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: "....seek 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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