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Who Should Take Responsibility For The England U21 Performance?

Saturday 15th June 2013
Who was to blame for the England performance in the U21 European Championships, was it the squad or the manager? Declan Fisher takes a look

As the dust settles on England's departure from the under-21 European Championships in Israel, it is time to peer into the future of the team's current manager, Stuart Pearce; and work out what went wrong for England's young lions. The former Nottingham Forest and West Ham defender, capped 78 times by England, has endured a somewhat mixed tenure as coach of the England youth side since being appointed to the role on a permanent basis in 2007.

“Psycho” guided the England U21s to the semi-finals and final of the competition in 2007 and 2009 respectively and was then handed the job of taking control of the Team GB squad for the 2012 Olympic games in London. The team, perhaps unsurprisingly, made heavy work of games against average opposition, but did manage to make it out of the group stage of the competition.

This time around though England were poor throughout the tournament; missing players such as Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell and Phil Jones was a huge loss for the England team. In fact Pearce claims that 17 potential squad members were unavailable to him at the tournament. Many of the 17 players that Stuart Pearce bemoaned losing have not been involved in under-21 football for some time.

It is a policy of several club managers not to let their players be a part of youth tournaments for fear of injury or fatigue in the following season. Wilshere was unavailable to Pearce though on Roy Hodgson's orders; the England first team manager stated that Wilshere had “established himself as a bona-fide first-team player”.Danny Welbeck was also exempt from the under-21 squad on similar grounds.

When you look through the squad that Pearce took to Israel though, it is difficult to understand how they lost all three of their group games. The squad included new Manchester United signing Wilfred Zaha, injured for the first game, but featured in the remaining two. Other squad members included the £8 million-pound Connor Wickham, Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, Stoke City's highly rated goalkeeper Jack Butland, and Premier League regulars Steven Caulker, Danny Rose and Nathaniel Clyne. Thomas Ince and Nathan Redmond were in Israel, two of the nation's hottest young properties, as well as Jonjo Shelvey and Andre Wisdom who have both featured on numerous occasions for Liverpool this season.Despite all the players made unavailable to Pearce, he was not being sent out to the Middle-East with a group of players with no pedigree or quality. The team showed naivety at this tournament, Wilfred Zaha claimed “we didn't expect all that quality” after the game against Israel. A lack of research into the calibre of well-known players at the tournament proved fatal. One of the participants was David De Gea, voted goalkeeper of the season in the Premier League, England should know about his quality.

The same goes for Lorenzo Insigne, the player that scored the goal for Italy against England in the first game. The 22 year old has played and scored at the highest level in Italy for his team Napoli for the past four seasons, as well as successful loan periods at other Italian clubs. Luca Marrone, Alessandro Florenzi, Fabio Borini and Marco Verratti should all have been known by England's coaching staff and players as they play for some of Europe's elite sides in Juventus, Roma, Liverpool and PSG respectively, yet England seemingly had no idea about them.

In the second game against Norway, England conceded three to a team that outclassed them. It's fair to say that this side had plenty of talent too, with many of the players in the squad already turning out for big teams in northern Europe such as Feyenoord, Molde and Celtic. A number of the Norway side are also part of the nation's senior set up and these players could easily have been researched.

After the third game, and the third defeat, this time at the hands of hosts Israel whose squad was compiled of players who, all bar one, ply their trade in the nation's domestic league, Stuart Pearce let loose on a tirade of criticism for his players. The coach stated that he is “really disappointed with my team” and that “maybe there wasn't enough talent here”.

It's difficult to accept that a lack of talent was the reason England failed though when beaten by Israel and Norway; two groups of players who, while not without quality, will be unlikely to challenge for silverware at senior level in the future.

Jack Butland and Danny Rose defended their manager, claiming that the players let him down.

Pearce was also right in pointing out that his is the only side to have qualified for the last four tournaments at under-21 level. The role of the coach of an under-21 side however is not simply to qualify for tournaments, but to bridge the gap between the junior and senior sides, as well as mentally preparing players for future senior tournaments. Since Pearce has been in charge of the team though, few players have graduated to the first team and excelled.

Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck have established themselves as England regulars, but that probably has more to do with raw ability and experience gained at club level than under-21 experiences. Players such as Kyle Walker, Danny Sturridge, Tom Cleverly, Jack Rodwell, Chris Smalling and Jordan Henderson are still to find their feet at senior level despite playing for the under-21's on numerous occasions.

Pearce will learn whether he'll be offered a new deal by the FA next week.
Declan Fisher
Journalism student at University of Salford, football enthusiast & blogger.

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