three were key players in Germany’s 2009 under-21 success and are now key members of the full national side.
Liverpool forward Sterling has established himself in the full England team in the last year and Southgate looks like he has accepted that the youngster will not be part of his squad for this summer’s tournament.
To be fair Sterling has not enjoyed the greatest season and at 20 is still learning the game. There have been concerns about his physical condition and he has even asked to be left out of games because of tiredness.
Barkley is another young English player who has not enjoyed a particularly great season at club level. He has been in and out of the Everton team and injury hampered the start of his campaign. Everton boss Roberto Martinez has called for the midfielder to be given a proper rest this summer.
Just like Sterling, the 21-year-old was part of the England squad that endured a miserable World Cup in 2014, so has not had a break from football for a while.
These players are young athletes and should be in peak physical condition. They should be chomping at the bit to play in such tournaments and potentially collect medals.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane has played 43 games this season, but seems keen on playing at this summer’s Euro’s. It is doubtful that his club Tottenham will be so keen on their prize asset appearing in France though.
There will be a number of players that have made international appearances for the senior side in that under-21 squad though, with the likes of Luke Shaw, John Stones and Calum Chambers all likely to figure for Gareth Southgate’s side.
In the last few seasons all three of those have impressed to a certain degree at club level. Shaw and Chambers have been in and out of the Manchester United and Arsenal first teams respectively this season.
Stones has established himself as a key member of the Everton defence, despite being just 20 years of age. The former-Barnsley youngster has endured a few injury problems this season, but when he has played for the Toffees they have looked far more assured in defence.
He looks to have a bright future and came close to the England squad for last summer’s World Cup, but eventually missed out on the 23-man squad.
If England fielded the strongest players that are eligible for the under-21’s in France, then they would have one of the strongest groups of players in the competition. In fact if Kane, Barkley and Sterling were included in the squad then they would probably been regarded as favourites to win the competition.
Top class players learn and develop through taking part in tournaments like this one. Young players do not suddenly become top level players without experiencing what football has to offer.
This summer’s under-21 European Championship could have been a valuable learning curve for the likes of Barkley and Sterling, whether they are tired or not.
Germany are not world champions by accident. They tore-up a plan that was not working anymore and started again from grassroots level. Junior and underage competitions were then taken seriously.
Die Mannschaft are now reaping the rewards of that hard work behind the scenes. However I do not think that it is coincidence that Germany won the under-21 European Championship in 2009.
That victory has helped those young players involved develop a winning mentality at international level and forged a belief deep inside of them.
The England national team could take a lot of lessons from Germany and take junior competitions seriously, because at the moment England are set to continue as perennial underachievers on the international stage.
Should England field their strongest line-up at under-21 European Championships?