Premier League Should Not Take Blame for England Age-Group Woe

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Premier League Should Not Take Blame for England Age-Group Woe

A summer of promise and potential came crashing down around the England youth teams over the past month or so, with both the under-21s and the under-20s failing spectacularly in their respective competitions.

As could be expected, there was much finger-pointing and blame-gaming from within rather than constructive discussion and planning to avoid such wasted opportunities in the future.

The England U-21 squad flew to Israel for the European Championships at the beginning of June but disappointingly lost all three games in the group stage, finishing last in their group of four teams. They managed a solitary goal from the penalty spot, and coach Stuart Pearce was let go from his contract after the tournament.

Next was the U-20 squad's turn, who traveled to Turkey for the U-20 World Cup. But they too landed bottom of the group, beaten once and managing just a pair of draws as the youngsters of the nation—the best England supposedly has to offer—combined to fail to gain a single victory.

 

The Criticisms

Despite the Premier League having no direct say on matters at international level, the organisation has had many forms of thinly veiled criticism thrown its way.

Graham Taylor, former boss of the national team, told the BBC, "Commercially the Premier League has been a major success but at the expense of English players." That came in response to data showing that the number of English under-21 players in the top flight had hit a new low last season.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Graham Taylor was England manager for the failed 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign

Gary Lineker also spoke out, per the BBC, when the fixture list was revealed for the new season: "I guess this justifies the Premier League's disregard for the best interests of England."

Much of the train of thought centres around the Premier League offering too many incentives for teams to be successful now, while little or nothing is centred around long-term growth or youth development.

 

Why the Premier League Is Not at Fault

The Premier League is its own entity. It is a domestic league programme that provides competition and rewardand does a very good job at both.

It is not in charge of the national team, nor does it appoint national team managers or suggest which players should represent each level.

Why should commercial success be to the detriment of homegrown players? If anything, commercial viability should be a big pull to any player who can, thanks to the Premier League, make a fantastic living out of the game he loves if he is good enough.

How do players become good enough? Why, by having good coaching, a good mentality and proper infrastructure to showcase their abilities.

What from those issues are the Premier League's responsibilities? The infrastructure. And it is very much in place, with the league itself, the reserve/under-21 league and all the player support that comes with it.

As for the fixture list, there is certainly a case to argue that it should support the national team.

Tough games stand between England and qualification for the World Cup, and big games in the Premier League before those clashes could be put back a day for television screening. Then again, those who say England have nobody but themselves to blame for not being clear at the top of the group already have a point.

It wasn't the Premier League that contrived to fail to win against Poland, Montenegro or Ukraine.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Within the lower age groups, there is a clear failure on the part of those who select the squads to ensure that the most competitive teams are available for England. Once again, the Premier League is not responsible for this.

 

Who Must Work on the Solutions?

Everything regarding the national team, and its subsequent age-group teams, comes from the FA. Or, at least, it should.

Therein lies the ultimate responsibility for the growth of the national game at all levels, so it is from there that all initiatives, ideas, progress and success must begin.

guardian.co.uk for photo

Glenn Hoddle, former England manager, told the Evening Standard he'd be happy to put forward his own ideas on elite coaching at the youth stage of development, and while it is undoubtedly a crucial area to improve, it doesn't go the entire distance.

Shoddy player management at all levels will not be overcome by individual technique.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore is not favoured by all, but he has it right when he delivers his own assessment, via the BBC:

There were 210 players qualified to play for England, playing in the Premier League last year. And we ought to be able to find 11 to take the field to do well. Those players are playing week in, week out against the world's best talent. Our responsibility is to make sure the youth development systems in this country are as good as they can be. That huge investment, £320m, in the elite performance plan is starting to see results. We're starting to see more English-qualified people coming through the academies, we're starting to see more take part in first teams. All we can do is be responsible for some of the input.

Clearly, our responsibility ends once those players go off and are selected.

In that, he is correct. The Premier League perhaps could do more to ensure quotas are fulfilled, but it cannot force individual teams to play one player over another.

The day that starts to happen is the day the Premier League ceases to be one of the best leagues in the world to watch and ceases to attract outside support, participation and financial rewards.

 

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