Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Roy's Generation Game

An ubiquitous yearning, on the part mainly of fans, has led the FA decision-makers down a youthful path prematurely. For as long as we can remember, it has been the cliched retort of fans that England have a squad only of aging and tired veterans; failure routinely met with an incredulous plea for younger, more vibrant players to be considered. In the aftermath of Euro elimination this summer, however, the hysteria was so loud as to evoke from Roy Hodgson an actual response. Young players, then, have been hastily and unfairly rushed through the system into prominence, a revelation that, ultimately, could do more bad than good.

A generation has been bypassed in Roy's recent rethink. The recent round of World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine featured a squad hit hard by injury. Rather uncharacteristically, replacements were called up. Southampton's dynamic playmaker Adam Lallana, Tottenham's midfield maestro Jake Livermore and Liverpool's fluorescent hope Raheem Sterling were all drafted in at short notice. All were peculiar candidates for International service, not least because more-accomplished, more-experienced and more-deserving players were rudely overlooked.

At twenty-four, Adam Lallana may not seem too young to represent the full National side, but a player with barely a handful of Premier League appearances surely cannot harbour the prerequisite experience to don the Three Lions. Even the player himself admitted at being "totally shocked" at the call-up, which illustrates the rushed nature of it all. The selection of such a player is even more confusing in context of players that perhaps were competing for the same berth. What of Leon Osman? Surely a player of such longevity and consistency at the top level deserved the chance to prove himself on the biggest stage more than a relative novice.

Discrepancies emerge also with the inclusion of Livermore. Undoubtedly a fine player with precocious versatility and boundless talent, Livermore is a prospect for the future. He is not the answer at this point. In order to play for England, I believe, a player has to be a guaranteed regular at club level and, under Andre Villas-Boas, it remains unclear whether Livermore will, at this stage, fill such a role this term.

But most contentious is the call-up of Sterling. At just seventeen years of age, the zippy winger has this season been thrust into the limelight for Liverpool, impressing in Europa League games against Hearts, as well as league fixtures versus Manchester City and Arsenal. He is seventeen years of age, however. Not only is a player not ready for such competition physically at that age, but he has not the years even to attempt to amass the experience and record needed for a call-up. In times gone by, England call-ups had to be earned, through a display of abundant talent as well as an earning of respect. The talent, the respect and the record come only with experience and, therefore, it is deeply insensitive and unfair, on the part of Hodgson, even to consider him.

A call-up at this early juncture of a career is unfair to Sterling, placing unnecessary pressure and attention on him to deliver. It is, however, deeply unfair for a host of players far more qualified and deserving than he. Nathan Dyer is the most obvious example. The lynchpin of a Swansea City side that has, for two years, lit up the Premier League, Dyer deserves a chance to shine more than any other current English player. He has the talent in abundance, and has, over an eclectic career, gained the respect of an industry. But still no England call? A twenty-four year old boasting a plenitude of skill, in accordance with valuable experience and reputation, Dyer is emblematic of the generation that England should not be turning to. The fact that Dyer, and similar others (Wayne Routledge, Leon Britton, Kevin Nolan...) are routinely overlooked smack of footballing snobbery, as well as considered ignorance of an entire generation.

Many will argue that, "in four years time at the World Cup....," but it is now that England need players of the right age, the right experience, the right character. Quickly rushing an entire crop of talented youngsters through the system is an answer drenched in folly. This forcing of development on the biggest stage may, in future years, be attributed with yet more failure, yet more tournament heartache, yet more broken promises. For the players themselves, however, this uncompromising thrust into the limelight way ahead of schedule may have a lasting effect of negativity; it may well stunt their growth. 

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