The England U21 team start their European Championship campaign on Wednesday and I have fond memories myself playing for the U21s as a Fulham player from the old third division.
Myself, Ian Snodin, Bobby Mimms and David Seaman were the only lower division players in the squad at the time. Other guys in that side included the likes of Paul Rideout, Frank Yallop from Ipswich, Tony Cottee and Chris Waddle, who I made my debut with.
I scored in that match against Finland at the Old Dell in Southampton – I can remember all my goals!
It was such an honour playing for that team, especially as a third division player. When you make the team you are dreaming about making the senior side – the reality is not many do. Today it is a bit easier to earn a full England cap because we are now giving away caps more often than Tesco have 2 for 1 deals.
But a problem existed then that still exists now – there is no integration between the U21 squad and the senior team.
Other countries use these tournaments as chances to develop their national teams for the future but most of our squad will go from playing in Israel to going straight back to the Championship or the bench.
It is a big problem and it won't get fixed until we take off our human rights hats and stop looking after everybody else before we look after our own.
We have to push English and British first and get them playing in our Premier League. We have to start demanding that a certain amount of young English players play in the Premier League, not just have them in the squad – that's a cop out – but actually have a number of young English players on the field of play at any given time.
It would be a hard thing to push through but it is a necessity for me when you look at the strength of other nations. The most positive thing English football can have is a strong national team but we don't have that. You hear David Bernstein saying we can win the World Cup but he is only saying that because he is leaving and he feels he must, but we can't win the World Cup, let's not kid ourselves, and we will never have a chance unless young English players are playing regularly in the Premier League.
Our young players need to be playing against the best; sure we should have foreign players as they improve the quality too and I'm not knocking them, but we need to cut the percentage way down.
The clubs won't do this themselves because it is too dangerous. The managers have to look after their jobs, but all the other top countries seem to play their top young players in their top league.
We have the best league in the world but it is the best international league – that's the difference. We need to start celebrating our own players more.
Even here where I live in Singapore – where they are obsessed with the Premier League – when it comes time to support the Singapore national team, the entire country loves them and looks after them. We need to do that too.
You look at the names in this England U21 squad and a lot of them aren't in the Premier League. Even if they are, they are far from being regulars for their clubs.
You hear managers like Harry Redknapp saying our young players are not good enough – well give them a chance, is what I say.
With big training complexes at clubs now, a lot of the young players don't even get to play with the top players in training - they get distanced and separated when they need to be integrated.
People think these academies are great but in a way it was better when there was less money and only two or three pitches to play on because it meant everybody – youth and senior – had to mix together.
Shipping these youngsters out on loan does not work either because the players become disillusioned playing at the lower level. In whatever industry you are in, not matter how good you are, if you drop to a level that is lower than what you started at, you will fall to that level because you have nothing to compete against, you don’t have that next level pushing you along, you've nobody to look up to.
That's what is happening to our young players: they start impressively, but they don’t get a real chance and they drop a level and soon enough they become also-rans like everybody else.
But if they are playing with top players at the top level – then obviously they will improve. Just look at the guys Sir Alex Ferguson brought through at Manchester United: Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, David Beckham. That's what happens and it can happen at other clubs too.
If you send them out on loan and then don’t get them back quickly, they will just disappear and the managers will then come out and say: "they weren't good enough". But they were good enough, it's just the managers did not know how to deal with them and bring them back at the right time.
Instead, managers seem more comfortable spending money on average foreign players than taking a risk with a player who has some potential; that is just a shame for these young English kids who are never given a proper chance to help their clubs and their country.
- Sports & Recreation
- Premier League