When England’s U21s kick off their European Championship campaign today against Spain in Herning, Fabio Capello will no doubt be looking with a keen eye at some of the young stars around which the next generation of the England team will take shape. Although there will be some notable absentees from the squad including £35millon Liverpool forward Andy Carroll and the immense Jack Wilshere, the squad will go brimming with confidence that amongst their ranks they posses some players of genuine quality and huge potential and should reasonably expect to match or even better the class of 2009.
Amongst the most promising talents on show will be young full-back Kyle Walker who has already made his mark on the Premier League this season, as has Daniel Sturridge who has been immense for Bolton in the last couple of months and Marc Albrighton who has been a revelation for Villa.
There are a lot of players within the U21 fold who have been in and around the senior side in recent seasons including a number of players who have already been capped at senior level; like new Liverpool man Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and recent U21 caps Micah Richards, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs. A lot has been said about the dearth of top quality young English talent, but on paper at least, there is some real potential in Stuart Pearce’s squad.
Potential that is seeing a lot of playing time at the top two tiers of the English game and come next season we could see up to 9 of the current squad playing in Europe with their clubs. In my opinion there hasn’t been a collective group of players all coming through with as much potential as this in a long while. When you think of the potential and quality in players like Smalling, Jones, Walker, Rodwell, Albrighton, Henderson, Lansbury, Sturridge and also players who haven’t even made the squad like Richards, Kelly, and Cattermole; the future of the England side looks very, very bright.
But, and I want to stress this; this new generation of talent will only meet their international potential if the current England management is willing take a chance on them. To bring a group of these players into the senior fold, keep them together and build a team capable of challenging for major honours come the next World Cup. There is no point having a group of such potential only to sporadically pepper the national team with odd one of them here and there, leaving them for the best part, in the international wilderness at such a crucial stage of their development whilst the likes of Barry, Lampard, Gerrard, Terry and Cole grow older in the relative comfort of their mediocre international careers.
Better to build a young team for the future and accept some poor results as a learning curve, than to accept the mediocrity we have been presented with since the latter period of Sven’s tenure and not build for the future. Since the World Cup when England were so unceremoniously dumped out by a brilliant German side filled with youth and quality Capello has been forced into trying to incorporate some young talent, but other than Hart and Wilshire, no one else has consistently been given sufficient playing time or even the call-ups to establish themselves in the international fold and I think this is something that Capello and the FA must address.