Why England Won’t Be World Beaters

On the Severn Sport puncast we repeatedly mention and discuss the failings of England as a national football team and why they never seem to improve or compete amongst the world’s elite. And in my opinion it is down to many factors, one of which being the simple fact that the England fans and English media expect too much of our younger players too quickly and they can’t handle the pressure.

Now I know you are probably sat there thinking well they are professional footballers they should be used to it or should expect to come under pressure. Well my response is simple, they are still young men, the players I’m talking about are those players under 24 years of age, who are still growing up, the only difference between them and myself for instance is that they are in the spotlight 24/7 due to their occupation.

Let’s take the last 18 months as prime examples of just what I am talking about. Two players, mainly Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley. Two players who were expected to light up the World Cup in the summer but failed to inspire a pretty average performing team (albeit Sterling had a stormer against Italy), but he isn’t a Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi who can carry a team over the finish line, for two reasons 1) he isn’t that kind of player and 2) his lack of experience. When Sterling broke through into the Liverpool side two seasons ago he was slowly integrated in by Brendan Rogers. And rightly so. In fact he is doing to same with Jordan Ibe this season and it is that integration that allows players to benefit and develop even at such an early stage.

Compare the integration of Sterling to that of Adnan Januzaj at Manchester United last season, he had an unreal couple of games for the then Champions but was then expected to do the business everytime he played. He was thrust into the thick of it by David Moyes and was wrongly thrust into the pressure cooker. I am watching Premier League Years for the 13/14 season as we speak and David Moyes has just said that he expects “that level of performance every game” after Januzaj single handedly won the game on his debut. It may seem like I have moved away from England onto Manchester United but I shall tie it back together here by saying that the Januzaj example is how we are treating our young players for England. Over the years (even more so the last 18 months) you can list the players who have been over hyped by the media and failed to live up unrealistic expectations, Wilshere, Barkley, Berahino, Townsend, Sterling, Welbeck, Lallana. Even some of the more established players have been affected with the pressure, just thinking back to the World Cup Rooney, the departing Gerrard all suffered with the burden of pressure and that unrealistic expectations that we as a nation put on our teams.

Take the likes of Berahino and Barkley as examples of just how much the pressure can influence a player and his form. Ross Barkley last season was unreal. He was being compared to Rooney and Paul Gascoigne straight away (he played with the same tenacity so that’s fair) and he was expected to shine in the World Cup. Built as a saviour of English football once the greats of Gerrard and Lampard move on he was failed to live up to the hype following a disappointing summer. It doesn’t help with the fact Everton have been a shadow of their former selves no, but he has spent a lot of time on the bench or out of the side. Just take a minute to think about that, a player who was expected to do this, that and the other 6 months previously, a man who was touted as being worth £40 million couldn’t even play in a team who were playing quite frankly awful? How does that happen? Easily, he was expected to do too much in such a short space of time and was never going to meet that expectations.

Ross Barkley has failed to replicate his performances last season for both England or Everton

Berahino, broke into the England team after one of the best starts to a season I have ever seen. Every game you could bet he would score. He was called up for England, didn’t make an impact and suddenly he isn’t being called up again. Yes, his club form suffered post the call up but he hasn’t been playing bad. Could easily have warranted a place in the England squad for Friday night’s game. Hell, if he was supposed to be England’s next goal scoring machine then he should have had a place.

It is that desire we have to integrate players into the England set up straight away that is effectively hindering the progression of younger players. If you look at who performs best for England and their clubs most consistently now it’s your Jordan Henderson’s, Danny Welbeck’s and Daniel Sturridge’s. Even Joe Hart falls into this category as they are players who played for the under 21 side for years and played in every under 21 tournament England qualified for. I am a big believer that players need to prove themselves internationally in order to make it into the England squad by playing for the under 21s. The four I highlight are four of England’s best players right now. You need to pay your dues and work hard to get the rewards of playing for England as you are used to those high intensity international matches.

I’m not a fool, I know that there are exceptions to this. The likes of Rooney and Owen in my lifetime who were thrust in from an early age and they excelled. These two off the top of my heads are the exceptions and that just shows the quality of each individual player. I remember seeing England U21s face Luxembourg at Reading’s Madejski Stadium in 2000, the line up back then was unreal. Heskey up front with Lampard and Gerrard in the middle with Carragher and Ledley King at the back. Players who all broke through to the England team in the following years, England’s golden stage of the modern era. They played in a Sven Goran Eriksson side whom without that Ronaldinho free kick looping in would have gone on to win the World Cup in my mind.

But the first three, Heskey, Lampard and Gerrard are probably up there in the list of the best England players of the 21st century, yes even Heskey, the partnership he and Owen shared both for England and Liverpool was unbelievably potent. These players weren’t promoted to the England first team on the back of a decent run or media pressure, they played in the under 21s till they were at least 21, like Welbeck and Sturridge have. Like Hart and Henderson have. That is why I wouldn’t thrust the young players in so quickly, they are the first to be blamed when it all goes wrong.

Steven Gerrard excelled at under 21 level before breaking into the England first team

This brings me to Friday’s game. Lithuania at home. Now I know he is having the season of his life and I know everyone rates him, heck even I do, but I wouldn’t have called up Harry Kane. I am weary of how the pressure, the spotlight and the media hype surrounding him may or may not influence him. Obviously at this point we don’t know if he is going to be a Rooney or Owen and take the footballing world by storm internationally but after subsequent and frequent failings of our young players there is more than a chance that he could follow the likes of Wilshere and Berahino as almost coming across as one hit wonders.

Yes, he is having a great season at Tottenham, ridiculous in fact. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he is going to rival the world’s best for the Balon D’Or this year. There is still part of I think everyone that suspects or questions whether he is just a one season wonder. Only time will tell, and that is why I would have waited to include him. Just think, you leave him to continue what he is doing for Tottenham week in week out for the rest of the season, give him the summer to do the business for England under 21s, getting to grips with major tournaments and settling into that mindset. By the time you call him up for the winter internationals he is already scoring again for Tottenham (or whoever he may play for) he is proving he is the real deal, bang, you call him up in time for a competition you had comfortably qualified for and then England turn up in France for Euro 16 with the most in form striker of the last two years who is still new and hungry in terms of international experience. But no, he has been called up for qualifiers that England should win even if they called up Francis Jeffers and David Nugent (two players who were expected so much but failed to deliver), and what happens if he returns to Tottenham having not scored in these games? Suddenly question marks will be over him in regards to whether or not he can handle international intensity matches, why? Because he was expected to do too much too soon.

I know not everyone will agree with me, you are more than welcome to tweet me and tell me I’m wrong but I will stand by what I say and I honestly think that throwing the young English players into the fire of major international games too quickly is what is limiting the progression of our players and is actively hindering England as a footballing nation.

Ryan Butler