As the European under-21 Championships get under way, we ask if the Championship is the greatest talent pool for the games future?
Another season has come and gone so how can we survive the summer break? Well for me the U21 European Championship was surely the answer. The thought of Stuart Pearce commanding a handpicked selection of dazzling young talent, which has been produced by multimillion pound academies from across the Premier League, what could be better? But then I took a closer look at the squad. The top flight teams and multimillion pound academies had produced 14 players that Pearce felt were up for the challenge but only 3 (4 at a push) players are regular starters for their parent clubs and there were 10 players from the Championship also included in the squad. So what does this mean?
Are we paying the price for demanding the best talent from around the world in the top flight? Are young English players just not as good as players from elsewhere?
Or does it mean that the Championship is the future of English football?
Now of course the Championship will never over take the popularity of the Premier League because the top flight is pumped around the world over hundreds of different mediums and has an enormous global attraction. But I think we will see a rise in the popularity of the Championship and the leagues below in the coming years from the hardcore English fan base. We also need to take into account that lower leagues mean lower ticket prices which will look more and more appealing as the global demand for the highest level continues to jack up the prices for Premier League tickets.
The biggest obstacle to these lower league teams and players is the sheer buying power of the Premier League. Wilfred Zaha is the most obvious example of this. The 20-year-old striker is in Israel representing his country right now after helping Crystal Palace into the top flight. So he will of course be playing in the Prem next season........but not for Crystal Palace. He has already been snapped up by Manchester United. Now the question is what will new manager David Moyes do with him? Zaha’s deal was done and dusted long before Ferguson announced his retirement, so he clearly was not Moyes’ choice. United have last season’s golden boot winning striker in their ranks as well so Zaha faces a hell of a fight to get games and so runs the risk of becoming lost in the reserves and falling off the international stage completely.
There are many examples of this over the last few years, if you look across Manchester at City’s reserve squad you will see former U21 player Scott Sinclair who could not be further from the wearing the Three Lions on his chest. Jack Butland has also signed up to join Stoke City next season who will also have a manager who did not recruit him and two tried and tested keepers in Asmir Begovic and Thomas Sorensen in his way. The likes of Danny Rose, Andre Wisdom, Josh McEachran and Jack Robinson are certainly not regular starters for their parent clubs so how can they, and England as a whole hope to develop?
Several big clubs are all circling around Tom Ince so I expect to see the roaring lion of the Barclay’s Premier League on the arm of whichever kit he puts on next season. Going back to Sinclair, he helped bring Swansea to the Premier League with his 82 appearances since he joined in 2010, then he was snapped up last season by reigning champions Manchester City and went on to make a grand total of only 11 appearances. Could this be a worrying taste of what is to come with the young lions out in Israel right now?
I believe the only place that good young English talent can really grow and progress is the Championship. The teams are at a decent level but do not have the extraordinary wealth that the TV rights and Champions League football give the elite teams in the Premier League. This means they have to rely on player loans from bigger clubs or discovering new talent themselves. The difficulty is keeping the talent there long enough to fully develop while preventing the big boys from plucking a player too early and leaving them to wilt and rot in a reserve team. Another telling sign of this can be seen when we look at England’s U21 competition in this summer’s tournament. Even with the mind blowing cocktail of international talent in the Premier League when we look at the squads representing Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands in Israel we will see that there are only 3 players who ply their trade in the Premier League. David De Gea of Manchester United, Fabio Borini of Liverpool and Lewis Holtby of Tottenham Hotspur.
The Premier League is a glittering showcase of the ‘now’ but not of the future and until this trend is stopped or we look to develop talent elsewhere the national team will continue to suffer and the young lion cubs will never become kings of the jungle that is international football.
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