Premier League's European domination not all good for England

By AFP
Published: June 3, 2019
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

LONDON: After a season of unparalleled dominance for English clubs in European competition, it is England’s national team’s turn to follow suit as they aim to win the inaugural Nations League in Portugal this week.

On the back of a run to the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990 last summer, England have momentum ahead of their semi-final against a resurgent young Dutch side on Thursday.

But manager Gareth Southgate still has both long and short-term concerns.

He admits it will be a tough test of his management to make quick decisions on which of his players involved in Saturday’s Champions League final, that saw Liverpool triumph over Tottenham, he will use.

Seven players in total from the two Champions League finalists are included in Southgate’s 23-man squad, with the biggest question mark over England captain Harry Kane.

The World Cup golden boot winner made his return from a two-month injury layoff due to ankle ligament damage, but looked well short of match fitness in Madrid.

Southgate must also try to raise Danny Rose, Dele Alli and Eric Dier from the disappointment of their final defeat, while Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez will bounce down to Burton to meet the squad on Monday after a long day of celebrations as the Reds paraded their sixth European Cup to delirious fans on Merseyside.

“We have got to make a quick but accurate assessment on where they are over those few days,” Southgate said when naming his squad.

“It will be a very individual thing having played in such a big game.”

The England boss has a devilishly difficult balancing act as the country tries to win a first senior tournament since the 1966 World Cup.

In contrast to those fatigued by participation in the Champions League and Europa League finals, some of Southgate’s squad will not have played for nearly four weeks come kick-off against the Netherlands due to the early finish to the Premier League season.

However, while four sides from the same country contested European football’s two showpiece finals for the first time, the riches of the Premier League means concerns remain over the opportunities given to English players.

Chelsea did not start a single Englishman in their Europa League final victory over Arsenal.

Largely thanks to Tottenham, a stronger showing of 10 England-qualified players took part in the Champions League final, but only seven started.

Only 30 percent of starting spots in the recently completed Premier League season were filled by England-eligible players, down from 33 percent in 2017/18.

On the face of it, the future for England at club and international level looks promising. Southgate’s senior team is already littered with talent under 25 in Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Alexander-Arnold among others. And at youth level, England have won the under-20 and under-17 World Cup in recent years.

However, Southgate fears that bright future will not last unless more chances are given to young players in England’s top-flight.

“We’ve got to arrest the slide,” said Southgate. “The big concern for me is this graph continues to fall away and that we end up in 10 years’ time with an England manager who has got 15 percent of the league to choose from. Why would that not happen? It is a big danger for us.

“I won’t be in this job forever and you want there to be a good pool of English players ready to come on board.”

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