Stuart Pearce offers grounds for optimism

England's long-term future looks good as Under-21 Euro stars reach finals and clamour for senior service.

Believe it or not, the past week was a good one for English football; at least for those who take the mid-term or long-term view. Fabio Capello, having confirmed that he is definitely upping sticks in less than 20 months' time, cannot be included in their number, but he too can see that there should be benefits from Stuart Pearce's Under-21 squad having won through on Tuesday to the finals of their own European Championship next summer.

So swift is the turnover at that level and so difficult the qualification for an eight-team tournament – even group winners have to take part in a play-off – that England are the only country to have made it for the past three competitions; all under Pearce, who is enhancing his reputation even if on his own admission he is not ready to become Capello's successor in 2012.

His involvement as a coach to the seniors undoubtedly helped the progression of players like Joe Hart, Tom Huddlestone, James Milner, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs from one squad to the other, and it is unfortunate that with both teams now playing on Fridays and Tuesdays, Pearce's involvement is confined to the juniors; a shame, too, that the Football Association have not yet found another English coach to work with Capello as promised.

There will often be clashes of interest between the two groups, as there were last week when Capello insisted on the Under-21s' star player – Wilshere – missing the crucial play-off game in Romania, only to leave him as an unused substitute at Wembley against Montenegro. Fortunately, the younger team scraped a goalless draw without him, though his craft and creativity were badly missed in a game where an away goal would have made them so much more comfortable. It was not just a short-term but a short-sighted decision.

Next month, when the Under-21s intend playing a friendly, it will be more acceptable for Wilshere and one or two others to join the seniors for their home game with France, not least because Capello believes that appearing at Wembley is important for young players: "They have to play in Wembley because when you play away it's different. It's a big step when you play here in this stadium."

Wilshere, possibly Gibbs and one other will be summoned. Michael Mancienne, Sunderland's Jordan Henderson and Newcastle's Andy Carroll (who appears to have missed his chance last week for disciplinary reasons) are contenders from each area of the squad. Mancienne, who has never quite lived up to his early Chelsea reputation as the new Rio Ferdinand, can play in three positions and believes that his versatility is an advantage rather than a hindrance. Bolton's Fabrice Muamba is another who could challenge for the holding midfield role in which Gareth Barry has been inadequate since the World Cup.

Barry was hardly alone in having a poor game last Tuesday. Glen Johnson needs some competition to shake him out of his comfort zone at right-back (Mancienne's position as Under-21s captain); Ashley Young again failed to take his chance as Milner's deputy, as did Peter Crouch after injuries to the more mobile Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe, both of whom are better partners for the ailing Wayne Rooney. Adam Johnson started brightly before fading and, having already been put in his place by Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini, will not be encouraged to hear Capello's comparison with Walcott: "When Theo will be fit, he is different. [Johnson] is technically better but not as fast as Theo. In modern football, to be fast is really important."

Walcott was piggy in the middle of the senior and Under-21 squads in the summer of 2009, when his club manager Arsène Wenger protested about him being used by both. It is not difficult to see Wilshere and Gibbs being in the same situation next year, when England play Switzerland on 4 June, then Thailand on an unspecified date just before the Under-21 finals begin on 11 June in Denmark.

Montenegro finish their season with a winnable game at home to Bulgaria, so England may need to beat Wales in March and the Swiss to keep pace with them. Capello is "absolutely" confident of topping the group and avoiding a play-off, but admits: "Every time you don't win, the phantoms of the World Cup come back."

Three to step up:

Michael Mancienne

Originally regarded as a classy centre-back, Mancienne has recently played in a holding midfield role for Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he is on loan from Chelsea for another season. But he captains the Under-21s from right-back, and the senior team badly need cover and competition for the hit-and-miss Glen Johnson. Picked once by Fabio Capello, he was an unused substitute in the friendly victory away to Germany two years ago.



Jack Rodwell

An ankle injury picked up against Aston Villa in August means that the Everton midfielder will not be available for England until the February friendly with Argentina. That is a shame since he deserves a chance in the Gareth Barry role. Forceful and physically strong for a 19-year-old, he has played in every England age group and was one of the stars of the Under-21 finals in 2009.



Jack Wilshere

The gifted Arsenal prodigy is almost certain to be in the squad for next month's friendly, with France, as he was for the Montenegro game without getting on the pitch. Mature and confident beyond his 18 years, he benefited from a loan spell at Bolton and has been worth his place in Arsène Wenger's midfield this season. Stand by for another row if England want him in the senior team and then the Under-21 finals in June.

Group by group guide

Group B

Russia 9 pts

Ireland 7

Armenia 7

Slovakia 7

Macedonia 4

Andorra 0

Slovakia winning in Russia and then losing to Armenia offered the Irish a great opportunity, which they fluffed by losing 3-2 at home to the Russians, then surrendering a lead in Slovakia last week as Robbie Keane missed a penalty and two other good chances. Next come double-headers all round before the end of the season: for Ireland against Macedonia, where they have dropped crucial points in the past, for hot favourites Russia against Armenia and for Slovakia against Andorra.



Group C

Italy 7

Slovenia 7

Estonia 6

Northern Ireland 5

Serbia 4

Faroe Islands 1

Italy should be given three points from their abandoned match after rioting by Serbian supporters in Genoa and would then be three clear of Slovenia, whom they visit in March, before hosting Estonia. Northern Ireland, like their neighbours in Group B, wasted a chance by allowing the Faroe Islands to hold them to a 1-1 draw, which is likely to prove costly. Next they go to Serbia in March – assuming the Serbs are allowed to play in Belgrade.



Group G

Montenegro 10

England 7

Switzerland 3

Bulgaria 3

Wales 0

The other teams in the group were unlucky to draw Montenegro, whose Uefa ranking alongside the likes of Liechtenstein is only as low because they are the continent's newest international side. Having played one extra group game and picked up a point at Wembley, they are now flying unexpectedly high, and are the only team in the competition apart from Belarus not to have conceded a goal in four games. But they do not play again until June, at home to Bulgaria. England go to Cardiff in March and are due to visit Podgorica next October, hoping that the Welsh can manage to take some points off Montenegro in the previous month.

Group I

Spain 9

Czech Republic 6

Scotland 4

Lithuania 4

Liechtenstein 0

Hoping to push the Czechs for second place, Scotland suffered a costly 1-0 loss to them in Prague before a 3-2 home defeat by Spain that featured an unexpected comeback to equalise after being 2-0 down. Now they face a wait of almost 11 months before playing another game. Next September come two home games that will have to be won, against the Czechs and Lithuania. Both should have one more win by then, while Spain will be nearly home and hosed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain