JAMES SHIELD: Club before country wrong for the kids

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VISITORS to Chesterfield’s B2net Stadium for England’s under-19 international with Germany earlier this month could not have failed to be impressed by the Ralph Minge’s side.

Indeed the match, which ended 1-0 in the tourists’ favour, reaffirmed some of football’s favourite clichés.

The hosts, including Sheffield United’s exciting teenage striker Jordan Slew, bristled with enthusiasm and commitment.

Their opponents, meanwhile, confident they possessed the greater technical expertise, sported an air of superiority throughout.

Styles, as they say in boxing, makes fights and this cultural clash proved to be an absorbing contest.

But while England were trying, and ultimately failing, to break down an immaculately-organised defence, events 800 miles away in Italy underlined why the senior Three Lions always flatter to deceive on the world stage.

There, under-21 coach Stuart Pearce found himself dispatching a hastily-cobbled together squad into action after a flurry of late withdrawals by players connected to Premier League clubs.

Something both he and his colleagues at youth level have unfortunately become accustomed to whenever they prepare for a game.

Our school of thought is that aspiring young professionals learn more by staying at home and training with their team mates at club level.

Or, to be blunt, making up the numbers.

In Europe, that growing together as a group, being exposed to actual competition, is the correct approach.

Given this country’s miserable record, despite its vast resources and talent pool, it is safe to assume that the latter is better.

But here in England we’ll carry on ploughing our own sweet furrow.

Devising impressive-sounding and scientific plans for youth development which can then be conveniently ignored the next time a youth tournament clashes with a player’s summer holiday or reserve fixture.

No doubt, when the forthcoming European Championships come around, Pearce, Noel Blake and co will once again find themselves stripped of their most promising talents while big-wigs from FIFA and UEFA fume quietly in the stands.

Which also probably explains why we not only fail to perform in major tournaments. But fail to host them as well.

Still, as Urs Meier and Jorge Larrionda can testify, we are second to none when it comes to conjuring conspiracy theories.