The problems of the England football team are well publicised - the players aren't good enough, tactics are too one dimensional, there is no national identity and most importantly youngsters aren't being developed properly in age-restricted teams to rival the likes of Spain and Germany.
If FA Chairman Greg Dyke is to be believed, the national governing body does have a long term vision for change and success, having targeted at least the semi-finals in Euro 2020 and victory at the World Cup two years later. Those tournaments are only six and eight years away respectively, which means that many of the young players who have started to break into the squad over the last year or so will be at their peak by then and should, in theory, be the core of a 'victorious' team, supplemented by a new generation of younger talent.
However, at present one of the main problems which will prevent that 'core' from being successful is that none have been given a solid grounding in international football before being asked to make the step up to the biggest stage. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Luke Shaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are extremely talented but international tournaments are so different to marathon club competitions and none have had a chance to learn how to be successful playing for their country.
For that reason it is legitimate to argue that English players still eligible for age-restricted football should only be allowed to play at that level, a self enforced FA rule that would greatly benefit the senior team in the long run.
What talented young English players seem to miss out on is tournament experience at youth level, while their foreign counterparts are absorbing the opportunities that will prove invaluable when they make the transition to their respective senior teams later. Simply, doing well in junior competitions will teach players how to cope with tournament football later in their careers.
England have the talented youngsters that could potentially win junior tournaments, but as so often is the case, any young English player who displays an ounce of ability is almost immediately drafted into the senior squad. It may seem like an honour and a great opportunity to learn, but the experience they get as a bit part player isn't as valuable as developing with a successful side in the junior ranks.
In 2013 England's Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce bemoaned the fact that players weren't developing because they were missing out on tournament experience. His squad was without 17 eligible players for the year's Under-21 European Championships. Several of the best individuals, including Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck, were with the senior squad for a meaningless friendly instead.
Prior to this year's World Cup, Pearce was again questioning why the likes of Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley were travelling to Brazil only to sit on the bench for the full England side when they could have been gaining vital experience at the Under-21 Toulon summer tournament instead.
Even going back 10 years or more there are many other examples where English players haven't had the chance to develop in readiness for the international stage because they've been drafted into the full squad much too early.
Steven Gerrard became a full international the age of 20 after just a handful of Under-21 caps and has been one England's most guilty of failing to deal with the pressures of tournaments. Wayne Rooney is another to have regularly failed to handle tournament pressure, having been thrown straight into the senior England side from the age of 17. While Rooney's exceptional early talent perhaps represents a special case, even he could have learned a lot by playing Under-21 football for those first few years.
Conversely, Spain make sure players are fully developed before throwing them in. David de Gea has 75 Spanish caps from various junior levels and despite being very talented is only now being selected by the senior squad with any regularity. In the past Xavi and Andres Iniesta only made the step up after they were no longer eligible for the junior ranks, having both won age-restricted tournaments before going on to win two European Championships and a World Cup.
Any FA rule that forced the England manager to only pick players over the age of 21, so that those younger could continue to develop properly with the junior teams, would no doubt be unpopular. With 19-year-old Raheem Sterling arguably England's best player at the moment it could have a negative effect on short term results. But the long term impact for Sterling and many others like him can only be beneficial for the senior national team as a whole if the players learn how to win first.
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