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Forget sentiment, England need to pick their best team

The Boot Room

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Whilst most European nations embrace Under 21 Championships, the UK has always seemed to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with them.  The continual dispute over club-country relations is intensified at younger levels and England always seem to go to tournaments without their best squad, albeit often due to their own choices.

This year has seen a refreshing approach with only Luke Shaw’s absence causing any debate in the lead up to the tournament. However, established international stars such as Jack Wilshire, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling were not selected by manager Gareth Southgate, a move that undoubtedly helped to reduce any friction and resistance from Premier League clubs. The choice not to include such names was Southgate and England’s own prerogative, instead choosing to put their faith in the same players who had gained qualification to the Czech Republic.

England’s stance of wanting to reward those who got them to the Czech Republic is extremely moral and helps the confidence of those players knowing that their manager trusts them on the big occasion. Roy Hodgson’s recent comments about giving players the chance if they impress will also help to boost those picked rather than shattering confidence by replacing them with a first team regular.

The argument is that players who are already established in England’s first team do not need to go back to the Under 21’s and risk burnout, and with the World Cup in 2014 and European Championships to come in 2016, it is entirely justifiable decision. However, the consideration needs to be made as to whether the extra tournament games for some of England’s young stars would actually help the senior side. Other nations certainly appear to differ from England’s stance with 23 year old Juan Mata helping Spain to a fourth tournament success in 2011.

Of England’s starting 11 in the 2009 final, only Kieran Gibbs, James Milner and Theo Walcott have had any impact on the senior side and none are in the current first choice team. In contrast, six of Germany’s finalists (Neuer, Howedes, Boateng, Hummels, Khedira, Ozil) played key roles in the country’s 2014 World Cup triumph with four playing in every game.

England though are always reluctant to move players between the two squads and view the transition to the senior squad as a graduation. Following Harry Kane’s stunning Premier League form and instant impact on his international debut there were calls for him not to have the ‘burden’ of an U21 tournament during the summer. To Southgate’s credit, he was keen to have the Tottenham man in his squad, a sentiment echoed by Kane himself. Kane has had a breakthrough season but wasn’t a regular in the Spurs side until November so playing against the other top talent from around the continent will only help his development. He was also a key part of England U21’s qualification, the side Southgate wanted to keep together for the tournament, hence the reluctance to see his star man missing.

However, nations are remembered for their European Championship and World Cup successes, so the ultimate goal must be preparing the team in the best possible way for these, with the U21’s being an important step along the way. How many of the current crop of youngsters go on to become England regulars remains to be seen, but history suggests the number will be relatively low, particularly with a large number of the current English set up having numerous years at the top level ahead of them. Winning breeds confidence, particularly in a stable team, hence the transition and success of Spain and Germany in recent seasons.

This year’s crop of U21’s, Kane included, will benefit from playing in a high pressure tournament environment; particularly should they go on to do face similar situations for the senior side in the future. However, the benefits gained will be individual with the England team at the 2020 European Championships unlikely to be representative of the 2015 U21 squad, so team building for future tournaments at senior level will not be on the agenda in the Czech Republic.

England’s decision may be moral and rewarding, but winning tournaments requires a ruthless streak. Recalling Wilshire, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley and Sterling would have been extremely unpopular with their club managers, and dented the confidence of squad members who would have missed out on selection but it would have set a precedent for future tournaments. It would also have given England the best chance of winning with the four players already in the senior squad due to their superior talent to the current U21 players. All four gained experience at the World Cup in Brazil, but England were knocked out at the group stage meaning they will be carrying that experience of failure into Euro 2016. It also meant the squad didn’t face any knock-out fixtures, something that are sure to be part of their future evolution with England but games that are relatively rare in the club game, particularly against high class opposition if you are not in the Champions League.

Wilshire and Barkley have both faced injury interrupted seasons, so more game may have actually been beneficial for them in the short term too whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain doesn’t play 90 minutes week-in, week-out for Arsenal. Fatigue may have been a problem for Sterling, but he played twice for England after the end of the season. If he had missed those two games and joined up with the U21 squad his season would have been extended by a maximum of 3 games.

England have been lagging behind their fellow European heavyweights for too long on the international stage, so big decisions and big changes are clearly required. These need to start in the junior ranks to prepare players better for tournament football. The senior side seem set to sail through their qualifying campaign again and reach Euro 2016, but does anybody realistically expect anything other than the usual quarter-final exit once they’re there? English football needs a radical change and it’s about time people being paid big money made big decisions for the benefit of the England team, not just choices aimed at pleasing Premier League managers.

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Ones to Watch

Ones to Watch: Giorgian De Arrascaeta makes World Cup debut for Uruguay

Giorgian De Arrascaeta started for Uruguay against Egypt in Moscow today. Here’s how he fared…

Jamie Watts

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The low-down:

The attacking midfielder has spent his entire career in South America, joining Cruzeiro from Defensor Sporting in his homeland of Uruguay back in 2015.

But the 14-time international, who is renowned for his mesmeric dribbling ability and his tendency to leave opposition defenders red-faced, is being tipped to make a serious name for himself this tournament.

De Arrascaeta is a prime representation of the current shift from pragmatic football, to a more progressive and attacking style this World Cup, spearheading the midfield in a fresh faced Uruguay team.

The 24-year-old garnered a reputation for being one of South America’s most promising prodigies after helping Cruzeiro lift the Campeonato Mineiro in 2018 – currently boasting 40 goals in 159 appearances for the club.

Photo: Getty Images

Strengths and weaknesses:

The Cruzeiro no 10 was expected to cause problems for the Egypt rearguard using his dribbling ability and low-centre of gravity to breeze through the lines. While his delivery from set pieces is also considered dangerous weapon.

However, his lack of experience means he isn’t too adaptable and tactically flexible in multiple systems – meaning he could have to sit out games against tough opposition, where the club aren’t expected to be on the front-foot.

The Performance:

It was a hit-and-miss performance for De Arrascaeta, as he started on the left flank in a flat 4-4-2, with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani spearheading the attack. He soon decided to drift in-field to see more of the ball, interchanging with Rodrigo Betancur, where his talents became more obvious – but a lack of width from Uruguay led to a dull first-half.

As expected De Arrascaeta was on corner duty on the day and his delivery was typically good. Though touches were rare for him, he showed a few glimpses which suggest he is capable of becoming the creative catalyst in his preferred position, behind the striker/strikers in future games.

Unfortunately, his key moment was a negative one. Diego Godin charged through the midfield, after picking the ball up in defence and laid in De Arrascaeta on the left side of the penalty area, but his touch was a awful and a rare opportunity for Uruguay to take the lead was squandered. He was eventually substituted in the 58th minute.

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Sunderland set to lose £7.2m on their N’Golo Kante project

Didier N’Dong now looks set to leave Sunderland this summer.

Mathew Nash

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After Leicester City won the Premier League every team wanted their very own N’Golo Kante.

The Frenchman had stunned top flight fans with his performances as the Foxes won a shock title. Sunderland decided to try and bring in a Kante for themselves. The player in question was Didier N’Dong.

Like Kante, he was schooled in French football and the Gabon midfielder played a very similar style of football to that of Kante. Sunderland paid a fee in the region of £13.8 million to sign the player, making him the club’s record signing.

At the time, Sunderland manager David Moyes even stated to The Chronicle:

“We like the look of him, he has good energy, he is young, he will improve with time.

“I think he has a personality to his play.

(Photo credit should read SCOTT HEPPELL/AFP/Getty Images)

“I’m not saying he is another N’Golo Kante, but there is a bit of that in his makeup.”

However, two years on and it is clear that Ndong is not the second coming of Kante.

He struggled to find good form in his first season at the Stadium of Light and was again not up to scratch after Sunderland dropped to the Championship. After an unsuccessful stint on loan at Watford the Black Cats, now relegated to League One, are to let him go.

The 23-year-old is set to join Torino in a deal worth around £6.6 million, as reported by The Chronicle. A deal, according to the report, is still in the early stages as they try to agree on personal terms.

Sunderland are therefore set to make a £7.2 million loss on the player, who simply never lived up to the Kante reputation.

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Will Ademola Lookman friendship help or hinder Everton’s Ezri Konsa chase?

Everton target Ezri Konsa played with current blue Ademola Lookman at Charlton Athletic.

Mathew Nash

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Everton have found themselves linked with a move for Charlton Athletic defender Ezri Konsa this summer. The talented centre-back, who can also operate in holding midfield, is attracting plenty of interest including from Goodison Park. As reported by The Sun, Everton are fighting Brighton for his £5 million signature. The club sees him as a potential long-term replacement for club captain Phil Jagielka. With the Addicks falling agonisingly short of promotion from League One, they are likely to face a fight keeping hold of their star player.

Everton would no doubt love to bring him into the club this summer. The report from The Sun suggests that Silva wanted Konsa previously with Watford. So he is clearly hoping to finally get his hands on a long-term target.

Of course, it would not be the first time that Everton raided Charlton for their star talent. In January 2017 the Toffees secured a £11 million deal to bring Ademola Lookman from The Valley to Goodison.

So is this good news or bad news for Everton?

The pair knows each other well. They came through the ranks together at Charlton and are also international team-mates. The pair both won the Under-20 World Cup last summer. So surely, if Everton comes calling, Konsa will be giving his old pal Lookman a call for some advice.

(Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

Which is where things get tricky. Whilst it could easily be seen as a positive to have a friend already at the club, Lookman has not exactly enjoyed his best time at Everton.

He has struggled to make a sustained breakthrough into the first-team since his arrival. This January he headed out on loan abroad, much to the disappointment of Everton fans who rate him so highly.

He has since thrived in Germany and looked a far happier player away from Everton.

So whilst Konsa might feel a move to Everton will be a good way to get reacquainted with his old buddy, who knows if Lookman will have kind words to say about his parent club?

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