With Euro 2016 coming up in the summer, England are entering another tournament with little hope of competing against the heavyweights of European football. After the ‘golden generation’ failed to deliver a victory at a major tournament, there was a time when there did not seem to be a clear future for English football. However, there is now a level of muted excitement for the revival of the national team. One of the key men bringing about a new wave of hope is Mauricio Pochettino. The former Southampton manager is now at the helm at Tottenham Hotspur and is showing a huge level of faith in home-grown players. This at a time when the Premier League has become accustomed to seeing foreign talent dominate the headlines.
On the opening weekend of the 2014-15 season, only 33.2% of starting players were English.
This is a long way behind other European countries which are close to the 50% mark, and does not show any signs of reaching the 45% mark set by Greg Dyke for the 2022 season. At the halfway mark this season, English players have accounted for only 28% of Premier League starters, with teams such as Newcastle United only having 8% of their starting players deriving from England.
This is without doubt due to the ability to pay lucrative transfer fees and salaries due to the financial boom created by the television deals. Pochettino is a man who does not feel the need to delve into the transfer market, and when recently questioned whether he would find a replacement for the injured Jan Vertonghen, replied that he had more than enough strength in depth, and would rather play young American Cameron Carter-Vickers than bring someone in on loan. It is this faith in youth which is giving Pochettino’s teams freedom and success.
Harry Kane epitomises Pochettino’s trust in English youth. Kane had only managed 14 league goals across 4 different loans spells, indicating why Pochettino was reluctant to give him a starting role at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Limited mainly to substitute appearances and Europa League starts, it appeared that Kane was not going to
get his break. Pochettino eventually turned to him after the continuous misfiring of £26million signing Roberto Soldado. Since then, Kane has netted 39 Premier League goals in 69 Premier League games. His 21 goals last season matched the same tally set by Gareth Bale the season before he moved to Real Madrid. Kane appears to be blossoming under the stewardship of Pochettino, who was happy to let Soldado leave and have Kane as the only recognised striker in his squad. Kane has not allowed this to make him complacent, and even though he had not matched his goal scoring exploits in the first half of the season, he was still putting in very good performances. As a result, Kane has been at the centre of Pochettino’s plans and has broken his way into the national team, duly rewarding Roy Hodgson’s decision to give him a call-up with a goal just 79 seconds into his debut appearance.
Kane appears to be the catalyst in Pochettino trust in young English talent. When Dele Alli was signed, many saw him as ‘one for the future’. However, Pochettino has not hesitated to start Alli, and the midfielder has since earmarked himself as England’s most exciting young prospect. His importance to Tottenham this season has been paramount, as can be seen by his seven goals and five assists in his first twenty-three Premier League games. Against Norwich City, Pochettino reluctantly removed Alli at half-time, citing illness, and described this decision as merely a precaution due to his immense importance to the first team squad. Despite only playing 45 minutes, Ali came in for rave reviews and earned himself man of the match. In Alli and Kane, Pochettino has found a link-up which possesses similarities with other great partnerships that have graced the game.
It is not just at Tottenham that Pochettino has helped to develop young English talent. At Southampton, he continued the work of Nigel Adkins and helped players such as Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana to develop into England regulars. These three players have since been lured to bigger clubs for a combined fee totalling almost £70 million. As you can see from his time at Southampton, Pochettino placed lots of faith in English players. During the 2013/14 season, five of Southampton’s top six most-played players in the league were English. Lallana, Clyne, Shaw, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have all made their England debuts, while James Ward-Prowse is the current captain of the England U21 set-up.
Rodriguez scored 15 Premier League goals that season, and worked his way into Hodgson’s plans for the 2014 World Cup until hit by a severe injury. Luke Shaw has the ability to cement his place as England’s long-term left-back when he comes back from injury, whilst Nathaniel Clyne has already tightened his grip on the right-back slot.
Pochettino received great acclaim at Southampton, and at Tottenham, they are challenging Leicester City, Manchester City and Arsenal for the title. Therefore, it is no surprise that he is being touted as a potential candidate for the Manchester United job. But for now, Tottenham is the best place for him and perhaps for the national team. He has shown that young English talent can be trusted at a time when the Premier League is becoming ever more a results-led business.
What does this do for England?
Clyne, Shaw, Dier, Ali and Kane all have the potential to become long-standing members of the England team, and they represent the next generation of English footballers. They may not yet have the same status as the ‘golden generation’, but with managers like Pochettino giving them game time, they are only going to improve.
Furthermore, should Jack Wilshere find a cure to his injury problems, and – Smalling and John Stones form a solid centre-back partnership, then the foundations are in place for a strong spine to the English team. Not forgetting that players such as Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley are still in their early twenties going into EURO 2016. The tournament certainly offers a chance for some young English talent to get the experience of a major tournament, in a group from which it is expected that England should progress.