England and Young Players: About Time or Too Soon?
During Fabio Capello’s tenure as England boss, the press derided him for a number of reasons. His crimes included not speaking the language well, so-called rigid tactics and not giving youth a chance. A tabloid once went far enough so as to publish Capello’s head with a pair of donkey ears! It’s fair to say he wasn’t a popular chap!
Oh youth! One of Capello’s sins was not giving the likes of Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell and Andy Carroll the chance to shine on the international stage. Considering how their respective careers panned out, one has to doubt whether they were the answer to England’s problems under the Italian.
While Capello was criticized for not selecting young players often enough, Hodgson is currently facing a different rap. England have been lucky enough to see the likes of Barkley, Shaw, Sterling and Lallana all exploding onto the Premier League scene. However after selecting a youthful squad for the World Cup, many doubts are still being cast on the England manager about whether he has the guts to play these young players. Many feel he’s too conservative to do so! He will let the country down.
However, is this public opinion of Hodgson and the emerging young players true? Has Hodgson not shown enough courage in selecting such a young squad (England has the sixth youngest squad for the 2014 World Cup)? Are the young ones really that much better than the likes of Rooney, Milner, Gerrard and Lampard? Are they the ones who will finally get rid of the heartache English fans go through one tournament after the other?
It may well be so but I feel Rio has come too early for them to be put under so much pressure.
The young players mentioned all have undoubted ability and ambition. But that’s not enough to win World Cups. Most of the Italy squad that won the 2006 World Cup is now retired or almost-retired. That squad won the World Cup thanks to discipline, experience and a cool head when it mattered most. The Spanish team that has recently won three prestigious tournament consecutively has had the enviable mix of experience (Casillas, Xavi, Puyol, Marcos Senna), youth (Busquets, Pique, Alba), pace (Torres at his prime, Alba, Mata), technique and composure (Villa, Torres, Iniesta when it counted).
Throwing the likes of Barkley, Sterling and Lallana together from the first minute against Italy or Uruguay will be football-suicide. Not only will their lack of experience be exposed, but recovering from a hammer blow on the international stage is a hard task. Just ask Scott Carson and Robert Green. Milner, Rooney and Welbeck have a combined total of 162 caps. Lallana, Sterling and Barkley have 16.
I’m not saying young players shouldn’t be given a chance. They should, but in a protected manner. Starting with one of Barkley, Sterling or Lallana as one of the 3 in a 4-2-3-1 formation can actually inject the bit of pace required in the heat of Manaus against Italy. Pele after all exploded onto the scene as a 17 year old. However, more than that would be risky.
Having said all that, Hodgson will still have the option of calling on a fresh young skillful player to change the game in the 60-70th minute from the substitute’s bench.
Whilst I do feel that Hodgson will err on the caution side of things, I still expect him to unleash the young ones when they’re required. Michael Owen is seen as one of the heroes of the 1998 World Cup. However, Hoddle only started him for the first time in the group stage’s final game having been impressed by the teenager’s impact from the substitutes’ bench in the previous two matches. Hodgson will be expecting a similar impact from his young guns.
Many say it’s about time that England unleashed the young players onto the pitch; I personally feel it may be too soon for some of the lads to have such pressure on their shoulders.