David Bernstein, the soon-to-depart Football Association chairman, has defended Roy Hodgson's decision to deny Stuart Pearce the services of the most talented England Under-21 players for this month's European Championship finals.
England crashed out of the tournament in Israel after losing their first two matches, which prompted Pearce, the Under-21 manager, to claim that the teams that arrive without their best players "will go home early". Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker would have been eligible for the Under-21 side but were all included in the original squad Hodgson named for the senior team's friendlies with the Republic of Ireland and Brazil.
Although Bernstein said he understood Pearce's frustration and admitted that the FA will review its approach to international tournaments in the wake of England's "very disappointing" performances in Israel, the FA chairman made it clear that he fully supported Hodgson. Bernstein said the senior team is the priority and described the 2-2 draw at the Maracanã, where Oxlade-Chamberlain scored, as a "dry run" for next summer's World Cup finals.
"We made one policy decision and that was if we asked senior players to play against Ireland and Brazil they would not play in one of the development tournaments," Bernstein said. "If we hadn't had the players playing in Brazil, like Oxlade-Chamberlain, then we may not have drawn that match. We wouldn't have asked those players to travel, play in a hot climate and then play here [in Israel]."
Bernstein added: "I think we do need to re-look at the strategic approach to all these tournaments. Whether that would lead to a different view – after all, Oxlade-Chamberlain played half an hour of one match, he got the flavour of Brazil, which was important, and did remarkably well. He possibly saved a match that we might have lost. I'm sure Roy was extremely happy to have him there. You have always got to support the England senior manager in the pressure that he is under of wanting his strongest squad, particularly a World Cup preparatory match in a different country where we had not played for 30 years."
The FA chairman refused to accept that the Brazil game was a meaningless friendly. "A lot of people wouldn't say that. A lot of people would say it was a very important game, a dry run for the World Cup. Nobody can argue that the World Cup shouldn't take priority. The England manager, and I support him fully in the view, decided that he wanted to take the strongest squad he could get to a match that was very important and [to experience the] climate."
Bernstein, who was talking at a joint-initiative in Netanya between the FA, the Israel FA and New Israel Fund's Kick It Out "Football for All" project, described Pearce's six-year reign with the Under-21s as "pretty successful" but refused to be drawn on whether the 51-year-old would remain in the job after the final group game against Israelon Tuesday. "There will be a meeting [with Pearce] in the next fortnight."
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