Stuart Pearce has warned England’s finest young players that they risk damaging their careers if they think that lying on a beach would be preferable to participating in the European Under-21 Championship this summer.
Pearce saw his England team begin their preparations for June’s finals in Israel with a 4-0 win over Sweden on Tuesday – a record seventh successive victory. Although he was able to select a strong squad, including the recent senior debutant Wilfried Zaha and – at least until their withdrawals – Phil Jones and Raheem Sterling, Pearce is determined to avoid a repeat of past tournaments when key players withdrew, citing fatigue.
Jack Wilshere did so in 2011 and David Bentley in 2007, and Pearce highlighted the example of Bentley when he said: “I see [talk] about a lot of players being rested but where would the priority be [with] burnout? Should the clubs rest for the national team? We went down the same route six years ago when David Bentley pulled out because he didn’t want to burn out over the summer. Now I can’t remember the last time I saw the kid play a game. So you never know when your form’s coming and going.”
Pearce believes that a side featuring “everyone who’s eligible” would have a good possibility of winning in Israel. He has had positive talks with the England senior manager, Roy Hodgson, though it seems impossible to imagine he could call on the likes of Arsenal duo Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as Spain did with Juan Mata two years ago, given that the U21s’ opening group fixture against Italy comes three days after the seniors’ friendly in Brazil on 2 June. “That’s down to Roy, really,” Pearce said. “If he deems he wants those players with him in Brazil, then so be it.”
This could prove the last U21 finals for Pearce – his contract ends this summer and talks will take place only afterwards. He reflected this week that he would prefer “a bit more support” with team selection, not least in the face of “resistance from the clubs” whose short-term thinking contrasts with his view that under-age events “will benefit the seniors in the long run”. He added: “I’ve only got to look at the Spanish and the French, they all do the same – they build from the bottom, build up, and then they win the European Championship.”
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