Three members of Manchester United’s famous Class of ’92 have slammed the way young players are brought through at both club level and for the national team.
Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville have demanded that changes be made at youth level for the benefit of both clubs and the national side.
Speaking at the final conference at Soccerex 2014, held in Manchester, the former Manchester United players want to see England’s young stars competing together in youth international competitions rather than senior side friendlies.
The former players drew on their own experience at youth team level for United and claim that players are “missing out” on vital preparations for life in the first team.
Speaking about England’s failures at international level, Butt highlighted that England teams rarely grow together.
“If you look at other teams that have been successful, they stay together 8,9, 10 years. England is always changing, chopping and changing,” he said.
“Like Delph the other day who played well, he did a lot of running, he worked well. The next game, will he play? You don’t know.
“Spain have been playing together since they’re 15 years of age. They get rewards, we don’t.”
The point is illustrated well by Germany’s recent World Cup winning team. Five years ago, they beat England under 21s 4-0 in the final of the under 21 European Championships in Sweden.
Of the two sides that lined up in that final, six of Germany’s starting XI that day played in the World Cup and five of them started in the final, with Sami Khedira missing out through injury.
England, on the other hand, had one player out of that side go to the World Cup in the form of James Milner who is a reliable squad member rather than a World Cup winning superstar.
Giggs agreed with Butt and spoke of his experiences visiting the under-20’s World Championships.
“As part of my Pro License last year I went to Turkey and watched the under-20’s World Championships. France won it, Pogba was in centre midfield and captain.
“I don’t understand. While we were there, we named the players that could have been there for England. They should be there trying to win it.
“The Sterlings, the Wilshires, Shaw. These players instead went to Brazil and drew with Brazil in a friendly which is a great experience. But which is better?
“A major championships winning at under 20s level, winning at under 21s level and growing together.”
Neville used a further example of the 2013 Under 21s tournament in Israel.
“I went away with Stuart Pearce to the under 21s in Israel and there was a friendly, a similar friendly to what Ryan was talking about in Brazil. I think nine players out of that full team could have come to the under 21s and didn’t.
“That tournament in Israel would have prepared them for the Brazil World Cup because all the Spain team was there, all the Dutch team was there that went to the World Cup.
“Our lads didn’t want to be there, they wanted to play in a little friendly and then go off on their holidays.
“There’s got to be some kind of plan where they experience and win tournament at under 21 level then go on to the national team the year after.”
Butt added: “I’m sure if you asked fans as well, would you accept being knocked out of the next 2 competitions with a young team if in the third competition they did really well in 9 or 10 years?
“We’re getting knocked out of them all the time anyway so why not get knocked out with a young team?
“At the end of the 8 years you’ve got a team that are comfortable together, had been away together for every single trip and know each other inside out like we all did.”
A further issue that was raised by the three United legends was the worrying lack of experience that youth players get playing in big stadiums.
Butt said: “We were used to playing at Old Trafford. We played at Old Trafford in the youth team, we played at Old Trafford in the reserves.
“That seems to have stopped in the last few years in the reserve teams. A lot of the teams now go and play at different clubs to save the pitch.
“The modern day pitches are that good now that I think they could take a lot more than they actually do. Hopefully the club can now play a lot at Old Trafford.
“It does prepare you and help you. You get to know the size of the pitch, you get to know how you can play on it. It does help.”
Neville added: “We all played at Wembley for England schoolboys. All the way through our childhood we played at the biggest stadiums so when it comes to playing for the first team there’s no surprises.
“United play at the Salford stadium, Arsenal play at Barnet. These aren’t preparing them for the big stages for when they get to the first team. That’s what the kids are missing out on a little bit nowadays.”
It seems that there needs to be reform at youth team level if we want our national team to succeed.
Players should be given the opportunity to play at big stadiums prior to their debuts and our young players need to play at youth tournaments to develop tournament experience.
It may be a long term project but it could secure the international future of our flailing national side.
Main image courtesy of Old Trafford Supporters Club via YouTube, with thanks.