Sir Trevor Brooking ready for another club versus country battle this summer


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The Independent Online

Sir Trevor Brooking is gearing himself up for yet another club versus country battle to try and get a worthwhile England Under-19 team to this summer's European Championships.

The Three Lions must emerge top of a group that includes Switzerland, Slovenia and Montenegro, which will be played at Preston and Rochdale in May, in order to reach the finals in Estonia between July 3 and 15.

Brooking is optimistic. After all, this is a group he has had high hopes for ever since they secured the Uefa Under-17 title two years ago.

In the aftermath of that triumph, he spoke passionately about the need for young players to gain greater tournament experience as part of their overall development, which he was convinced was necessary if the England senior side were to ever punch their weight on the international stage again, regardless of who is in charge.

It appears that plea has fallen on deaf ears.

Interim England coach Stuart Pearce declared last week that it was "unacceptable" that over 40 eligible players had opted not to take part in last year's Under-20 World Cup.

Although it is highly unlikely Jack Butland, Josh McEachran, Connor Wickham and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who are all eligible, would be chosen, Brooking feels there is enough talent available to coach Noel Blake to have a real tilt at winning the Under-19s competition, something England have not done since 1993 when it was still an Under-18s event.

"If we can get into the last eight, the big challenge for us would be to get the best group into the European Championships," said Brooking.

"I really would fight hard for that. There is no point in getting to the finals if we don't get our best players - but it is in July when there are all the pre-season matches.

"That is the test because I don't think anything can surpass competing in a European Championships, against the top seven other countries."

Those who were absent from that Under-20 tournament in Colombia were prevented from experiencing a high-profile encounter with Argentina watched by in excess of 30,000 spectators - while England underperformed and went home after the first knockout round having failed to score in four matches.

"Tournaments are unique," said Brooking.

"You play every three days, pick up yellow cards and injuries, so your squad is used far more than it would be in the odd qualifying game.

"You see who can cope, who can play in different positions, who is a good traveller, who mopes around and drags everyone down if they are not in the starting XI.

"They are things you wouldn't even think about until you go to a tournament.

"And this is especially important now because I do believe that within our 16-19 age group is a group of players that will be knocking on the door for senior inclusion by 2016 and 2018."

There is no obvious reason why clubs should be any more receptive now than they have been before, especially in a summer when the top clubs will lose players to not just Euro 2012 but the Olympic Games as well.

The answer, according to Brooking, is the Elite Player Performance Plan, inspired by Premier League Youth Director Ged Roddy and due to be implemented from next season, part of which will formalise links between the FA and the clubs.

Blake for instance, having presided over an excellent England Under-18s 3-0 win over Poland at Crewe last night, would be required to report directly to the clubs within a set timescale and offer a full debrief of performance.

This, Brooking feels, will strengthen ties with the governing body and make clubs more receptive to the needs - and benefits - of national service rather than just regarding it as an inconvenience.

"Our national coaches will have to go into the clubs more regularly," said Brooking.

"This week for instance, Noel would have to explain how each player did, what they were like training, what their strengths were, what they need to work on.

"From that I am hoping the rapport you get between the players, the coaches and the academy coaches will become stronger."