I seriously don’t understand the argument for having a team filled with young players and I don’t think I ever will. The overwhelming lack of experience on show as England capitulated to a 4-2 loss in Sweden proved you should pick squads on talent, not potential.
Aside from Steven Gerrard, who was playing in his 100th full England international and had a relatively good game that resulted in an inch-perfect cross for their second goal, Roy Hodgson opted to populate the majority of positions with young players and debutants. As expected, they were half-cooked at the best of times and were unable to cope with a mediocre Sweden and a superb Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The scythe of criticism certainly can’t be swathed across all of England’s next generation. Raheem Sterling, a man/boy I expected to really struggle in his first cap, showed real maturity and determination, something you don’t always get to see in national team players these days. Steven Caulker, who was playing for Team GB not too long ago, was shaky and was partly to blame for conceding Sweden’s first goal, but he took his own goal brilliantly and he may have promise. On the other hand, Ryan Shawcross was nothing to write about and Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge did nothing. As usual.
Following England’s dismal World Cup 2010 and the slightly better Euro 2012, fans were clamouring for new kids to blood into the national team, disregarding the fact that they’re not always playing for their club side and aren’t ready to be facing a squad of ultra-talented players. The result is that the likes of Sterling has skipped his trial of fire in the Under-21s and was thrown in at the deep end of football. This leaves the undesirable effect of people like Leon Osman, another debutant at the age of 31, missing out despite being perfectly professional and able to do a job that youngsters can’t yet do. Osman has plied his trade at Everton his whole career and has only now been heard over the shouts for youth, not “has-beens”.
Then again, age and experience isn’t necessarily a sure-fire method of winning. Joe Hart, regarded by some one of the best goalkeepers in the world, had a shocker last night. Letting in four goals to a man often lauded as someone who has never delivered on the greatest stage, Hart’s biggest calamity was handing Ibrahimovic his fourth goal on a plate. Quite what he was thinking with that headed clearance is beyond me, but I’m certainly sure it wasn’t that spectacular overhead kick.
The youth format can work. Germany have been one such side that raised a dynamic team of youngsters, introduced them into the national side early on and they’ve returned to being a dominant force in international football, once again. At the London 2012 Olympics, Brazil’s “Under-23” side contained many household names – Neymar, Hulk, Oscar – and they’re expected to form the backbone of the full team for many years to come. The difference with those two countries and our own is that we haven’t got the same pools of talent. The only youngster that’s really showed what he can do in recent times is Danny Welbeck, who keeps popping up with vital goals when it matters. We can’t build a team around just one person, particularly one that struggles to get much game time with Manchester United, so can we hope to compete?