Arsenal star Oxlade-Chamberlain at centre of England Under-21 row
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has placed himself at the heart of an ongoing club versus country debate, which began after former England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce criticised the policy of not involving eligible senior internationals in youth tournaments.
Premier League managers such as Brendan Rodgers, discussing the recent furore over Raheem Sterling’s fatigue-induced absence from the England starting line-up, have been calling for increased co-operation with national teams and protection for players.
So the discussion over whether young starlets should be expected to turn out for both senior and youth teams has exacerbated the situation, and shed light on just how much power domestic clubs wield in relation to international call-ups.
Current Nottingham Forest boss Pearce said: “If you want a successful international side, you’re going to have to make sure your best players go to tournaments, which I’ve said time and time again.
“There will be a concern at football clubs, with football managers and the interest of club supporters definitely, but it’s where you see the trade-off.”
It appears Arsenal attacker Oxlade-Chamberlain shares this sentiment. The exciting forward excelled at Under-21 level, netting four times in eight appearances for the Young Lions and could still turn out for his nation at next summer’s tournament.
The 21-year-old recently weighed in on the issue, stating: “You’d never turn your nose up at something like that…When that time comes around I’ll have to think about it.”
These comments may not please Arsenal tactician Arsene Wenger, who believes ‘demoting’ players who have tasted senior caps could be damaging.
Speaking recently, Wenger claimed: “Once a guy has moved up to the full national team, you put him down [again to the Under-21] he is never good.
“Apart from on the selfish front for us when a guy has played 50 games, it is better a guy has a good rest during the summer. But most of the time, when they move down, they are not completely at their quality.”
Wenger’s words echo similar sentiments spoken by Everton boss Roberto Martinez, who may be worried that the somewhat injury-prone Toffees talisman Ross Barkley could also be expected to link up with Gareth Southgate’s side.
The case for top-drawer talents representing youth teams despite already being involved in with the senior squad can draw inspiration from the likes of Spain. La Roja have lifted two European Championships one World Cup over recent years, and their success can easily be traced back to the serious approach applied to youth tournaments.
La Rojita, despite failing to qualify for next summer’s competition, have won the previous two Under-21 European Championships, reflecting the national team’s glory.
Players such as David de Gea, Isco and Iker Muniain, have, or still do, turn out regularly for their Under-21 team, despite playing first-team football at some of Europe’s elite clubs.
Whilst Spain’s senior side has more than enough quality to cope without talents such as Isco, England, in fairness, are undergoing a difficult transition, as they look to blood younger players into the starting XI.
Surely competitive experience and a chance to win silverware would be more beneficial for the development of the Three Lions’ future hopes, though, rather than a run-out from the bench in a dead rubber encounter or prestige friendly.
The argument that it would stifle the development of others in the set-up does not compute. Increased competition for international places is always a source of motivation, and, quite simply, those who are good enough will play.
Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling and even Jack Wilshere are just some of the names that could conceivably be eligible to take part in the upcoming Under-21’s European Championship, but it remains unlikely that many of them will be present in the Czech Republic.
It is certainly a shame that England (14/1 to win Euro 2016) cannot negotiate a compromise and put the cream of their young crop on display, and give the young internationals a taste of top competition without all the trappings and pressures that arrive with a first team Three Lions shirt.