England should turn to youth for Euro 2012
The likes of Theo Walcott, Gabby Agbonlahor and Adam Johnson are just the tip of the iceberg
England's 4-1 defeat to Germany that ended dreams of World Cup glory has also brought the curtain down on the so called 'golden generation' of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and John Terry. Those players, now aged 32, 30 and 29, and their contemporaries failed to achieve the success that was predicted of them and it is time for England to look elsewhere.
Fabio Capello's World Cup squad had an average age of 28.7 - the oldest in South Africa - and by the time the European Championships come round in two years the majority of the England players will have hit the wrong side of 30.
Countries like the Netherlands and Germany showed with their squad selections that they have an eye for young talent by including younger players such as Gregory Van der Wiel, 22, and Mesut Ozil, 21 - effectively blooding them for future campaigns. England only picked two players that were under 24, Aaron Lennon and Joe Hart, both 23.
Are England's young players simply not up to scratch? Capello seems to think so. He appears to have admitted that the only young players he seriously considered for the tournament were Theo Walcott, Gabby Agbonlahor and Adam Johnson, and all three stayed at home. Speaking in the aftermath of his side's capitulation he asked: "Where are the young players? The best are in the U21 side but they are just not good enough at the moment. There are probably just two or three who would join us in the next six months."
In making these comments Capello demonstrated a remarkable lack of foresight. In refusing to take risks; sticking with the old guard rather than taking a punt on somebody new, he has given none of England’s young starlets the chance to replicate the sort of success achieved by the likes of Germany's Mesut Ozil who has been the breakthrough star of the tournament, notching up one goal and two assists in the four games he has played.
Before the tournament, Capello said that he would decide his squad based on form shown throughout the season. Had Joachim Low the Germany coach done the same, Mesut Ozil may never have set foot in South Africa. A haul of 11 goals in 46 games this season for his club side Werder Bremen is respectable but could hardly have led his coach to think his young player would go on to play in South Africa to such devastating effect.
Capello clearly shows a lack of faith in the quality and potential of England’s young players if he thinks that England have few up and coming players beyond Walcott, Johnson and Agbonlahor. Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson, the two most successful managers in Premier League history, have based their success on a foundation of discovering and nurturing future stars and a quick look at their recent history suggests that they disagree.
Manchester United made just one purchase in the January transfer window, that of Chris Smalling, 21 from Fulham who cost the Red Devils a hefty £10m. Another player who Manchester United have long courted, albeit unsuccessfully, is 19-year-old Jack Rodwell of Everton for whom Ferguson had reportedly been willing to pay upwards of £15m. Add to these two the highly-rated youngsters already at United such as Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley and the great stock that Ferguson places in young English talent becomes apparent.
Arsene Wenger has drawn flack from some who claim he is partially responsible for England’s lack of success at the World Cup. He is blamed for starting the trend of managers investing in young foreign talent, making it harder for English players to break through. Yet if one scans the list of players at the Emirates, names like Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and the lesser-known Craig Eastmond pop out instantly as being players that, despite being 18, 20 and 19 respectively, have already earned themselves places in the first team squad.
But to be fair to Capello, he has identified Gibbs as a player for the future, but he never had a chance to pick him as he missed most of the season with injury.
It isn't only in the upper reaches of the Premier League that exceptional young talent can be found. One need only look as far as Victor Moses of Wigan, James Vaughan of Everton or Sunderland's Lee Cattermole to see that, throughout England's top division, there are a number of starlets patiently waiting to make that step up to the highest level.
England now have a two year European Championship qualifying campaign to look forward to, and with it comes the chance to bring some of those new players into the fold. Whether or not Fabio Capello is still in charge come next season, it is clear that England are a team in need of change and what better catalyst than an injection of youth? And perhaps come the Euros it will be a young English star who sets the tournament alight. ·
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