Report’s from FA Chairman Greg Dyke have recently surfaced, as England’s man of the moment and newly crowned Young Player Of The Year, Harry Kane, declared that he is to participate in this summer’s European Championships for the Under-21 national side. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering that Kane has forced himself into the senior squad and also, that so many other top, young, English talents have previously declined to represent their nation at this level in to order play for the first team, often with limited success. By doing so, the Spurs front man is addressing an issue that has kept England from progressing as a footballing nation in the same way that more successful countries have. The issue of very good footballers not being able to replicate club form on an international level, where it actually matters.
England are a nation known for developing quality players who’ve just never made the grade at producing in pressured situations. I mean for starters, the current captain is somebody who completely epitomises this notion. We all remember stories from Brazil of Wayne Rooney seeking, (and scoring) his first World Cup goal last summer, at the FOURTH time of asking! This is the same Wayne Rooney who burst on the scene at 16-years old, beating David Seaman from 25 yards out. The very same Wayne Rooney who has scored 230 goals in over a decade for Manchester United. So with such a list of accolades, why was there ever the issue with a player of such quality falling short of expectation at the top level? One possible explanation is that Rooney was thrusted into the first team fold as a fresh-faced teenage prospect. Though at an age where he was available to play for younger side, his ability made him a regular full international, meaning he missed the experience from playing very often at this level.
Now tournaments such as the Under-21 European Championship offer huge amounts to a young footballer’s development. For instance, they give players a chance to judge their ability against the best players of that particular age group. Additionally, these are more often than not, the bulk of the players who will go on to represent their nations in the future senior tournaments, providing the chance to gauge progress against their counterparts throughout the different stages of their careers.
By Harry Kane opting to represent the Under-21’s as a full international, he is opening the door for more young players to follow suit. The likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and John Stones are all able to feature for both teams, yet are often selected for Hodgson’s team in bit-part roles. There is surely more to learn by perfecting their craft as regulars with the younger side as opposed to featuring on the periphery of the full setup. Just look at some of Europe’s ‘better’ footballing nations, who send many of their younger players to such competitions regardless of their prominence in their respected first team.
Take Netherlands for example, who opened their last Under-21 Championships campaign with 10 of their starting XI as full internationals. Many of which made up the core of the side that went on to finish 3rd at last summer’s World Cup. These include Stef De Vrij, Bruno Martins-Indi and captain, Kevin Strootman who was unfortunately sidelined through serious injury throughout the tournament. Louis Van Gaal reportedly altered his team’s entire system due to Strootman’s absence, demonstrating how significant a loss such a young player was to the first team setup.
By allowing younger first team talents to progress accordingly throughout the system, these players are able to make the transition from potential prospects to international quality footballers with the experience and a certain know-how, only gained from competitive football. Something that English players have seemingly lacked, pretty much forever. I mean, can you imagine this year’s Under-21 with the likes of Barkley, Sterling and The Ox featuring alongside Kane? Would simply be better for the nation to have as strong a squad as possible going into the Championships. Instead, all the above are likely to be called into the senior side for seemingly pointless friendlies or pretty straightforward qualifiers instead of actually playing relevant football. Including such talent would ensure that England would actually have a sniff of winning a competition for once, and by doing so, it could serve as a catalyst for future successes in such competition and if not, then at least give these young players a chance to make the mistakes while they are able to, as opposed to on the big stage where it matters. The sort of mistakes that can often be harmful to the development of young professional footballers.
So I guess Harry Kane is the man who could take English football to a whole new level. Barring his 30 odd goals this season, he has the right mentality to not only become a better player, but also to inspire those around him to adopt this continental mindset, which in this case isn’t a bad thing. A couple more like him and who knows, maybe England’s 50 something years of hurt could be a thing of the past.