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Should the FA have taken a stronger U-21 Side to the Euros?

September 08, 2015

- Grant Whittington

When England travelled to the recent U-21 tournament in the Czech Republic, there was genuine belief that the team could return victorious. With £40 million striker Harry Kane leading the line and talented players such as Norwich City’s Nathan Redmond also joining the fold, England appeared to be in an exceptionally strong position to challenge. ‘s

This optimism survived the absence of several of the nation’s most talented youngsters, including Everton’s Ross Barkley, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Manchester United full-back Luke Shaw. Having played regularly with the first team and experienced respective injuries, these players were not compelled to join and add their considerable quality to drive England’s victory bid.

Were the Absent Players Crucial in England’s failure?

Ultimately, England performed woefully during their three group stage games and were eliminated at the first opportunity. After losing a tense opener to eventual finalists Portugal, they beat winners Sweden before losing 3-1 to an unheralded Italian side in a disappointing finale. Once their tournament was complete, there was sudden and harsh criticism reserved for the absent players, who were cited by many as contributing factors to England’s ultimate failure.

This criticism seems cherish, as England’s failure simply replicated the struggles that the first team has when competing in international tournaments. More specifically, Gareth Southgate’s side simply looked to be devoid of the required technical ability, as while they held possession comfortably they failed to do so at pace and looked uncomfortable when trying to initiate a high-tempo style of play. Similarly, the side lacked fluidity and tactical awareness, meaning that they often could not cope with the subtle variations utilised by their opponents (particularly Portugal and Italy).

Would a Greater Squad have Empowered England?

These underlying issues are central to the English game as a whole, and it should come as no surprise that our national teams struggle to compete at elite tournament level. While the presence of stellar, match-winning talent such as Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere would certainly have added individual quality and potentially altered the course of key moments in games, their presence alone could not account for the gulf in class that exists between the British game and its European rivals.

Instead they would have operated as individual components within a rigid and once-paced team dynamic, and it is this that needs to evolve if any England football team is to flourish on the international stage.

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