Call-up for Sterling highlights devalued top-flight resources

England turn to untested youngsters as a result of home talent being squeezed out of Premier League sides, writes Sam Wallace

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The Independent Online

The statistics have told us that it has been the case for a long time now, but it took the call-up to the England team of a 17-year-old kid with just seven games' experience at Liverpool to remind us that the pool of talent available to the manager of the national team is shrinking by the season.

It is not Raheem Sterling's fault that he has been fast-tracked from the England Under-19s, for whom he played against Germany on Thursday night, to a World Cup qualifier tonight against Ukraine in the space of four days. He is undoubtedly a very promising talent.

By comparison, when Steven Gerrard, tonight's captain, made his debut against Ukraine in May 2000 he had played 44 games for Liverpool's first team and turned 20 the day before the match.

The Premier League and the landscape of English football has changed dramatically since then. Yes, there is still a strong core of English footballers who are first choices for their Premier League teams. Yes, there is an injury and illness crisis this week that has left Roy Hodgson without 12 players whom he would have expected to select. The Under-21s played last night in Chesterfield which complicated matters further.

Nevertheless, the statistics are impossible to ignore. In the most recent weekend of Premier League games, and including the Chelsea team that played in the European Super Cup the preceding Friday, only 66 of the 209 players – 31.5 per cent – who started the matches were eligible for England. In Spain, that equivalent percentage for Spanish players on the same weekend was 64.3 per cent; in France 62.7 per cent; Italy 52.1 per cent and Germany 45 per cent.

Hodgson said that the deficit of English players in the Premier League was a fact of life that the national team manager simply had to live with. "Would I prefer to have a reverse of that statistic, with 66 per cent of players being English? Of course I would. But that's not going to happen. We have to accept that.

"One of the other facts we can't deny is the top clubs know where the best talent is, and often go out and buy that top talent. That top [English] talent, at a young age, finds it difficult to break into the team because of the established European talent in front of them."

Hodgson's more immediate preoccupation is playing Ukraine, with the untested Adam Lallana and Jake Livermore also added to the squad. He said that his team will be unchanged with the exception of the injured John Terry being replaced by Phil Jagielka or Gary Cahill.

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