England Woes: Lack of Young English Players in Top Flight Only Part of Problem

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England Woes: Lack of Young English Players in Top Flight Only Part of Problem

Watching England's U-21 side lose 1-0 to Italy in the European Championships on Wednesday was hardly a shock given the lack of expectation surrounding the team.

Stuart Pearce's squad looks significantly short on first-team, top-flight experience in comparison to the likes of Spain, Netherlands, Germany and co., and, as such, instill very little belief that they can compete.

The Three Lions struggled to contain Marco Verratti in Tel Aviv midweek, with the Paris Saint-Germain star dictating play and punishing his opponents by forcing them to chase the ball.

The Italian, who started in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona last season, came up against the likes of Blackburn Rovers's Jason Lowe, Birmingham City's Nathan Redmond and Liverpool's reserve Jonjo Shelvey.

Alongside Verratti was Juventus' promising youngster Luca Marrone, Roma's explosive first-teamer Alessandro Florenzi and Napoli's prodigous Lorenzo Insigne.

Mismatch? We think so.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The reality of the situation is hardly surprising, as the BBC's Alistair McGowan has produced a report on the dwindling levels of U-21 players taking up regular roles in the English Premier League.

"English U-21s made up 2.28% of the total minutes played in 2012-13," the report states.

"Manchester City, Chelsea, Swansea, Stoke and Wigan failing to field an English U-21 player all season."

Germany (6.22%) and France (7.32%) boast considerably better figures, while Italy's percentage point of 2.38% is subject to mitigating factors England's isn't.

Fabio Borini played first-team football for Roma in 2011-12, then spent all of '12-'13 injured at Liverpool, while Marrone trains closely with Andrea Pirlo and boasts UCL experience.

For the most part, England's most promising prospects are only experienced in second-tier football: Jack Butland and Redmond for Birmingham, Nathaniel Chalobah on loan at Watford, Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace.

What's the reason? Billions of pounds of investment in the Premier League has seen it top the global charts for star players and entertainment value, but that is all at the expense of the England national side.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Jack Cork had a great season alongside Morgan Schneiderlin

Spain rely more heavily on their academies, and their U21 team boasts countless players with a season or more of La Liga experience—Thiago Alcantara, Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Inigo Martinez to name a few.

The Netherlands boast an incredible side, with their entire back line made up of first-team Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord starters.

There isn't as much money in the Eredivisie or the Bundesliga, but the byproduct is that their national side is allowed to flourish.

It would be foolish, though, to blame it solely on the money-making Premier League.

Poor decision-making in the Three Lions' hierarchy must be highlighted, and there are several head-scratching incidents that occur each season.

Roy Hodgson has bemoaned a lack of options, but that doesn't excuse the inability to fill an international squad. The teamsheet shows empty slots against the Republic of Ireland, but why is that the case?

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Nathan Baker should have been a shoo-in for the England U21s

I was present for the post-match press conference, and Hodgson asked us jokingly if any journalist heading to Rio de Janeiro with the team could bring a pair of boots.

Some pull out, but there are other English players out there. Stop valuing reputation and pick Rickie Lambert, Jack Cork or Matthew Lowton—if only for the experience of being with the squad.

Despite England not having an awful lot of options for the U-21 tournament, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be in Israel. His goal at the Maracana is a lovely memory, but it shows that England aren't taking the tournament seriously enough.

The defensive line is made up of a bit-part Tottenham player in Steven Caulker and a Bolton Wanderers loanee in Craig Dawson.

Where, then, is Premier League regular Nathan Baker, who plays every week without fail for a resurgent Aston Villa? He's 22 and eligible to take part, but he's sitting at home.

The Premier League's big-money approach can be blamed in part, but those in charge of selection do the young crop no favours whatsoever.

It's a deep-rooted problem that requires sincere reform, and one can comfortably suggest England will come nowhere close to winning an international trophy without experiencing a major overhaul.

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