England enduring prolonged period of disappointment at all levels
England’s previously promising Under-21 side arrived in the Czech Republic for the European Championship with plenty of early expectation and apparent ambition, despite leaving many more experienced eligible internationals at home, but were haplessly sent crashing out in the group stages.
Another Three Lions failure, though one that actually came as a shock to some, is the latest lacklustre display at prestigious international tournaments, which has become a common theme within both the youth and senior set-up (12/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016).
Last summer, Roy Hodgson’s England were sent home early at the group stage after another faltering outing, this time on Brazilian soil, and that underwhelming failure managed to creep into the younger generation, as they recently followed suit, exiting in the group for a third successive championship.
A final appearance for the Under-21s in 2009 was as close as they have got to European victory since back-to-back wins in 1982 and 1984, which seem like a lifetime ago, though those squads weren’t only a hallmark of youth success but a bleak reminder that trouble has been stirring for a long period.
Players within the 1984 set-up went on to earn a total of 93 senior caps, 56 coming from Mark Hateley and Steve Hodge alone, and two years later Gary Stevens joined this pair in Bobby Robson’s 23-man squad which travelled to Mexico for the World Cup, proving even young success is no guarantee of Three Lions prominence.
A current major problem, evidently highlighted by former Tottenham and QPR boss Harry Redknapp, is the lack of regular exposure England’s current crop of youngsters gain in the Premier League, with the experienced coach claiming players have an appalling attitude.
“Half of them play in the Championship, half can’t get a game. The centre half, one of them can’t get into Leicester’s team. These guys need to play,” he said.
Leicester City’s Liam Moore started in both Under-21 clashes with Sweden and Portugal, yet only made 14 appearances for the Foxes in the whole of last season in a relegation-battling campaign.
“They don’t work hard enough. They’re first off the training pitch. They should be out there,” continued Redknapp.
“Even if they’re only doing simple passing or shooting or dribbling. But they don’t do it. They walk off, thinking, ‘I’ve got a three or four-year contract, I’ve made it’.”
Despite seemingly wanting to do well for their country, many of England’s young starlets were victim of a possible lack of ambition within the camp, compared to other nations.
Instead of bringing the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw and Jack Wilshere to stand a clear chance of victory, Southgate opted to leave these regular first-team top-flight prospects at home. He instead used this Under-21 European Championship as a learning experience out of loyalty to those players that got them there rather than genuinely challenging for potential silverware.
Such an evident lack of actual international ambition was highlighted by Southgate’s bizarre comments after his side were knocked out by Italy.
“I think we’ve had some massive success stories in terms of individuals that have come through the programme,” he claimed.
The Under-21s lost their opening game to Portugal, before narrowly toppling Sweden and eventually succumbing to Italy’s more clinical edge.
However, even more worryingly, England may have to realise the harsh truth that they simply aren’t good enough to compete for silverware, because of a lack of young stars being given the platform to perform at the highest level in their own country, despite such a constant thread of expectation.
In spite of a continued flow of poor results for both senior and youth teams, England do have some cause for optimism, with several of the youngsters set to feature quite heavily under Hodgson in the coming months.
Under-21 skipper and goalkeeper Jack Butland has earned a place in the Three Lions squad, and is the long-term successor to Joe Hart, while Everton’s John Stones and Spurs striker Harry Kane are surely going to become key cogs in the Hodgson senior machine for next summer in France.
Norwich City attacker Nathan Redmond could also have a say, having struck in the defeat to Italy and also helped his club secure top-flight promotion with a Championship final strike last season. He will have to kick on and prove consistent to earn senior squad recognition.
England have rampantly rallied to the top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group, albeit against extremely underwhelming opposition, but another high-profile failure will only shine the spotlight further on the country’s absence of success on so many fronts (20/1 to win 2018 World Cup).