After a 0-0 draw against Sweden, the England Under-21s must now beat both Slovakia and hosts Poland to make it through to the semi-finals of the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. People are questioning Aidy Boothroyd’s tactics, but also the big-game experience of his players. Are our top Under-21 players getting enough football? Here’s a look at the very different approaches of two of the major clubs involved, Southampton and Chelsea.
5 of the current England Under-21s either play or have played for The Saints: Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse, Jack Stephens, Matt Targett and Calum Chambers. Southampton do a fantastic job of developing young talent, but also giving that talent plenty of first-team opportunities. Chambers played 22 Premier League matches at the age of 18 before his move to Arsenal.
Last season, Ward-Prowse and Redmond each played 43 matches for Southampton in all competitions. Call-ups to the England senior squad was the reward for their progress. In January 2017, Stephens got his chance due to the departure of José Fonte and an injury to Virgil van Dijk. He took it with both hands and started 17 league matches. If it wasn’t for injuries, Targett too would have made more than his 7 appearances.
At Chelsea, however, the picture is certainly less positive. Their 3 players in the England Under-21s – Tammy Abraham, Lewis Baker and Nathaniel Chalobah – only have a combined 17 first-team caps for the club. Instead, these youngsters are part of Chelsea’s massive loan system, for better or for worse.
Abraham was a huge hit at Bristol City last season, scoring 23 goals in 41 games. After two English loans, Baker has found his feet at Dutch side Vitesse. Chalobah, however, is a sadder story. At the age of 22, he has already played on loan for 6 different clubs. But the big problem is that he only got regular first-team football at one of those clubs, Watford.
The case of John Swift, a former Chelsea man in the England Under-21s, highlights the importance of game-time. After just one appearance during the 2013-14 campaign and 3 loan spells, Swift joined Reading in July 2016. Under Jaap Stam’s management, he played 38 matches last season and scored 9 goals on the way to the Play-off Final.
If top clubs can’t be brave like Southampton, perhaps more players need to be brave like Swift.