Who would want to be a young, gifted, talented English football player in the modern era?
If the treatment received by Ross Barkley, John Stones and Jack Wilshere over the past month or so is anything to go by, then certainly not me.
We, as a country, have a very odd relationship with our nation’s most promising young football players.
The media, pundits, self-proclaimed experts on social media, and the supporters that fill stadiums every week up and down the land seem completely unable to decide how we should perceive and treat the superstars that we see perform throughout the season.
We cry out that there is no genuine English talent coming through the system and then we proceed to build young players up, place them on a pedestal and take the upmost delight in knocking them back down.
This is nothing new of course. From Stan Bowles, through to Matthew Le Tissier, to David Beckham and now the modern generation: any number of mercurial players have been admired and castigated in equal measure.
Castigating the next generation of England internationals
Over the last couple of months I have observed with an increasing bewilderment at how we, in general, treat the new generation of England internationals.
First, there was Ross Barkley. The Everton playmaker possesses an abundance of technical ability and his game is characterised by creativity and innovation – surely everything that we want from the modern midfielder?
Admittedly, he lacks consistency but it is easy to overlook the fact that Barkley is still only 23 years of age and is still in the infancy of his career.
Time is undoubtedly on his side and as English creative central midfielders go he is already the stand out candidate – his career will only proceed to progress in an upwards trajectory.
Yet, despite this, Barkley’s reward for a consummate display in Everton’s 4-2 victory over reigning Premier League champions Leicester City on April 9th was to receive a right hook to the temple in an unprovoked assault in a Liverpool bar.
To make matters worse, the youngster was then eviscerated in a bizarre article published in a national newspaper that blurred the lines of racism and simple downright personal abuse.
Speaking of evisceration, Manchester City defender John Stones has had to deal with more than his fair share of criticism since joining Pep Guardiola’s team in the summer.
The near £50,000,000 price tag tends to blur the perceptions of onlookers when they analyse the performances of a young man that has only recently turned 22.
Yes, Stones has made errors this season but he remains the most talented and technically gifted English defender and will play a prominent role for club and country for the best part of the next decade and beyond.
Why is it that we have to continuously berate one of our country’s best young talents? What actually purpose do these continuous attacks actually serve?
Should there not simply be an acceptance that, at just 22 years of age, he is likely to make mistakes and is not yet the end product?
Which brings me onto Jack Wilshere. The general view in football is that the 25-year-old, who in currently nearing the end of a season long loan from Arsenal to Bournemouth, remains one of the most gifted English players of his generation.
His career has stalled, weighed down by constant injury problems and off the field issues there is little doubt that the midfielder has lost his way in recent years. So full credit to him for popping his head above the parapet and going in search of regular first team football on the South Coast when he could have quite easily have sat on the bench at the Emirates Stadium.
On Saturday 16th April, Wilshere was on the receiving end of a stern rebuke delivered by Alan Shearer during the ex-Newcastle striker’s regular slot on Match of the Day.
Shearer, firing away from the safety of the TV studio, concluding that “it hasn’t gone well [for Wilshere]” that he had “gone off injured again” and that his time on the South Coast had “caused more issues”.
I guess at this stage we must assume that Shearer has spent the entire season analysing Wilshere’s progress – or maybe he is simply shooting based on a snapshot of a thirty second highlight reel?
Maybe Wilshere should have stayed sat on the Arsenal bench and avoided making 27 appearances for Bournemouth, helping them to secure a second consecutive season in the top flight of English football.
Time to revaluate
In England we continuously complain about how there is a lack of talented home grown players and we deride the national team for underperforming at major international competitions.
Yet has it ever occurred that the ‘build them up and knock them down’ mentality that we have accepted within our football culture serves only as a detriment?
I have picked out three examples from the last couple of weeks but there is an endless list that I could have selected from.
Two of the players that I mentioned, Ross Barkley and John Stones, are both under the age of 23 and are set to become the backbone of our national team over the next decade and beyond.
Maybe we need to simply accept that these are young players that are still developing and that will make mistakes. Maybe we need to stop eviscerating young players through national media sources. Maybe we need to stop assaulting players in bars.
Maybe we need to completely revaluate how we perceive and treat our young English players.
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