Matt’s Monologue: Club v Country Battle

The European U21 championships are just a few months away, and already there is a battle simmering away between club and country.

Several managers are concerned about their players going to compete in the tournament after a long, hard season.

Roberto Martinez is amongst them, calling on Everton’s Ross Barkley to be given a break after traveling to Brazil for last summer’s world cup.

For England boss Roy Hodgson, the shoe is on the other foot.

Having used Barkley at senior level for the last two seasons, he’s made him available for Gareth Southgate to pick, and also stated that Harry Kane WILL go to the tournament, despite recently making his full debut.

So what are the benefits of the youngsters going to the Czech Republic this year?

The obvious thing is it gives them some valuable experience of playing in a major tournament.

This is something that could help England in the future. If any of the squad continue their development and go to a world cup, they might not be as overawed by the tournament.

They will know, to a certain extent, what it is all about, how to handle living away from home for six weeks at a time and so on.

But on top of that, there are surely benefits for the club too.

Their young stars, who have the honour of being called up to such a big competition, get to test themselves against the best under-21s that the rest of Europe has to offer.

That, in turn, may help them learn new techniques, or if they come up against one of them a few months down the line in a Champions League match, it is possible that they will be better equipped to handle facing said player.

Of course, these are just a handful of examples of what is good about playing in the tournament.

And there is a flip side. After a long season, the players may well be a little tired and therefore more susceptible to injury.

But take Barkley or Harry Kane. These are two lads who barely feature for the opening few months of the campaign.

Kane, whilst playing in the Europa League and cup competitions, did not start a league fixture until November, whilst Barkley was out until mid-October through injury.

They should be a little bit fresher than others who may have played every match since August, people who may be mentally tired as well as physically.

For me, then, the question should not be about the clubs pulling the players out of the tournament.

If they feel they are able to go, then they should. Who knows what will happen in the future? They might never get the chance to go to another World Cup or European Championships.

What should be being asked is do they deserve a place in the squad?

Kane has actually featured regularly for the under-21s, he has helped them book their place in the finals.

But for Barkley or a Raheem Sterling, they have not been part of the squad. Both instead have been a more important part of the senior step up.

And therefore, I actually think it would be wrong to take one of these lads over a campaigner who has genuinely earned his place in the squad.


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