Shoulder defends record by grooming for future

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The Independent Football

The Wales Under-21 coach, Jimmy Shoulder, believes his most important job is to help young players progress through to the senior squad not obtain good results.

Shoulder came under fire after his side were thrashed 8-1 by Italy on Friday, the worst defeat for Wales at this age-group, but his "embarrassed and hurt" players produced a brave, committed display to force a goalless draw against a much older and more physical Finland side at Merthyr Tydfil yesterday.

Wales have won only two of their last 31 games at this level but the system has nurtured current senior players such as Craig Bellamy, Simon Davies, Robert Earnshaw, Danny Gabbidon and Rhys Weston for Mark Hughes' first team. Shoulder believes the likes of the 18-year-olds Craig Morgan and Liam Powell - both making their debuts on Tuesday - and Bournemouth's excellent youngster, Brian Stock, will be part of the next wave banging on Hughes' door.

"I see England's Under-21s lost again, and how much is their manager getting and how many lads have they got to choose from?" Shoulder asked. "Let us all get things into perspective. We have very limited resources and we have sometimes to sacrifice results to test youngsters and expose them to difficult situations.

"International football is not the same as playing in the Second or Third Division, when you are surrounded by experienced professionals who will help you out. At this level you can be on your own against the best kids in Europe. They must learn and adapt, and if they do that they will have a chance of progressing.

"We have a few promising players," Shoulder added, "just like the last squad who were criticised game after game. The same has happened to this current group who are now coming to the end of their time at Under-21s.

"But as the last squad produced half-a-dozen lads who are now senior internationals, we have a few now who can be passed on to the first team. This is a developmental team. I would love to win every game, it would be nice. But what is the point of winning every Under-21 game and losing senior matches?

"We know we can get two or three through from this group'" he said. "They get their chances because we do have limited resources. We deliberately set up matches, training and the whole thing to give them the best opportunity. They are being tested.

"But it is the first team that is important, if we get two or three through into the top level, like Craig and Danny for example, we are pleased."