2021 had the potential to be a memorable year for more than just one England team. While Gareth Southgate’s side are widely expected to be among the frontrunners at this summer’s Euros, Aidy Boothroyd and his England team boast the talent to make their mark at the U21 Euros which got under way last week.
However, the mark England U21s have made in the tournament so far is a profoundly negative one with Boothroyd’s side seriously up against it to make it out their group following dismal defeats to Switzerland and Portugal. The Young Lions now require a win against Croatia on Wednesday, as well other results to fo their way, to qualify for the quarter finals.
It’s not just results that have been disappointing. The England U21 side have been lifeless in the two games they have played at the tournament so far, managing just one shot on target in the defeats to Switzerland and Portugal. This is simply unacceptable for a team of such devastating attacking talent.
Indeed, England should be among the most exhilarating outfits at this year’s U21 Euros, to be played over the next two international breaks. Few countries can boast the young talent England can, with Aidy Boothroyd boasting a squad packed full of players already shining in the Premier League.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, for example, was expected to be one of the stars of the tournament, but has found himself limited by Boothroyd’s approach. Emile Smith Rowe has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers this season but he too has struggled to replicate his club form for the Young Lions.
There’s more. Dwight McNeil, Eddie Nketiah, Curtis Jones, Eberechi Eze, Tom Davies, Ben Godfrey, Oliver Skipp. Aidy Boothroyd has an England U21 squad consisting largely of players who have already proven their worth at the top level of the English game. You wouldn’t know this on the basis of England U21’s performances, though.
“I know the England senior men’s job has been called the impossible job; I think the England Under-21s job is the utterly impossible job,” Boothroyd said after the defeat to Portugal. “The reason I say that is because of the amount of players that have to be produced for the senior team and the fact we are expected to win.”
Despite Boothroyd’s comments, he has to shoulder the majority of the blame. The former Watford coach is failing England’s next generation with outdated ideas that have no place at such a high level of the international game. The Young Lions are toothless, with Aidy Boothroyd favouring a direct approach that doesn’t suit the players in his squad
That Boothroyd has lasted this long in his position as England U21 boss is somewhat baffling. The 50-year-old has been in the role for five years and has achieved very little success in that time. Victory at the Toulon Tournament in 2018 isn’t enough for a group of players widely seen as one of the most naturally talented in England’s recent history.
What’s more, the brand of football Aidy Boothroyd favours is out of sync with what Southgate has implemented at senior level for England. Youth teams exist to prepare players for the step-up to the full national team, but nothing about the current England U21 set-up is readying them for Southgate’s side.
If Boothroyd’s methods aren’t delivering success or introducing English youngsters to a uniform identity as a football national, what exactly is his worth as U21 manager? There are countless coaches who would be more effective in this position than a man who has bounced around the game since leaving Watford 13 years ago.
Not for a generation has England had such a deep pool of talent. At any other time, many of the the England U21 squad would be senior regulars. However, The FA can’t just sit back and wait for young players to flourish. They must look after their development to safeguard the future. England are risking too much by keeping Aidy Boothroyd on in his current position.
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