In a summer where top-class football was hard to find on our EPGs, the UEFA European Under-21 European Championship seemed like a rare ray of light.
We could see some of the stars of the future of European football show what they’re capable of, but all didn’t go to plan.
A lot of was expected of Stuart Pearce’s England side. Having experienced players like Jordan Henderson in the side plus promising stars like Wilfried Zaha, Tom Ince and Jack Butland to choose from, they were expected to do well, but three losses in the group stage saw them bow out early.
Following their early flight home from Israel without a single point to their name, the team and manager Stuart Pearce were put under intense scrutiny. People were asking what they could learn for future tournaments and about how to blood young talent in more effective ways.
Here are just some of the things we learned about England’s hugely underwhelming campaign and about the tournament as a whole:
England need to find a good replacement
Although he managed to get England into the tournament in the first place, the fact that Stuart Pearce didn’t get much out of the squad spelled the end of his time in charge. A good replacement who has a track record of developing young talent is imperative.
Among those linked with the vacancy are former senior side managers Glenn Hoddle and Steve McLaren, but a leftfield choice like former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen might work wonders, given his work at club level.
Most of the U-21 squad aren’t good enough to progress
Although it’s easy to see Zaha and Ince turning out for the senior side (Zaha already has an England cap to his name), the same can’t be said of most of the squad, judging by what we witnessed. Connor Wickham, Jonjo Shelvey and Craig Dawson might not ever pull on an England shirt again – they certainly have a long way to go if they ever want to earn a cap at a major tournament.
Some of the team looked tired
Many of the squad have played full seasons for their teams in the Championship or, in the case of Danny Rose at Sunderland and Nathaniel Clyne at Southampton, the Premier League. It’s safe to say that this tournament probably came at the wrong time for them.
Pearce didn’t have his best team available
There were a number of players who could and should have figured for England. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones, Jack Wilshere and Southampton full-back Luke Shaw would, if all available, have made a huge difference, each having experience at the highest level.
Spain and Italy have a very bright future
Following their impressive 4-2 victory over Italy in the final, it seems that Spain’s dominance of the international scene looks likely to continue. Expect Isco, Thiago Alcantara, David de Gea and Inigo Martinez to play a big role in the senior side for years to come.