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New summer, same story for England as inquest begins after under 21 side tumbles out of Euros

By Steve Douglas


An inquest into England’s failure at a major football tournament is as much a tradition of the British sporting summer as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon and sipping champagne at a Lord’s cricket test.

A year ago, it was Roy Hodgson’s senior team getting bashed by the critics for England’s worst World Cup since 1958. Now, it’s England’s under-21 side that is set for a period of introspection after a third straight group-stage exit at a European Championship.

A 3-1 loss to Italy on Wednesday exposed the perennial shortcomings in an England team at either level _ a lack of composure and game management, failing to handle the pressure and poor execution _ as Gareth Southgate’s side finished last in its group.

And it led to the familiar question that pops up seemingly after every major tournament: Where does English football go from here?

“Painful. Back to the drawing board,” former England striker Michael Owen said on Twitter.

“Surprise, surprise. Dreadful England fail again,” was the headline in The Daily Mail newspaper.

There was genuine optimism before the Euros started in the Czech Republic that England could do better this time around. Qualification had been achieved at a canter, Harry Kane _ the breakthrough star of the Premier League at Tottenham last season _ was leading the attack, and Southgate had the team playing an attractive style of football with 15 wins from 17 games.

When it came to the tournament, however, things quickly unraveled and a worrying lack of depth was revealed.

It didn’t help that Southgate was without many of his leading eligible players like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere _ all of whom are now established members of the senior squad. Manchester United left back Luke Shaw was left out after an injury-ravaged season and striker Saido Berahino, another revelation in the Premier League last season, was injured just before the tournament.

Southgate was left with a talented yet inexperienced group of players lacking exposure at the highest level. The starting team on Wednesday had 136 top-flight appearances, nearly half of Italy’s players who are mostly regular starters in Serie A.

“That’s the nature of the landscape we’ve got,” Southgate said. “We need to expose our players more to this type of environment, where there is intense pressure, where they have to produce.

“They need more of it at club level and that would help internationally.”

It’s unlikely to happen, though. How many games will Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United) and Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal) get in the coming years? Danny Ings, who has recently signed for Liverpool, started up front with Kane on the day his new club team signed a Brazil international, Roberto Firmino, who plays in the same position.

English football is attempting a revolution. In a bid to improve the development of homegrown youngsters, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke announced in March that non-European players will find it harder to gain British work permits while the FA is also trying to gain Premier League approval for new limits on foreign players in squads.

The FA has released a so-called “DNA” blueprint for English football, trying to improve the game on a technical level without losing its identity.

It is also hoped that England’s ($160 million) state-of-the-art national football centre, opened in 2012 in central England, will start producing higher-quality coaches to improve teams throughout the age groups.

It will all take time, though, and Dyke’s target of winning the 2022 World Cup appears unlikely given current results in major tournaments.

So, it’s over to England’s women to fly the flag, after making it through to the quarterfinals of the women’s World Cup.

That stage was typically the stumbling block for the men’s team, but even that looks to be a step too far these days.

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