International Football

England's Under-21s Are the Team to Get Excited About

IPSWICH, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15:  Ravel Morrison of England battles with Daniel Gunevic of Lithuania during the 2015 UEFA European U21 Championships Qualifying Group One match between England U21 and Lithuania U21  at Portman Road on October 15, 2013 in Ipswich, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2013

The England squad was announced this week, with the inclusion of Jay Rodriguez, in excellent form for Southampton, taking most of the headlines. Roy Hodgson had to answer questions about his ill-judged "feed the monkey" gag, while the assembled journalists seemingly forgot to ask him the question on everybody's lips: What on earth is Tom Cleverley doing there?

This was, of course, the squad for a friendly, so the hand-wringing about England's apparently inevitable departure from the World Cup at an early stage was postponed for a little while, as everyone fretted about Joe Hart instead.

There is a world-weary cynicism that surrounds the England senior team. And with good reason—the largely predictable way they have played, briefly succeeded and ultimately failed leaves little room for anything else. England, for many, provokes apathy.

However, if there is an England team you'd like to get enthused about, their squad was named on Thursday too. Gareth Southgate might not exactly be an inspirational figure (one wonders if he can deliver a Churchillian speech when required at half-time), but the collection of players he has at his disposal are, at the very least, exciting.

While one might justifiably not be terribly motivated to watch an England team that could feature Danny Welbeck and James Milner, this Under-21 squad is full of players that will make you sit up.

MALDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14:  Head Coach Gareth Southgate speaks to members of the media during an England U21 press conference at the Five Lakes Hotel on October 14, 2013 in Maldon, England.  (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)
Harry Engels/Getty Images

Wilfried Zaha isn't getting a game at Manchester United, which means he has to find some way of impressing. Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah, who are currently in the Championship but won't be there for long, are two more elegant passers of the ball you will rarely see. Ravel Morrison is showing glimpses of the talent that so frustrated the staff at United, infuriated that this boy genius would or could not sort the rest of his life out.

“For me he can be every bit as good as Gascoigne,” Phil Brogan, a Manchester United scout who spotted Morrison as a kid, told the Daily Mail recently. “He’s certainly one of the best players in the world for his age and has been for many years.”

Nick Powell is finding his feet and scoring goals in his loan spell at Wigan. Raheem Sterling and Tom Ince are two of the most exciting young wingers in the country. Saido Berahino is scoring goals with a look on his face that wonders why anyone ever thought he wouldn't.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Luke Shaw of Southampton in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary's Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Image
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

And that's just the flair-players. In defence, Luke Shaw would almost certainly be in the senior squad if a) His level of talent was in an attacking player, and b) His path wasn't being blocked by Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines.

Carl Jenkinson could well be Arsenal's first-choice right-back next season. And Liam Moore, currently impressing every week for Leicester at full-back or in the middle, is one of the brightest young defensive talents to emerge for years.

This is not to necessarily say that England's future is shining bright, and that this generation will lift us from the stupor that the current senior team leave us in. But if you want a national team to be positive about, it's the Under-21s.

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