FOOTBALL: U21 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP UNDER-21S? WE’RE UNDER-ACHIEVERS
England kids must up their mental game to fulfil potential
LEE CARSLEY has warned England’s juniors they need to be mentally ready to challenge Europe’s elite.
The head coach of the country’s Under-21s has laid it on the line, saying he wants a hungry and motivated squad ahead of their European Championship opener against the Czech Republic in 11 days’ time.
England’s record at the tournament leaves plenty to be desired and, with both senior teams on an upward trajectory, their repeated failure is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The juniors have only progressed from the group stages once in their past five attempts – when they reached the semi-finals in Poland six years ago – and the former Everton and Republic of Ireland midfielder says it is time for a change. In attitude, more than anything else.
Carsley said: “We’re mindful of the past – the European Championship is not a competition we have done particularly well in.
“We’ve definitely underestimated the competition. If you look at the current coefficient rankings, we’re sixth. That’s sixth best in Europe.
“However, we do qualify regularly for tournaments. We now need to perform when we get there.
“So, if you asked me what’s more important this summer, whether the players turn up physically or mentally ready, I’d say mentally.
“There’s a difference between wanting to be there – and what you are actually willing to do to win.
“All of the past evidence points to the fact that we haven’t done that.
“What we have tried to do, myself and the staff, is say to them, ‘Look, if you don’t think you’re going to be mentally right this summer, tell us’.
“I’d rather that they did and were honest because it’s so important that we have a motivated squad. I’m not saying that we weren’t motivated in the past but we just haven’t performed. And they need to.
“I’m aware of what the players go through. I’ve done what they’re doing. I’ve played a whole season, then gone away on international duty. I understand if they feel like they need a rest or they are not quite at the races. But it’s important that if you are going to be an international footballer and you want to play for a prolonged period, that’s what you have to do.
“We, as a coaching team, are supporting them to do that.
“And we know they’re not always going to feel great, they’re not always going to be on top of the world – but that’s when you grit your teeth.
“That’s when you concentrate on your recovery or your rest or how you relax and wind down. You put yourself in a position where you can get the best out of yourself when the match comes around. That’s what they will have to do if they want to not just make it through to the senior team but to stay there and enjoy a long international career.”
England’s juniors lost just once during qualifying as they topped their group.
Their 4-0 defeat of France two months ago raised hopes that Carsley’s side would be able to challenge the best in Georgia and Romania. But Group C looks particularly tough. Germany will be favourites, while
Israel and the Czech Republic enjoyed solid qualifying campaigns, too.
Carsley added: “What’s quite interesting is the journey that the players have been on since we started qualifying against Kosovo two years ago. Some players were in their club’s Under-23 side, some were looking to go on loan, some were playing – they were all at different ends of the development.
“Now, a lot of them are playing week in, week out and that’s starting to give us an advantage.
“In the past, all of the players were with really good clubs but just not
SUNDAY PEOPLE playing, so you’re actually getting your match fitness at the Euros. By the third game, we’re firing on all cylinders – but we’ve been knocked out.
Picking a team as well for the first game with players who are starting week in, week out, is definitely going to help us.
“And I think there’s definitely a steeliness about this group.
“Overall, we’re ready. There’s not a chance of us going there and being shocked by the level of it because we have tried to tick all of the boxes with the friendlies we’ve played – France, Italy, Germany and Croatia.
“But there’s big difference when it really means something.
“Our first objective is to get out of the group but we won’t be taking anything for granted.”