got their European U21 Championship campaign off to a shaky start against Finland on
Monday and boss Stuart Pearce has rightly demanded an improvement from his side.
They proved they are susceptible at the back against the
Finns - the dismissal of Michael Mancienne was clear proof of that fallibility -
but at least his charges showed enough character and belief to find a winner,
despite having been reduced to 10 men for much of the game.
That kind of fight will
stand them in good stead for the rest of the tournament, but they will need
something else if they are to really challenge the likes of traditional
heavyweights Spain, Italy and Germany for the trophy.
they lacked someone capable of unlocking the opposition defence, a player with
composure on the ball and with the nous to play a telling pass.
Pearce's squad has enough Premier League talent to make
other teams sit up and take notice, but without a cutting edge, they may
struggle to match others.
Theo Walcott was supposed to give the side that, but once
again he was found wanting in Halmstad and was sacrificed at half-time. You can
forget about his withdrawal being tactical - he was woefully ineffective, so he
was brought off. Simple.
The Arsenal man has been groomed since an early age as a
future star and was lucky enough to be selected by Sven-Goran Eriksson to go
the World Cup at the age of just 17.
But since the summer of 2006 he has largely failed to
capitalise on that opportunity. Is it not time to start looking elsewhere for
the next big star of English football?
The answer may come in the form of Walcott's Arsenal
team-mate Jack Wilshere, who to me seems like a natural-born footballer, rather
than Walcott's manufactured version.
If you look some of the best players on the continent at the
moment, they are skilful playmakers with the ability to unlock defences. In
this country, we don't seem to groom players like that anymore. Indeed, Paul
Gascoigne was probably the last of that ilk.
Wilshere is yet to make his debut for the U21s, but surely a
call-up cannot be too far away. He is such an exciting player, one who is
willing to dictate play, run at the opposition with the ball at his feet and get
opposition defences thinking.
As Walcott has proved, pace is not everything. Intelligence
on the ball is needed, and it is in that department where Wilshere stands out.
One-trick ponies are 10 a penny in this country, but a
genuine world-class playmaker is something that has eluded us for many years
and something that could finally elevate the national side to the next level.
It's time Wilshere was given the same attention and opportunities
as Walcott - he would certainly have given Pearce's side an edge they currently
lack in Sweden