Prepare yourself for an increasing deluge of praise for Spanish youth development. In England, this will be sharply contrasted with comments about “what types of player England are developing”.
So I decided to take a closer look. I quickly compiled a list of players under the age of 21, who could go on to play for the national team. What do these players have in common? And more importantly, what are they lacking?
- Ben Amos, 21, Manchester United
- Jason Steele, 20, Middlesbrough
- Alex Smithies, 21, Huddersfield
All three have been brought through good academies, but they need playing time to develop. All are a little weak in the air, and at rushing out. Each appear to be good at shot stopping, and have good reflexes. One interesting note is that like Joe Hart, they all seem pretty level-headed and not overtly accident prone.
Left Backs / Left Wing Backs
- Kieran Gibbs, 21, Arsenal
- Ryan Bertrand, 21, Chelsea
- Jack Robinson, 17, Liverpool
Both Betrand and Gibbs are phenomenal athletes, better suited to a wing back role than being in a flat back four. It will be interesting to see which of these two has the bigger season. Ashley Cole may be the best “Left Back in the world”, but he has definetely has some pretenders nipping at his heels now. Jack Robinson looks like he has potential, but is some way off the other two.
- Phil Jones, 19, Manchester Utd
- Chris Smalling, 21, Manchester Utd
- Martin Kelly, 21, Liverpool
- Kyle Bartley, 20, Arsenal
- Craig Dawson, 21, West Brom
I’ll be astonished if Phil Jones doesnt become the england captain by the time he is 25. Let’s hope that him and Smalling play together a lot. Martin Kelly joins them as three players who are good in the air, and quick on the ground. Both Kyle Bartley and Craig Dawson are significantly slower.
Right Backs / Right Wing Backs
- Kyle Walker, 21, Tottenham
- John Flanagan, 18, Liverpool
- James Hurst, 19, Blackpool
- Jordan Spence, 21, Bristol City
The right is much like the left. They are all quick, but with the exception of Jordan Spence, poor in the air. Every one of these players can run with the ball, and at pace. So that is both sides of the defence with a lot of pace, but relatively poor in the air. Did I mention that I think England should look to play three central defenders, and two wing backs…
- Jason Lowe, 19, Blackburn
- Robbie Cotton, 16, Blackburn
- Dan Gosling, 21, Newcastle
- George Thorne, 18, West Brom
- Nathaniel Chalobah, 16, Chelsea
- Ryan Bennett, 21, Peterborough
- Jack Rodwell, 20, Everton
- Josh McEachran, 18, Chelsea
For a long time now England have had a problem with this position. And so it continues. I wonder if there are studies showing the percentage of defensive midfielders from abroad that play in England? I expect it is far higher than in any other position. Rodwell and Gosling both stand out as being technically sound, but lack strength. In fact all of these players are relatively weak compared to your average premier league player. This is a real problem area that England need to address asap. We are developing a lot of piano players, and few piano carriers.
Right Mid / Right Wing
- Alex Chamberlain, 17, Arsenal
- Marc Albrighton, 21, Aston Villa
- Raheem Sterling, 16, Liverpool
- Junior Stanislas, 21, Burnley
- Nathan Redmond, 17, Birmingham
- Zeli Ismail, 17, Wolverhampton Wanderers
The only player I’d consider to be remotely like a right midfielder is Albrighton. The rest are all out and out wingers. Each have great acceleration, good pace, and a questionable workrate. Worryingly it looks like Albrighton is also the only one who can cross a ball well.
- Jordan Henderson, 21, Liverpool
- Fabian Delph, 21, Aston Villa
- Jonjo Shelvey, 19, Liverpool
- Ross Barkley, 17, Everton
- Henri Lansbury, 20, West Ham
- Korey Smith, 20, Norwich
- Ryan Tunnicliffe, 18, Manchester Utd
- Jack Wilshere, 19, Arsenal
- Tom Cleverley, 21, Manchester Utd
This is perhaps our strongest position. However, only Ross Barkley stands out as a defensively minded player, and he can be a little tackle-shy. There are some beautiful passers of the ball in the list above. Dare I say it, they are Spanish-Like. Perhaps that should be Spanish-Lite. This should be an interesting season for Ryan Tunnicliffe. He could be the best box to box midfielder in the list above, but he needs games. I have been told that he can defend, and did well at Peterborough, but needs to make the step up.
Left Mid / Left Wing
- Jordan Obita 17, Reading
- Josh Morris, 19, Blackburn
Well I guess it is lucky that we have so many right wingers, and that inverted wingers are fashionable. I am confident that my cat Dempster could tackle better than Obita. Morris could be exactly the same player as Jason Lowe and Robbie Cotton. What are they feeding them in Blackburn?
- Connor Wickham, 18, Sunderland
- Danny Welbeck, 19, Manchester Utd
- Daniel Sturridge, 21, Chelsea
- Nathan Delfouneso, 20, Aston Villa
- Nile Ranger, 20, Newcastle
- Jay Rodriguez, 21, Burnley
- Jose Baxter, 19, Everton
- Adam Campbell, 16, Newcastle
It is time that Sturridge started to live up to his hype. With Lukaku at Chelsea, one of them has to move on for that to happen. This is a pretty mixed bag. All are quick, even Connor Wickham who is strong as well. Wickham aside, none are particularlly good in the air. They can run though. If we are entering a time when teams set up “destroyer” type players high up the pitch, then we are going to get left behind. If the future is all about pace then things are looking up.
So what do we have? Well, our goalkeepers look good. They are well coached, and technically sound. They really need to get kicked around though and build up some strength if they are to dominate their area. In the same way that Man City appear to have commited to Joe Hart, we need more Premiership teams to commit to a young english goalkeeper. If they are not playing they are not going to develop. If only someone had persuaded Begovic to play for England.
Our defence are split between those who can head a ball, and those who can run really fast. To restrict the outside backs to playing in a flat back four would be absurd. They need to be pushing forwards. We have to move to a formation that accomodates more than just the occasional overlapping run.
In midfield, we have a lot of tiki-taka, and we need some tiki-whacka. We need some of these young flair players who are technically superb at passing, to start defending more. Otherwise we’ll have a generation of beautiful passing players that never have a ball to pass.
It appears that we don’t teach players how to cross a ball anymore. If they can hit a weighted pass, then it is likely to be from the centre of the field and to the feet of a charging forward. We have wingers that can’t cross, and central midfielders that can’t tackle. It goes without saying that we have almost no one who can play as a conventional wide midfielder, cross, and tackle.
Up front all is great. As long as we are competing in a foot race. Wickham aside, none of our developing forwards are particularly strong.
I was recently having a conversation with a senior coach in the US setup [who has a doctorate in Sports Psychology] about the four key characterists of a player, and which is the most important.
How would you rate those in order of importance from most to least? Here is how I have it; Psychological, Tactical, Technical, Physical. My thinking is that I want intelligent players that are making the right decisions, and we can coach the rest. His opinion was that Physical is by far the most important. Speed kills, and even a poor player can do well with time and space that they have created.
It is clear that we are developing some good midfielders coming, and we have an absurd amount of pace. However, we need some strength as well. Micheal Owen’s career ended when the role of the “forward who plays on the shoulder of the last defender” became extinct. He didnt have the physicality to challenge in the air, or with his back to goal. Worryingly it looks like he is the template for the next generation of English forwards.
It is late now. I’ll revisit this topic in future when I have some more time. I look forward to reading the comments that come in.