Curious how, as we got nearer the Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania, attention swung towards the England Under 21 team as it plans for this summer’s Under 21 Championships in the Czech Republic. Not so much for the very real chance England have of winning the tournament, but for increasing demands for the emerging young talent that is on the verge of breaking through into the senior England team to be, ‘encouraged’, shall we say, to play for their country in June. As opposed to resting on a beach somewhere.
The suggestion of FA chairman Greg Dyke that Harry Kane should go with the Under 21’s in June was quickly followed by the endorsement from Joe Hart that the experience of playing in that tournament would be invaluable. That is the crux of why Harry Kane and all the others who are seen as players ready to make the progression from England Under 21 to senior level have to go to the championships in June.
As well as Kane, the leading scorer in the Premier League, Gareth Southgate can call upon; Raheem Sterling, Saido Berahino, Ross Barkley and Danny Ings. All of them exciting, forward thinking players who are a goal threat and can be game-changers – exactly what is needed in the compressed, almost artificial world of tournament football.
It is England’s lack of a tournament mind-set that has hindered success at international level since 1966. Basically the senior national team, and the pool of players it has been able to call upon, does not have what the Germans, the Spanish and the Italian national sides have, tournamentality!
That tournament mind-set can, like any experience, only be garnered by actually, well, experiencing it. Yes, the above named players are used to the hubris of the Premier League and, on occasion, or in the case of Harry, more often than not, shine. However tournament football is a different ball game, quite literally.
Take Germany for instance – no one could ever accuse them of lacking ‘tournamentality’. Any doubters should just take a quick peek at World Cup winners and European Championship winners over the past 40 years, a list liberally sprinkled with Italy and Spain as well.
In 2009, the German youngsters won the UEFA Under 21 Championship in Sweden and thereby clinched a progressive hat-trick having won the Under 17 and Under 19 trophies in the previous 12 months. Five of the victorious German youngsters went on to win the FIFA World Cup five years later; Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Jérôme Boateng and Sami Khedira. Of the England Under 21 team that was hammered 4-0 in that Malmö Final, only James Milner and Theo Walcott are anywhere near the current England senior set up.
In no real order of importance – except that they are inextricably entwined – Harry Kane and the others named here, should go to the Under 21 Championships for the following reasons.
The tournament experience will benefit not only the senior England team by virtue of the players who can progress from the Under 21s, but their club sides. Going to the Czech Republic also sees a very real chance that England could win, and in winning there can be no greater incentive for Kane and co. to move forward a few years down the line to FIFA World Cup glory.