Paul Parker

Where next for England’s youngsters?

Paul Parker

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After the
shambles that was England's World Cup, it's a relief to see a team with three
lions on their shirts go to a major tournament and manage to avoid total
embarrassment.

Better than
that, Noel Blake's U19 team have reached the semi-finals of the European
Championships in Normandy - no mean feat by
any stretch of the imagination.

Okay, they
haven't set the world alight, but they're in the final four and that alone is
highly encouraging. The future of English football, it seems, is in good hands.
Or is it?

The bunch
of lads out in France at the moment may be talented with bright futures ahead
of them, but what concerns me is how they will progress over the next few
years.

I fear that
very few of them will be given opportunities to take their games to the next
level, especially those at Premier League clubs.

Few, if
any, will head back to their clubs from the tournament in France and expect to
be given a chance to shine on the big stage.

The way the
game has evolved over recent years now means that there is far too much to lose
by taking a gamble on a young player. Far better to bring in someone else with more experience than taking a
potentially risky punt on a 19-year-old, whatever his potential.

Alex
Ferguson famously gambled with his 'Fledglings' in the 1990s - and it paid off.
But would Fergie do the same now in today's climate, in which the financial
rewards are as big as the implications of defeat? I'm not so sure. Even
Manchester United cannot afford to slip up.

Yet
development at these players' ages is crucial - the experience of training
alongside and, more importantly, playing with top players is invaluable.

But most
young players at top clubs will be farmed out on loan to lower-division clubs to get playing time, and with that
comes a number of problems.

First and
foremost, there are the players they train with - not a patch on those at their
parent clubs. Then there is the worry they may lose their way slightly. Young
lads want to be at top clubs and if they are
not, if they are sent out here there and
everywhere on loan, they run the risk of getting disillusioned.

Disenchanted
youngsters who have effectively been told they are not good enough to make it
at Premier League level may never make it back. We see it all too often. And
the sad truth is we'll never know if they were good enough or not, given they
were never handed a real chance.

Perhaps some
of Blake's youngsters can take heart from the example of Jack Wilshere, who
deservedly looks set to get his chance this season for Arsenal. Wilshere's an
exciting talent who has handled his time on loan at Bolton - a 'lesser club' if
you like - extremely well.

In the
Premier League, where the quick fix option of bringing in foreign players is so
often preferred to bringing through home-grown talent, opportunities for young
English players are and for the foreseeable future will remain limited.

That's always
been a problem in England, but it's almost as if it's been a taboo subject.
It's taken the World Cup debacle - and to some extent Germany's success with a
young Bundesliga-based team - to realise that something has to be done if
England are to start producing players capable of challenging for major honours
at senior level.

For too
long we've been duped into thinking that English football is the best, purely
because of the success of the Premier League. But the stars who have elevated
the league to the highest levels have not been predominantly English.

For that to
become a reality, and for England to improve on their performance in South
Africa, the likes of the youngsters currently doing the nation proud in France
need to be given their chance.

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