Three straight defeats for the England Under-21s: What went wrong? What can be done?
Steve Tongue, who has covered all four of Stuart Pearce's tournaments over the past six years, reports from Israel
England's Under-21 side are out of the European Championship following three straight defeats and their worst-ever performance at that level. The manager, Stuart Pearce, who finally lost patience with his highly paid young players after Tuesday's loss to Israel and demanded they took their share of responsibility, seems certain to lose his job.
Steve Tongue has covered all four of Pearce's tournaments over the past six years. He reports from Israel.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
In short, the best players were not all there and those that were did not perform. Stuart Pearce, patriotic and committed but tactically weak, lost his argument to have eligible players like Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with him; instead they played for the senior team against Ireland and Brazil in post-season friendlies. As usual at the end of a long domestic season with no winter break, others like Raheem Sterling and Callum McManaman were injured and Wilf Zaha was not fully fit. England should still have had enough quality and pace in the squad but the defence proved unexpectedly vulnerable; the wide players did not function; nobody filled the creative "No 10" role; and the only goal came from Craig Dawson, a centre-half who had also been leading scorer in the qualifying group.
WHO ENHANCED THEIR REPUTATION?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The FA and "Club England" must decide what they want from the Under-21s and other development sides: simply producing players for the senior team or winning matches and tournaments. If the latter, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jones, both still available in two years' time, should have been here. The Norway team that was one minute from beating Italy on Tuesday had 55 senior caps between them; England's starting XI against Israel the same night had two (Zaha and Jonjo Shelvey one each). In the short-term, the time is right for a change of manager and coaching staff; longer-term, the pool of players qualified for England has to be increased and their technical development at a young age improved.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
For Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway, a semi-final on Saturday. The Club England board, including Sir Trevor Brooking and retiring FA chairman David Bernstein are going home, where they will receive Pearce's report on the tournament and then decide on his future - and presumably a replacement. If as expected it is too soon for the recently retired Phil Neville, the list of candidates will be dominated by those who have worked for the FA previously, such as Peter Taylor, Gareth Southgate and, if both sides can swallow some pride, Glenn Hoddle. In the meantime Taylor has taken England's Under-20s to the World Cup in Turkey hoping to avoid the embarrassment that Pearce, his successor at Under-21 level, suffered over the past two weeks
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