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What's the true purpose of junior national sides?

What's the true purpose of junior national sides?

The spat between Wenger and the FA over the use, or misuse of Walcott, has inevitably ended with the FA exercising their muscle and obliging Theo to appear for two international sides in the same short period. Fair do's you might say. It's their right innit!

That the FA, and Stuart Pearce, has the power to oblige a player to attend is clear but what`s the purpose of the power? Players need summer breaks. It makes sense to allow them to rest and then build fitness in a structured pre season. That can be disrupted by International tournaments but at least its equal for everyone.

Wenger`s contention is that calling upon Theo to make himself available for both the full England squad in their World Cup qualifiers played between 6th and 10th June and then 5 days later for the U21 squad in a tournament in Sweden running from 15th to 29th June is unreasonable. Play for one or the other he says but why both? From Stuart Pearce`s perspective, charged with getting the best result he can, the interests of Arsenal football club or even the player, aren`t of paramount importance to him. He wants to have every chance he can of succeeding which isn`t so hard to understand. But it then becomes much harder to understand what the real purpose of these junior teams is.

It seems I have been labouring under the misapprehension that each junior team was a stepping stone in player development ultimately leading to the full side. Yet if so it`s a misapprehension that the FA itself fosters. The FA fields teams in each year group from U16 through to U21 and then the full senior side. The FA`s own glossy vision document sets out with the top priority being to develop a successful senior side. The purpose of its junior sides the document tells us is to: " to implement a consistent player development philosophy across all levels of the game, based on technique, skills and age-specific coaching qualifications."

So the FA seems to be clear that the coaching of the various age specific teams is designed for players of that age and stage of their footballing development. It would seem logical then that if a player has passed that stage of their development and is selected regularly for the senior side then the coaching for the lower age specific level becomes redundant. You might think maybe Stuart Pearce hasn`t been told this or hasn`t read the brochure but you would be mistaken. Alongside a glossy photo of the U21 coach is a direct quote from the man himself:

"It is very important that the FA has a system in place to develop high quality young players and coaches. This will give our youth teams the best possible chance of success in the years to come and bring through top-class players for the senior teams."

So he too seems clear that his primary role is to feed players through for the senior team. But Walcott has made it so what benefit is derived by continuing to select him for the lower level? If he has been out of the senior squad for a time then it might be understandable but not when he is being asked to move from the senior to the U21 squad in the space of 5 days. In fact isn`t selecting a player that has already progressed to senior level denying a place in the U21 squad to a player who might benefit more from the experience?

That the FA has the power to ignore the wishes of the clubs is beyond doubt. It also seems beyond doubt that despite publishing its grand vision statement it doesn`t fully understand, and is prepared to ignore, its own stated mission. It has, at least in the case of Stuart Pearce, fallen victim to the jobsworth mentality that invariably attaches itself to such institutions.

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Date:Friday May 29 2009
Time: 12:58AM


Great article Amos! And you're right, not only are they unfairly burdening Theo by making him play for both team thus practically removing his summer break almost completely but they are also denying another young player the chance to play in, what would be for him, a major international tournament just so they can win at all costs ....... which they probably won't.
29/05/2009 01:09:00
I disagree. If anything's wrong it's the idea that Theo shouldn't be considered for both sides. I think it's a bit dubious to expect him to play in all the matches this summer if England win the youth tournament he's in, but that's a long-shot anyway. In general, though, I don't see why there should be a one-way gate at the top-end of the youth-international ladder. Just because a player's appeared in the senior side doesn't mean he can't still sometimes benefit from playing in the U21 side. In this specific case, Theo should undoubtedly play in the U21 tournament. It'll do him good to have experience of managing his body through the physical demands of a long tournament in which he actually plays :) I'm not so sure about whether he should play 90 minutes twice in five days for the senior team, but it's not likely that he would. Does the whole thing really matter much if he plays 15 minutes as a sub, twice, and is more along just to be part of the squad? Oh, and it goes without saying that this is all from England's perspective. From an Arsenal perspective, he should probably have a full holiday, and not play in either international team. One possible upside if he plays, though, is that he might start the season full of confidence if he does well.
29/05/2009 01:30:00
I think it is naïve to believe that Theo is being selected for the U21 side because it will make him a better player for the senior squad. His developmental needs can be satisfied within the coaching framework of the senior side. He doesn't need more than that unless he hasn't benefited from involvement for a time. In this instance he is being asked to participate in a junior tournament 5 days after senior involvment. He would be far better off having a decent break and a proper pre-season. If he has to play for the U21s then he has to play. But let's not pretend its for the good of the player or the senior side. Or that it satisfies anything more than a desire to win at all costs.
29/05/2009 02:11:00
I don't think this will shorten Theo's vacation time. He will most likely get extra time off and miss the beginning of the season in August. Like Gilberto after the 2007 Copa America. The importance of his absence could be amplified this year because of the restructured qualifying rounds of the Champions League. This makes the decision by Pearce even worse for us. But like LD said earlier. With Pearce at the helm, the U-21's probably won't make it far.
29/05/2009 03:43:00
Congratulations to Gibbs though. With all the controversy surrounding Walcott, Kieran's selection has been somewhat overlooked. His performances at the end of the season definitely merit an U-21 call up if not the full senior team.
29/05/2009 03:46:00
Come on it's clear that the FA sees Theo as a great weapon for Stuart Pearce to have to try and win the U21s tournament. That's it. I bet my dowry on it, they're not thinking about the silly development or anyone or anything! I'd also like to know if Theo's the only one - has someone done this before? How about the other 'kids' like Joe Hart, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aaron Lennon, Stewart Downing, Mark Noble, Micah Richards, Steven Taylor, etc.?
29/05/2009 03:46:00
He's still got a lot to learn and U21 football might help him mature. You've also got to consider he's fallen down the senior pecking order abit since Beckhams 'return' and Lennons refound form so isn't going to play (whilst fatigued) for 90 minutes in every possible match. I think Fabios keen to give him as much experience as he can as fast as he can with a world cup next year, can't blame him for that in the same way you can't blame Wenger for wanting his players to get as much rest as possible in the summer. He's a young lad though, shorten his pre-season and jobs a good'un
29/05/2009 06:31:00
U21 football won't help him mature. It's not a high enough level to provide that sort of challenge. Not that senior games against Kazakhstan and Andorra are going to provide any great test for anyone either.
29/05/2009 08:11:00
It's not necessarily the level of opposition that hepls him mature but being exposed to other environments, philosophies, styles of play etc which can give him different skills than what he'd develop if soley influenced by Arsene Wenger. Might be talking out my arse but to me it makes a little sense
29/05/2009 10:30:00
Isn't that what he's supposed to be getting involved in the senior squad? What's the benefit of playing with the juniors? It's quality of coaching he would benefit from not quantity.
29/05/2009 12:04:00
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