ANYONE expecting England to have a major chance in the European Under 21 Championships in Israel should think again.
Those who watched the opening 1-0 defeat to Italy the other night will quickly have realised we are a fair bit behind what is required to win at this level.
To be fair, Stuart Pearce has several players missing from what you might call his best team, but the same also applies to most of the other countries taking part.
Fundamentally, we have struggled to make an impact now for several tournaments in succession, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
While our 23-man squad includes only five players without Premier League experience – so there is a lot of top-flight ability at Pearce’s disposal – they don’t get much time at all to perform on the biggest stage.
I saw a stat suggesting they’ve been on the field as little as 2% of game time in the Premier League, so perhaps we should expect nothing other than to come up short in these big age-group events.
England qualified by winning nine straight matches, scoring 22 goals and conceding none, but the reality is that against the best teams, individually we just aren’t technically good enough.
Time on the pitch against the best around is what they need, but they are not getting those crucial minutes of action.
It takes me back to when I was a young player at Fulham and just on the verge of the first team under Malcolm Macdonald, the future Town manager.
I remember him telling me that until you had played 100 league games, you wouldn’t have a clue what your level was going to be.
I think that is absolutely spot on, even all these years later.
Unless you are playing week in, week out, you never really find out how good you can be.
That’s why our lads in the Under 21 side have difficulty when it comes to the championships.
You see a lot of Premier League clubs loaning out their players for a season to give them experience – Wilfried Zaha did well at Crystal Palace, earned his move to Manchester United and was immediately loaned back – and this seems to be the way it will continue to be.
Lots of these players have potential, but they just don’t get the chance to show what they can do in the top flight, largely because of the influx of foreign players into our game. That’s not going to stop, so there are clearly no easy answers to this problem and it’s hard to see how we can turn it around anytime soon.
All the same, I will be rooting for our boys when they take on Norway tomorrow (5.00).