[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any followers of the Premier League cite the division as the best top flight on the planet but in reality English football has ground to make up.
After a dire World Cup campaign that resulted in group stage elimination last summer, English clubs and their inferiority to continental rivals has been showcased in European competition this season.
Liverpool were dumped out of a manageable Champions League group in disappointing fashion, before exiting the Europa League at the hands of Beşiktaş.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal were all outplayed and eliminated at the first knockout stage of the continent’s elite competition, while Tottenham and Everton’s limitations were cruelly exposed by Fiorentina and Dynamo Kyiv respectively in the second-tier tournament.
As a result, with the draw for the quarter finals of European competitions set to be made, no English teams will feature – a sobering reality to those pedalling the merits of the Premier League.
City struggled to contain the brilliance of Barcelona, as most teams on the planet would have.
However, the fact that both the Blues and Gunners were cast aside by Ligue 1 outfits and modest teams from Italy and Ukraine were much too good for Europa League competitors shows real flaws in the English game.
Given this poor recent record, English football could well do with a shot in the arm to show that both the Premier League and the national side are worthy of such heightened perspectives.
This opportunity will present itself in the summer, with the under-21 side competing in the European Championships in the Czech Republic.
With some of the best young players in European football set to step out for their respective nations, the English team would be best advised to take the tournament very seriously.
With the number of English players in Premier League sides dropping and concerns that homegrown stars cannot shine as bright technically compared to those from the continent, the competition also offers a chance to set the record straight.
Looking at Gareth Southgate’s side that has blitzed the qualifying process suggests that there is undoubted quality at the former England defender’s disposal this summer.
Players such as Saido Berahino, Will Hughes and Eric Dier have all shown that with the right direction and progression, they possess the qualities to be selected for the senior squad further down the track.
However, despite the current contingent’s ability, there are a core of players that are eligible to play this summer from the full Three Lions squad that would surely make England one of the favourites if they were selected.
Although Harry Kane has recently received a call-up to the senior side, the hotshot Tottenham forward could and should be on the plane for the under-21’s this summer.
But, if Southgate was given free reign to pick from everyone available, England would have a frightening side.
Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, John Stones, Calum Chambers, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw theoretically could all be selected in the under-21 group.
The likelihood of most of these players featuring remains to be seen, with club vs country debates and the individual players’ motivations playing a role in potential participation.
However, with England not looking likely to repeat the heroics of 1966 any time soon and Premier League sides being outdone in Europe, fielding the best possible team in the Czech Republic could well be the tonic that the national game needs in an underwhelming period.
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