Our current national team – following in the footsteps of the “golden generation” – is frankly underwhelming. I write this while half-watching England struggle to break down Lithuania, who are ranked 120th in the world. Thursday night’s match against Slovenia was boring too, injury time winner aside.
Gareth Southgate has been vocal in the last few days about the lack of options available to him. He has even publicly criticised the form of a number of the squad, saying that some of his players do not deserve to be there. Whilst he is right, they don’t deserve to be there, the message this gives the senior squad players is that there is no competition for places in the national team.
The cause of this situation is well documented; youth products are not being given a chance at their Premier League clubs. The reason is that Managers’ jobs are under constant scrutiny, and they are never more than a few defeats away from speculation about their future. With this sort of pressure, understandably their preference is to field a team of experienced internationals rather than including a wildcard youth team member.
How can Southgate influence this? Simple. Lead by example, and pick players who have excelled at recent youth tournaments for full national team call-ups. England has enjoyed great success at various youth levels over the last year, so if the national team is run in the manner we would like our Premier League clubs to be run, some of these players should be given game time at senior level. Having qualified for the World Cup as group winners, the next two fixtures against Brazil and Germany are the perfect time to experiment.
The positives of this approach vastly outweigh negatives. The two key positives are as follows:
– Opportunities for youth players limit the spaces for senior team members who take their positions for granted. This will increase competition among the senior players, which, you would presume, result in improved performances for club and country as they desperately fight for their ticket to the World Cup back.
– Players promoted from the youth ranks will be given an opportunity that they haven’t been given at club level. They will have the chance to perform at senior level. They will be eager to seize their chance in the limelight. If they prove they can do it for England, they will get a chance in the Premier League. Who knows, they might even do enough to go to the World Cup.
The talent is there, they just need the opportunity to prove themselves.