In Part 1 of my look into England’s next generation of players, I focussed on the progression between the age of 17 to 21 compared to their Dutch rivals. In this part I will be moving on and taking a broader look at the situation with England’s next generation as it currently stands, concentrating on the players who are 23 and under (as of the end of 2015), taking a look at the strength and comparing to Nations across the World. In doing this I will use a scoring system based on a combination of quality and quantity, marked over a variety of positions and tallied up at the end.
The comparison will be between England, the traditional seven big other footballing nations of Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, and joining them I will also include Belgium, currently ranked number 1 in the World. Of course all scores are based on my opinion and should not be taken as fact. It’s kind of like Eurovision, but with less Countries, less singing and dancing, but with added Brazil and Argentina.
10 points will be given to the Country that I feel has the best options in that position, 8 points for second best, 7 for third and so on all the way down to 1 point for weakest. The positions are split into Goalkeepers, Full Backs, Centre Backs, Midfielders, Attacking Midfield and Wide Players and lastly Forwards. So final scores will be out of a maximum of 60 points, let’s see how England stack up against their rivals, beginning at the back.
In Jack Butland, England have a tremendous young goalkeeper who has seemingly found the perfect place to grow in Stoke City. With regular game time he is now providing a serious alternative at National level to Joe Hart, however after Butland there is a serious lack of experience in the other keepers available. Jordan Pickford and Sam Johnstone may well go on to be fine players, but lack game time at the top level compared to the other Nations.
France and Italy have a number of top young keepers to call upon, all with games under their belt, Belgium and Germany boast some of the best keepers in the World at their disposal all in their early twenties. Even compared to Spain and Brazil, who may not possess household names in this position, England’s options are severely limited. If it wasn’t the rise of Butland of late, alarm bells would be ringing.
As far as point scoring goes, maximum points are given to Germany who boast the likes of Bernd Leno and Marc-André ter Stegen, just ahead of Belgium who can include the World class Thibaut Courtois. Third on my list is a straight choice between Italy and France, I give the edge to Italy because of Mattia Perin’s experience. England collect only 3 points, ahead of Argentina and the Netherlands.
Remove Luke Shaw from this list and England look extremely short in the full back department, Shaw of course is currently out injured for the remainder of the season and it’ll be a tough ask to return to his pre-injury form anyway. Matt Targett, Brendan Galloway, Andre Wisdom, Jon Flanagan and Carl Jenkinson, no disrespect intended but in comparison with other Countries full back options, these players are a long way off as it stands. Galloway and Flanagan have shown some quality but are not guaranteed first team players, and far from breaking into the full National setup on a regular basis.
Of course England could use the likes of Calum Chambers, Joe Gomez or Phil Jones to cover the full back positions, but their long term future looks more likely in the centre of defence. Despite the inclusion of Luke Shaw on this list I have to rate England’s full back options as the weakest, giving them only 1 point, this is down to the strength in that position the other nations possess.
Spain offer Juan Bernat, José Luis Gayá, Dani Carvajal, Alberto Moreno, Héctor Bellerín and Javier Manquillo. They also have further options like Jonny that were unlisted, for this reason they get maximum points. The Dutch claim second spot with Riedewald, Kongolo, Kenny Tete and Joshua Brenet, third goes to a strong selection from France.
At first look, this appears to be a fairly strong selection for England, but there is a slight cloud hanging over it. John Stones is a marvellous talent, seemingly getting better and better with each game, and Phil Jones has plenty of experience both for club and Country. However, Jones is inconsistent and has a long line of injuries behind him, Calum Chambers has quality in him but doesn’t play enough minutes for Arsenal to improve as much as he needs to. Joe Gomez started well for Liverpool following his summer transfer, but was yet another quality youngster to pick up a serious long term injury, now his future is far from clear. Behind those players there is a definitive drop in quality, with most experience gained from playing in lower leagues.
In comparison France and Germany are full of top defenders with International and Continental experience, Raphaël Varane is one of the World’s best, Aymeric Laporte and Kurt Zouma are playing most weeks, as to are the Germans Jonathan Tah, Matthias Ginter and Mustafi of Valencia. So these nations pick up the top two sets of points in the centre back round, France pipping the Germans to the 10. Third place is given to Brazil, not renowned for great defenders, but with Marquinhos they have a player with class and quality, coupled with the emergence of the likes of Samir, Marlon and Dória they pick up 7 points.
England do have good players here too though, maybe not the depth, so have earnt fourth spot and 6 points. Spain and Belgium bring up the rear for centre backs, not because they have poor options, but are short of real star power in this department. Whereas Argentina have Mammana, Italy have both Rugani and Romagnoli and the Dutch consist of a number of full internationals.
There are two stand out names in the midfield for England, though Eric Dier fans may argue his case also, Jack Wilshere and Dele Alli. One is an established top level player, but with a history of injuries, the other is having a season to remember at Tottenham, forcing his way into the full England team. Then after Eric Dier, we have a mixture of a lack of experience and a lack of real quality, which seems to be an ongoing trend for England as we go through this.
Although we can rightly be proud to have players of the calibre of Wilshere and Alli, Italy have Marco Verratti, France have Paul Pogba, Argentina can call on Kranevitter, Netherlands have Riechedly Bazoer, Belgium of course have Tielemans. The Spanish, Brazilians and Germans bring a number of top level talents to the table, all of a sudden England’s options don’t look quite as good.
This is a very hard section to rate, opinion dictates it and two people sharing the same view here is probably a non-starter. I gave England 3 points, just above Italy and Belgium, which sounds harsh because Marco Verratti and Youri Tielemans are top young players, but so are Wilshere and Dele Alli, so I based my split decisions on the strength in depth after the big names.
The top four could have been chosen in any order, Brazil, France, Germany and Spain are spoiled for talent in this department, I went with France though as my top choice. Pogba, Kondogbia and the classy Adrien Rabiot could grace any team. Spain pick up second spot, with Germany third and a very unlucky Brazilian selection taking fourth.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD/WIDE PLAYERS
So we come to England’s strength, the players who join attack and midfield, we have some real talent in this area of the pitch and much is expected of them as England go forward. Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley all have unbelievable potential. All three are regular internationals and are not so much the next generation but are the current iteration. Beyond them Jordan Ibe and Nathan Redmond look like exciting prospects, and WIlfried Zaha’s good form for Crystal Palace will soon have him back in England reckoning.
However, I still cannot give England the top points in this department, Germany offer Mario Götze, Max Meyer, Julian Draxler and Leroy Sané. The Spanish consist of Isco, Óliver Torres and Gerard Deulofeu, Brazil likewise have the exciting talents of Coutinho, Lucas Moura and Felipe Anderson. There are a lot of top talents in this area, but it is an area where England are at least competitive, so I will give them 8 points for this round, Germany taking the maximum and Spain then Brazil following on.
France and Italy bring up the rear for attacking midfield/wide roles, which again sounds harsh with Bernadeschi and Coman featuring, but again it comes down to strength in depth and other nations having more options.
In young Harry Kane, England have a quality forward, scoring goals for Tottenham regularly, and becoming a starter for the national team. However, who is next on the ladder behind him? Danny Ings is suffering from a lack of playing time, Saido Berahino seems to have more transfer tantrums than goals and the likes of Akpom and Solanke are trying to find form and minutes for themselves in loan moves to Hull and Vitesse.
Other Countries are seemingly spoilt for choice, Spain have the likes of Alcácer and Morata, El Shaarawy and Berardi are bringing excitement to Italy, Brazil can even boast the sensational Neymar. There are some World class forwards that fit into the under 23 age range, although Harry Kane has undoubted quality, compared to the likes of Neymar, Morata, Martial, Lukaku and Dybala he does fall slightly short.
For that reason, I can only award England 3 points in this round, beating the Germans who have concentrated their youth into other positions, and the Dutch who currently have a shortage of options after Luc Castaignos. Now even though Brazil have Neymar and Gabigol, they only collect 8 points in this section, I believe the depth of talent at Argentina’s disposal gives them the edge. Dybala, Vietto, Icardi and Ángel Correa, although not up to Neymar’s individual level, are all quality options to have. Spain take third spot, with Morata, Jesé and Alcácer their top young forwards at this moment.
Now how do England stack up in the final scores, with a score of 24 out of a possible 60 it doesn’t make for good reading, level with the Dutch and slightly ahead of Belgium and Italy it shows that there is quality there, just not enough to compete at the top level.
France came out on top with 40 points, 1 clear of Germany and Spain who shared the second spot, Brazil close behind on 37.
Of course all scores given are entirely down to opinion, so are the players selected in the cross section I reviewed.
So what does all this point tallying and charts actually go to prove? Well it does throw up a fairly serious point, England have a number of high quality youngsters, it’s no secret as they already represent the full National side, but behind them exposes a serious lack of depth in England’s talent pool. If these players aren’t available due to injury, then the other options are either of a much lower quality or have not had the game experience required.
As part 1 of my look into England’s youth showed, our players are missing key minutes in their development, well the vast majority are anyway. At youth level in recent years, England actually have a very good record in comparison with other nations, so the talent is there, it’s just not always being given the chance it needs. Whereas other Countries are giving more players more minutes, they may not be naturally as good as our kids but very often they go on to achieve more.
Of course we have the exceptional few break out, the likes of Shaw, Butland, Stones, Wilshere, Alli, Chamberlain, Barkley, Sterling and Kane are truly exciting players, but because of our lack of depth behind the stars the weight of expectation falls too firmly upon them. It’s hard to rise to your full potential under that kind of pressure and there is yet again the risk that this generation will fall short, just as other golden generations have. The English FA, under Greg Dyke has publicly recognised things needs to change in English football, but finding a solution that suits all parties remains a dream at present.