A COUPLE of weeks ago, 17-year-old Englishman Josh McEachran made his Premier League debut for Chelsea and immediately outshone the man he replaced — Ramires, one of Brazil’s best players at the World Cup. It was a short but sparkling debut.
Just a short distance away at Arsenal, another young Englishman, 19-year-old Jack Wilshere, has looked every bit as influential in midfield as his more illustrious teammate Cesc Fabregas, the Spanish midfield maestro.
Over in Manchester, City goalkeeper Joe Hart, 23, has established himself as England’s new number one with a series of outstanding performances (that mistake against Blackburn aside).
Spain captain and living legend Iker Casillas has already tipped Hart to become the world’s best when he and Gianluigi Buffon reach the end of their prime years.
Also in Manchester, we have two left-footed attackers in very different phases of their career — Ryan Giggs, the United legend from Wales, and Adam Johnson, 23, the City player who is now fast maturing into a player who can solve the national team’s left-wing problems.
Even in Germany, the country’s under-21 side is currently captained by 20-year-old Lewis Holtby, a highly-promising attacking midfielder whose father is English, which makes him eligible to represent England.
The Everton and Premier League fan has been a key figure in his German club side Mainz’s incredible start in the Bundesliga, winning six games in a row, including one against Bayern Munich which put them top of the league.
***** UPDATE: Mainz have won a seventh straight game, beating Hoffenheim 2-1 and equalling a Bundesliga record, with Holtby again playing a starring role. They are now 13 points ahead of Bayern Munich *****
So the question is: why were none of these amazing young talents in England’s World Cup 2010 squad?
The same questions could be asked for a number of other young English stars currently doing well.
Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll, 21, has been spearheading his club’s drive into the top half of the table with some powerful, classic center-foward’s performances. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s not too hard to imagine him doing better than Emile Heskey did in South Africa.
On the other end of the pitch, Gary Cahill, 24, and Ryan Shawcross, 22, have both continued their fine form for Bolton and Stoke respectively. Stoke manager Tony Pulis for one, is calling for Shawcross to get the nod for England’s upcoming European Championship qualifiers on Oct 12.
Surely one of them would have provided a more energetic, more enthusiastic alternative to Matthew Upson and John Terry, the centre-back pairing who contrived to ship as many goals to Germany as Argentina — and they have Martin Demichelis as a center-back.
Even Ledley King, the man with the knees of tofu (great player as he is), was selected ahead of Cahill and Shawcross. And surprise, surprise, he lasted all of 45 minutes in the opening game against the USA, before a groin injury ruled him out for the rest of the tournament.
And that’s not even considering some even younger defensive talents. Manchester United’s Chris Smalling has shown plenty of promise, and so has Liverpool’s versatile Martin Kelly (both are 20), who can play across the back four; but none of them were given so much as a look-in at the squad.
So I guess it’s not much of a surprise either that Holtby has decided to try and win a place in Joachim Loew’s Germany instead of waiting for a call from Capello. England are now the new (more like old) Italy – reluctant to give youth a chance, as proven by the average age of their World Cup squad, 28.7, the highest in the tournament.
Worst of all, if you think about it, Capello selected a team for South Africa that included a former captain who cheated on his wife with a teammate’s girl, a guy who sleeps with call-girls and urinates in public, a bunch of cigar smokers and worst of all, the man who cheated on everyone’s favourite X-Factor judge, Cheryl Cole (back to Cheryl Tweedy soon, thank heavens). I think the last thing you want as an aspiring professional footballer is get mixed up with that bunch, right?
But that is the ridiculous state of affairs at the England national team now. The senior players seem to be untouchable, in spite of their problems on and off the pitch, where players like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are constantly selected even though it’s been painfully obvious for some time now that they can’t play together.
While that policy can provide some level of consistency, it can also breed complacency. A bit of a challenge for a first team spot from the likes of McEachran, Wilshere, Carroll or Cahill would keep the “Untouchables” on their toes fighting to keep their place. And who knows? Maybe the young guns might do even better.
Holtby’s potential Germany teammate Sami Khedira is a perfect example. The 23-year-old got his chance with the national team when the previously untouchable Michael Ballack was injured before the World Cup, and he became one of the stars of the tournament, earning himself a move to Real Madrid in the process.
Germany’s other two stars at the tournament, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, were 21 and 20 respectively when they were setting South Africa alight. Gabriel Agbonlahor, one of the Premier League’s most menacing forwards, notching double figures every season since he broke into Aston Villa’s first team four years ago, is 23 now, and he’s only ever been given three caps.
What’s even more bewildering is Capello trying to persuade Emile Heskey to come out of international retirement last week. That sort of makes me look at his attempt to call Paul Scholes back into international action in a totally different light.
At first I thought he was smart enough to recognise Scholes’ enduring brilliance, but now it looks like he just has a thing for old dudes. Even after Heskey turned him down, Capello went for 33-year-old Kevin Davies.
Germany boss Joachim Low on the other hand, was at Mainz’s Bruchweg Stadium watching Holtby, giving a pretty clear indication that Holtby will be in his next Germany squad by praising his performance.
To be fair to Capello, the sensible choice for a tournament like the World Cup would be to choose experienced players. But if those experienced players are under-performing, over-confident, having all sorts of off-field distractions, and thinking that they can get away with all of it and have their names on the team-sheet regardless, then opting for youth isn’t really that big a gamble.