So, Stuart Pearce is set to leave his post as England’s Under-21 manager after the team’s abysmal showing in this summer’s tournament where they didn’t collect a single point. I have to say I couldn’t help but agree with Stuart and think he did and said the right thing when he publicly held the players responsible for their underperformance.
An apologist for the cause might well point to the fact that it wasn’t exactly Stuart’s strongest side or, indeed, that of our country at under 21 level. Maybe so, but look at the reasons why. First of all, players too young are being exposed to life at the top level, and they aren’t getting the proper education. A case in point is Theo Walcott; Theo has been on the scene for over seven years, it’s been seven years since Arsene Wenger convinced Sven Goran Eriksson to take Theo to the World Cup despite not having the confidence to name him in an Arsenal starting eleven after signing him from Southampton. Theo was fast tracked, a player whose most impressive attribute was his athleticism – all players mature, of course, but Theo has come in for criticism from some because his athleticism was more prominent than his talent as a footballer.
Theo’s last season was good and he still has time on his side but is he where anyone thought he would be – or should be – based on that lofty potential from seven years ago? Or has he suffered from unrealistic expectations? So, any player with a hint of potential at the age of 16 or 17 is already being groomed for the full national side – it’s crazy, and too much, too soon. Why the rush? Well, the ridiculously low availability of English players might have something to do with it. Henry Winter said the other day that just 31% of players in the Premier League last season were eligible to represent England. 31%, no matter what your thoughts on foreign imports, is a pathetic and embarrassing number.
So, any players that do show talent are given unrealistic expectations – even those that don’t make the full side (meaning those that played for the under 21’s this summer) are on thousands of pounds a week, who stand to make a million pounds in a year or 18 months. Where’s the motivation?
Whatever the cause, the solution cannot be denied – those players who have played have not been good enough. In my opinion, there is plenty of talent out there, but the opportunity is not being given on a wider scale. I don’t want to pick on a player before he’s even kicked a ball but look at this signing of the young Uruguayan full back by my old club Manchester United. He’s a right back, so is he any better than Rafael, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones? If the response is that he is good backup for £1m, then I have to say – do Manchester United, the famous Manchester United, not have a fourth choice right back in their reserve or academy to give an opportunity to that is worth more than spending £1m on Varela? In my opinion, we really need to be giving more of an opportunity to our younger home grown players.
To go back to Walcott for a moment; his development interests me as I believe it’s symbolic of the way that the FA have been concentrating on developing young players. Rather than have a constant “Modus Operandi” that adheres to a philosophy, it’s almost been one of imitation the entire way through. Athletes bred instead of footballers was the flavour of the decade a while back and now it seems to be copying the Spanish model, so much so that coaches were being urged to go over to learn more about the “Barcelona” style. I’ve already talked often about that on my website columns so I don’t need to repeat myself, I just wish that there was some kind of conviction, a true philosophy that was studied, taught, and carried through, for better or for worse. That would be better that failing badly to imitate someone else’s methods.
If we are to look to the continent for inspiration then I have to confess to always being a fan of Dutch football and I feel a lot can be learned from there, particularly from a technical viewpoint. One of the key elements of technical development is awareness of the space around you and using your peripheral vision; many successful Dutch players excel in this area and what’s more, they have excelled in the English game. It’s something that I’ve given a lot of thought to and there is so much to say on the matter, though I’ll reserve my own comments for another time… needless to say, it’s interest to note that there is a maturity with decision making that comes with that increased technical and spacial awareness as well as something that I mentioned right at the start, and that’s simply giving players the opportunity to mature at a natural pace rather than throwing them all in the deep end. I often say one mans meat is another mans poison and that’s the case with the development of players – every single one is individual and you cannot treat them all the same.
Talk of decision making and maturity leads me to another matter to close this weeks article, and that is the future of Nani as I’m sure some readers will be interested to know my thoughts. Nani has proven that he is capable of wonderful moments, capable of things that few other players can do. There is no doubting his ability but all too often he has frustrated supporters by making the wrong choices in possession – with impulsive and instinctive players, you never want to take away that freedom and unpredictability as it can be an asset, but at the age of 26 (almost 27) you would have thought that Nani would have got rid of the frustrating side of his game by now.
It’s for David Moyes to weigh up the good and the bad and see whether it is possible for him to still do so or whether he is worth more as a player to be sold; or, indeed, whether it would be worth giving him a chance on the right after the poor season from Antonio Valencia. What it then becomes is a question of whether you give one underperforming player an opportunity because of another underperforming player – and whether that is in fact good enough for a club like Manchester United.
That’s all for now – I’ll be back soon with more thoughts and news. Best wishes, Gordon.