Former England right-back Danny Mills has branded the country's under-21 team a bunch of "robots" who "can't think for themselves" after watching them crash out of the European Championship.
Stuart Pearce's Young Lions returned home from Denmark yesterday, still in shock from the nightmarish manner of their exit from the tournament.
England failed to win a match, throwing away victory and a semi-final spot last night after conceding two last-gasp goals against Czech Republic.
Their collapse was the final insult of what had been a miserable 10 days for Pearce's side, who could only manage dismal draws with Spain and Ukraine.
Mills, who watched all three of their games in his job as summariser for BBC Radio Five Live, said: "When these youngsters are playing for England, they are fearful.
"They seem to be too aware they are under scrutiny.
"None of those players had the confidence or wherewithal to play and get England through.
"I appreciate they're young and still learning the game. But let's not forget either, they're not playing against senior professionals, they're playing against their peers.
"Nobody had the ability on the pitch to stand up and say, 'Right, this isn't going well, I'm going to change this and make a difference'.
"That's because academies are now almost creating robotic players, who have had everything done for them from the age of nine.
"Ever since that age, they've been told what to do and they can't think for themselves."
Indeed, Mills, who won 19 caps between 2001 and 2004 and retired two years ago, blamed the country's youth development system for England's lack of senior success.
"It's hard for the players because they've been brought up this way," he said.
"But we have to change it for the younger generation moving through the system.
"We have to realise the old English style of football isn't quite good enough to compete at the very highest level.
"That's why we haven't won anything since 1966.
"We've got to the odd quarter-final but that isn't good enough for a nation like England.
"The players have got to be able to express themselves out there and the shackles have to be released.
"If not, it will be a long long time before we win anything else."
Mills also accused the Football Association of mollycoddling players by keeping them away from fans and the media at major tournaments.
"These boys should be getting out and seeing some of the countries they are staying in," he said.
"It might teach them a thing or two about life and make them appreciate what they have.
"But by being holed up in a posh hotel, the gap between them and reality is widening and that can't be a good thing."
He added: "They are frightened to go against the manager during a game and it's difficult for them.
"But something has to change because the under-21s played a bit like the senior squad did at the World Cup."
Mills also hit out at Pearce's tactics, saying: "The Czechs sat back and allowed England to play.
"England had 64% of possession - roughly the same amount Spain had against us.
"Stuart Pearce said after that Spain game that if England would have had 60-odd per cent of possession, they would win 4-0. But we didn't.
"That's because we had no cutting edge."
He added: "Football is very much a game of risk and reward.
"You have to take risks. And for me there weren't enough players going forward who were willing to take a risk to make something happen."Reuse content