17 November ~ Presumably intending to make a point about a vision of the future, Fabio Capello picked a young squad for England's friendly match against France tonight. No fewer than eight of the 23 players named are aged 23 or under and only three, Rio Ferdinand, Robert Green and Steven Gerrard, are 30 years old or over. It’s the "new fabric of England", as Umbro – so predictably after a failed World Cup campaign – would have us believe.

While the inclusion of young players such as Jordan Henderson, Chris Smalling, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere may excite some people, to many others (like me) it represents a depressing reminder of the misplaced obsession the nation has with youth, not to mention a snub to a number of more deserving candidates and a suggestion that Capello is perhaps just as easily swayed by media opinion as those who preceded him. West Ham's Scott Parker is one player who should consider himself very unlucky not to have been called up, as may the likes of Kevin Davies, Lee Cattermole, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Phil Neville and Leighton Baines, all of whom have certainly had a bigger impact this season than many of the other names in the squad.

The sad truth of the matter – even though it would be considered bad form to say so, so no one ever does – is that these players are all largely considered too old. At the age of 30, Parker, once the bright, young hope of England’s central midfield and heir to the throne of Frank Lampard, now forms the centre-piece of a forgotten generation. What is most sad to see is the lack of foresight in judging the value of a player who is a bit older. Indeed, what all of those listed above have lost in the fashion of youth, they have gained and grown with experience to ultimately be better players.

Much depends on preference. Where some believe in using friendlies to experiment with youth, there is much to be said for simply choosing the best and most deserving players, not least in terms of the positive statement it presents. When Lampard retires, he should be replaced by the next in line, which will most realistically and fairly be in the form of a player in his late 20s or even his 30s (such as, say, Parker), and not by a teenager. Unless, of course, there are exceptional circumstances whereby the teenager in question really is better than the other options available.

The idea that if a player is not good enough as a teenager he will never be good enough is damaging and fundamentally leads to the disregarding of entire generations. A wider point here is that, whilst Wilshere may have the potential to be good, he is not better – in terms of overall effectiveness as a player – than Parker is now. Then there is the argument that a player like Wilshere can only fulfil his potential if he gets the opportunity to play at the highest level from a very early age. Or, in other words, if someone like Capello makes a move to invest in his potential.

This is a role that should be taken up by clubs and the international Under-21 system that is already in place. Indeed, after five years in the first team at Manchester City and with an impressive number of Under-21 caps to his name, Micah Richards is without question a better player now than he was when he first broke into the England team in 2006.

In Spain, players are typically eased into the first-team set-up through extended time spent in the Under-21s. Barcelona’s midfield duo of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are among the highest capped Spanish Under-21 players of all time, and Valencia’s Juan Mata was last month put back into the Under-21s despite spending the summer in South Africa. Even top scorer David Villa did not make his full debut until he was 23 and was not a key player until significantly later.

Clearly lacking the patience to allow a player to grow, English football has now put itself in an absurd position whereby players who are no longer teenagers are effectively disregarded, and the teenagers leftover are consequentially subjected to an impossibly high level of hype and pressure, very often before they have even had a chance to make an impact at their club. Isidore Lewis

Comments (8)
Comment by Birthday Frank 2010-11-17 12:41:22

Interesting stuff - Phil Neville has been especially hard done by. If you're good enough, you're young enough...

Comment by Harbinger of Hope 2010-11-17 12:58:18

The problem the England team have is that their only really meaningful games happen once every other summer. This means always having to plan two or even four years ahead. With there being normally 10 qualifying games spread over two years, it is very difficult to bed anyone, young or old, into the side.

Anyone playing now needs to still be playing well, come the next finals tournament. Players such as Phil Neville (34 in January, 35 by 2012) could certainly have retired by then. That is before you even look at his England career to date, which hasn't been sparkling.

While I agree throwing kids at the team isn't great, a friendly is the best time to do it. We all saw what happened when Erikkson took a young Theo Walcott to the World Cup as a 4th striker with no intention of playing him. It was a disaster.

It's better to give Capello a chance to look at them now, and I firmly believe the manager is as interested in the player's personality as his skills. You can judge a player's skills watching him at his club, but you cannot judge his personality and how it will fit into the squad until it happens.

Maybe an early call up will be the making of someone like the headline hogging Andy Carroll.

Comment by jameswba 2010-11-17 13:26:31

Interesting article and I agree with most of the points but isn't part of the problem the fact that international football - international friendlies certainly - has lost its status? I wouldn't want to second-guess a player's feelings but I wonder if Parker, Neville, Baines etc are truly heartbroken about missing out on this game. Their clubs, no doubt, will be delighted they're not in the squad. Long gone are the days when an international call-up was, of itself, a source of pride for both player and club.

Comment by johntheface 2010-11-17 13:37:56

as a life long man city fan i can assure you that Micah Richards is much, much worse than he was in 2006. if i could i'd drive him to Sunderland myself and bring Nedum Onuoha back with me. He's barely good enough for the Prem and definitely not good enough for England. Agree with you about pretty much everyone else you've mentioned though, especially Parker and Baines. If Gibbs played for Everton and Baines played for Arsenal then Gibbs wouldn't be anywhere near the England squad

Comment by Coral 2010-11-17 13:54:11

My view is hope. Leighton Baines was ruddy awful in the games I watched him play, against Egypt I sat and watched him to see how he got on compared to Cole and he was lacking. Scott Parker in the games I have seen him play has been decent enough but he currently plys his trade for a team probably on the cusp of moving down a league and struggled to get into Chelsea. Davies has always rolled around the lower end of the table with smaller clubs failing to take his chance when it came. Read the same for Nolan. Cattermole is likely to be sent off, Downing has had plenty of chances in the set up. Neville is now a decent but not exceptional player.

In all that though, no matter what the counter arguement is, you cannot say they are professionals at the very top of their game and the only place they will go is down. The hope is the young players like Carroll and Wilshire will be huge names for time to come. Get them in during the friendlies to help them fulfill their potential. With youth there is hope that you will get something more. As with Barry coming back in I knew he would still just be passing that ball sideways over a short distance and would never be a Xavi or a Innesta. Wilshire could be.

Comment by Adam Wilson 2010-11-17 14:05:44

I find it ludicrous that that is any call for anyone over the age of 28 to start joining this England squad, for precisely the points made of how old they will be in 2014. The Euros should only be used as a stepping off point for the World Cup. Therefore it is thank you and goodbye to Lampard, Ferdinand, Terry and Gerrard. Let's start with Wiltshire and the rest of the U21s that have done a good service and play them no matter what in preparation for Brazil 2024. How can it be that Walcott has failed to play a World Cup match yet? Because everything about England is short-termism (hence a call for Phil Neville to play today!). Let's embrace some short term experimentation (and failure) because it can't be worse than the last wretched decade of under achievement.

Comment by PRB 2010-11-17 16:54:41

I see your point and the development of a player is sometimes better suited to them spending the max amount of time possible at Under 21 level and you're right that its not right for a player to be disgarded from international play if they do not come up to scratch for England as a teenager/early 20's player. As such someone like Parker has a right to be upset. But, the focus has to be on the next tournament two years from now or even the next World Cup in four years and we seen at the recent World Cup that the best players on paper don't necessairly make the best team on the pitch.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-11-18 17:53:57

This article brings up some interesting points.....
An example that struck me whilst watching last nights match;
Is kieron Gibbs really a better player than any or all of Baines,Bridge,Warnock,Neville........??
Wales,under John Toshack went down the route of continually disregarding "older" players,and capping ever younger people.
Did the policy work...?
The answer would have to be No,the Welsh ended up in disarray,with the "older" players alienated and retiring from International Football left,right and centre.While the younger element that was brought in were clearly not good enough nor experienced enough..
I hope England dont get sucked into this kind of thing,but I fear we will be,because the Manager is starting to resemble a leaf in the wind,going which ever way the Media chooses to blow.

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