England Show Backwards Vision in Butland U21 Selection
By Nick Howson | October 4, 2012 10:40 PM EST
Jack Butland must be wondering what he's done wrong. Thrust into England's Euro 2012 squad as a replacement for John Ruddy at the 11th hour, where he gained valuable experience working alongside Joe Hart, the Birmingham City stopper then made his major tournament debut with Team GB at the Olympics.
Butland made his maiden England appearance in August's win in Berne against Italy, and, with his foot in the international door, was selected for the World Cup qualifying double header against Moldova and Ukraine, where again he would work as an understudy to Hart.
The 19-year-old is now a regular for The Blues under Lee Clark, and having gained a decent grounding in League Two with Cheltenham Town, Butland can look forward to a career where ambitions of eventually replacing Hart as England's No.1 are within reach.
Why then would Stuart Pearce and the hierarchy at The Football Association opt to disrupt his development, and select Butland this week for the England U21's as they take on Serbia in a two-legged play-off for qualification for Euro 2013?
Such is the experience Butland has already gained during his football career, albeit only at 19, he will gain little from two legs of sterile under-21 football used by England to win a trophy rather than to nurture the stars of tomorrow.
His inclusion is perhaps dictated by the 'importance' of the fixtures, which will impact on whether England qualify for the under-21 finals, but evidence that the under-21 Championships truly provides a platform to greater things is scant.
Granted, many members of the victorious German and Spanish teams from the 2009 and 2011 finals have gone on to play for the full national sides; but would defeat in those tournaments have resulted in a different outcome for those now fully fledged internationals? And did those five matches played truly make a significant difference of the development of those players?
There is little coincidence that the best England players of the current era, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere, all but bypassed the under-21 setup.
While the ethos of 'if you're good enough, you're old enough' is adopted simply because of the distinct lack of depth of talent, the under-21s have seldom produced a player who has turned into an England stalwart; just look at the leading appearance makers, James Milner, Tom Huddlestone, Fabrice Muamba, Michael Mancienne.
Roy Hodgson has instead opted to call-up a goalkeeper in Ruddy, who at two years Hart's senior, has little chance of winning a spate of caps as the Manchester City stopper's replacement and as a result doesn't represent England's future. It's arguable if he's even one of the best three English goalkeepers around, but that's for another day.
While there is no place for agendas, and Ruddy in Hodgson's view may well be the best from a shallow bunch of England goalkeepers, but the selection of the third goalkeeper in a squad of 25 for two World Cup qualifiers isn't going to prove decisive in the final outcome. He doesn't have to possess a depth of quality.
For those not convinced by the theory that Butland's education shouldn't involve anymore matches with the under-21's, then let me point you in the direction of Hart's progression.
The 25-year-old was included in nearly every England squad for both competitive and friendly matches for nearly two years after Euro 2008.
After going to the World Cup finals in 2010, under David James and Rob Green, his experience sparked an inclusion in City's first team, the England No.1 jersey and the label, as far as Wayne Rooney is concerned, as the best goalkeeper in the world.
The selection of Butland in the under-21s appears motivated by wanting to yield the best result for the team rather than allowing him to develop in an environment more suited to nurturing young players. England haven't used the under-21 team to develop players for years, and they shouldn't start pretending to now.
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