Sam Wallace: England's underachieving youngsters should be given a real chance to compete

Talking Football: It cannot be a coincidence that the nations who produce some of the best senior teams also fare well at the Under-20s World Cup

The Under-20s World Cup finals was where Diego Maradona, Luis Figo, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Robert Prosinecki, Kaka, Michael Essien, Carlos Tevez, Cesc Fabregas, Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben, Maicon, Sergio Aguero, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez got their first taste of an international football tournament. Not a bad list of players. Now for the embarrassing bit.

No England team at an Under-20s World Cup finals have won a game since 1993. There have been eight tournaments since then and England have qualified for three. In nine games they have scored just one goal and that was against Uzbekistan.

It will not surprise you to learn that England never send their best Under-20s team to the tournament and that the reasons for that are rooted in some age-old conflicts of interest within the English game. The next Under-20 World Cup is in July in Colombia and this time it would be nice to think that the England team will not be the first on a plane home.

The Under-20s World Cup offers serious football nations the stage to develop their elite young players within the auspices of an international football tournament. It does not guarantee that those players will go on to win the real World Cup but it cannot hurt their chances. Fabregas, for instance, often cites his part in the 2005 tournament as a formative experience.

Argentina are devotees of the tournament, and have won three of the last six, but perhaps more importantly they have used the Under-20s to bring on Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Fernando Gago, Angel Di Maria, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Mascherano, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Saviola, Maxi Rodriguez and Gabriel Milito.

Given England's record of underachievement in international football, is it really wise to continue ignoring a tournament that is taken so seriously by the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Spain? Are they not the nations whose success in developing young players we aspire to replicate?

As with so much that is wrong with English football, the neglect of the Under-20s World Cup comes down to a basic conflict between the clubs and the Football Association. The last tournament, in Egypt in 2009, was held in October. The team the FA sent was not the best England could muster. It was the best the clubs made available.

With respect to the players who lost to Uruguay and Ghana and drew 1-1 with Uzbekistan, they were not the elite. The names on the squad list told their own story. Febian Brandy, for instance, has since been released by Manchester United and is a free agent. Michael Woods at Chelsea is, with the best will in the world, not one of those the club have earmarked for greatness.

The problem lies with the timing of the tournament, which has clashed in the past with the English league season. Even though the players the FA's coaches would like to pick for the Under-20 squad are not directly involved with first-team football, English clubs are still reluctant to release them from pre-season or even their own academy and reserve programmes. It is not an attitude that helps the national team.

Next year's competition in Colombia starts on 29 July and overlaps with the first week of the season in August. The FA has already written to its top clubs asking them to consider releasing players from pre-season.

This is not the same as asking Everton to release Tim Cahill to play in the Asian Cup in the middle of the Premier League season. The FA is not asking clubs to release senior first-team players during the league season. It is not even asking for the likes of Jack Wilshere and Josh McEachran, who are eligible to play Under-20s football but are already in their club's first team. It is asking for the best of the rest.

It would be within the FA's rights to insist on taking the likes of Wilshere and McEachran who, under the Fifa international release rules would have to go. In Argentina, Brazil and Spain there is no argument: the best players are called up whatever their club commitments. The English FA has no desire to be so antagonistic but it could do with a bit more cooperation.

It cannot be a coincidence that the nations who traditionally produce some of the best teams in the senior tournament also fare well at the Under-20s World Cup. Ghana won it last year. Come June this year, four of the players in that Under-20s squad were picked for the Ghana World Cup squad that made it to the quarter-finals in South Africa.

Since 1999 in Nigeria, when Ashley Cole, Peter Crouch and Andy Johnson played in an England team that lost all three games without scoring a goal, only James Milner (who played in 2003) has graduated from the Under-20s to the senior team.

The biggest clubs in the Premier League seem strangely reluctant to release any player who might even be remotely connected to their first team. It is a short-term gain. On the slim chance a young player on the fringes of the first-team squad might be needed to sit on the bench during the short time the Under-20s tournament is on, they deprive him of an experience that would be of huge benefit.

The successful international nations venerate the youth tournaments. In England the fixation is on the senior team and when they fail at a World Cup finals we cast around for the magic solution to solve all our problems. International football, like club football, requires investment and time.

Winning six Under-20s World Cups since 1977 has not guaranteed Argentina success at the senior level, although they have won the 1978 and 1986 World Cups during that period. Brazil have won four Under-20s World Cups since 1977 and also the 1994 and 2002 World Cups in the same timeframe. Does anyone else see a pattern emerging?

Administration's no deal-breaker for committed

If new England Sports Ventures value Liverpool as much as we are told they do (and we have been told that, ad nauseam, over the last six days) then why would a nine-point deduction for administration put them off?

"NESV wants to create a long-term financially solid foundation for Liverpool FC and is dedicated to ensuring that the club has the resources to build for the future," their statement on Wednesday said. Someone tell John W Henry to put down the silly cigar and get a grip. Because if a nine-point deduction makes him run for the hills what does that say about his "long-term" commitment?

England novelty wearing thin for nearly-man Cahill

The first time Gary Cahill was called up to the England squad as a late replacement for an injured player he clearly treated it as a novelty. "I got a phone call from the FA, got a few tools together – the boots and the shin pads – and now I am really looking forward to the opportunity," he said in June last year.

By the time he got the shout on Friday to replace Phil Jagielka the excitement must have worn off. Squads Cahill has been picked for: two. Squads he has been belatedly called up for: four. Total minutes on pitch for England: 34. Caps: one. He must shudder every time his phone rings in an international week.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
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.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape