Loans the only way Eng­land Un­der-21s can show their class

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

off with the League Man­agers’ As­so­ci­a­tion man­ager-of-the-year award, de­spite Liver­pool fin­ish­ing one place be­hind City. Even so, tak­ing over at West Ham is an un­usual way of prov­ing a point to the LMA. Pel­le­grini is a highly suc­cess­ful man­ager who has worked at River Plate, Real Madrid and City and im­proved clubs much lower down the peck­ing or­der.

He pushed Vil­lar­real and then Malaga fur­ther than they had gone be­fore in the Span­ish Liga and the Cham­pi­ons League, and be­fore that he did the same in Ar­gentina. Th­ese are not achieve­ments that should be den­i­grated or for­got­ten but, other than the £5mil­lion he is be­ing paid an­nu­ally, those who knew him at City strug­gle to ex­plain why he took over at West Ham. A club so badly run in re­cent years that a man with his ex­pe­ri­ence and un­der­stand­ing of suc­cess­ful struc­ture would or­di­nar­ily have walked away from. Pel­le­grini’s ap­point­ment was con­tin­gent on the club tak­ing his long-stand­ing as­so­ciate, Mario Husil­los, as di­rec­tor of foot­ball, and it is un­der­stood there was some re­luc­tance on the part of the own­er­ship to do so – although in the absence of any bet­ter ideas they went along with it. The high point of Husil­los’s ca­reer so far was his first time as sport­ing di­rec­tor at Malaga with Pel­le­grini – his sec­ond spell last season ended in rel­e­ga­tion. Oth­er­wise his ca­reer has been var­ied rather than stel­lar with coach­ing and di­rec­tor of foot­ball roles in Ar­gentina, Spain, Bo­livia and Saudi Ara­bia.

The ques­tion be­ing asked at the club is not whether the sum­mer sign­ings are bad play­ers but whether they rep­re­sent a demon­stra­ble step for­ward in qual­ity. Is Fabian Balbuena, at 27, bet­ter than De­clan Rice at 19? Does Issa Diop stand out as a first choice cen­tre-back as one might ex­pect for a £22mil­lion player? Is

An­driy Yar­molenko a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade on Robert Sn­od­grass? Jack Wil­shere on Mark No­ble? In the sec­ond tier of the top half of the Premier League, where West Ham as­pire to be, those in­cre­men­tal up­grades are crit­i­cal to progress but very hard to achieve. We are ac­cus­tomed to the elite man­agers tak­ing the money with­out a back­ward glance and given that Pel­le­grini’s pre­vi­ous job was in the Chi­nese Su­per League at He­bei China For­tune, which sounds more like a du­bi­ous in­vest­ment prospec­tus than a foot­ball club, maybe it should not be a sur­prise.

West Ham re­quire a com­plete re­struc­ture, and per­haps Pel­le­grini and Husil­los feel that they have the au­thor­ity to do that over time, but that was not the job Pel­le­grini was asked to do when he last worked in Eng­land.

West Ham’s own­er­ship have taken them to the brink, and the sta­dium move has al­ready se­cured them an un­happy legacy. But Pel­le­grini has cho­sen to be part of it too, which still feels mys­te­ri­ous given how keenly he guarded his own rep­u­ta­tion at City. The prob­lem at West Ham has long been their un­sta­ble foun­da­tions, and you would have thought that Pel­le­grini above all would have spot­ted that.

Of the Eng­land Un­der-21 team who started in the win over Latvia on Tues­day, all have par­ent Premier League clubs with five of them on loan – four in the Cham­pi­onship and one, Jake Clarke-Sal­ter, in the Ere­di­vise. Chelsea’s Clarke-Sal­ter is a reg­u­lar for Vitesse Arn­hem, so too Dean Hen­der­son at Sh­effield United from Manch­ester United and Chelsea’s Ma­son Mount and Fiyako To­mori at Derby County. Their Chelsea club-mate Tammy Abraham is yet to play for As­ton Villa.

The six still at their par­ent clubs have four Premier League ap­pear­ances be­tween them, and three of those be­long to Tom Davies at Ever­ton. The fourth is Ade­mola Look­man’s 33 min­utes against Hud­der­s­field Town. Do­minic Solanke at Liver­pool, as well as Ever­ton’s Kieran Dow­ell and Jon­joe Kenny, have not fig­ured at all and nei­ther has Kyle Walker-Peters at Spurs.

This is Eng­land’s fore­most de­vel­op­ment team – and yet so many of their play­ers can­not get a game out­side of the in­ter­na­tional break. It makes you won­der what those who did not go on loan are wait­ing for.

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