This summer, the Under-21 European Championship takes place in the Czech Republic. Eight teams will take part, including England who are in a tough-looking Group B alongside Italy, Portugal and Sweden. To be eligible to feature in the tournament, players must be born on or after 1st January 1992, making some actually 23 years old. But this rule does mean that there are some big names that Gareth Southgate could potentially pick in his squad, such as Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere. Some of these players may decide to rule themselves out of the running, as the senior team play at the same time, but I think that if we had a squad that features all the permitted players, we would have a really good chance of putting in a good showing of ourselves, especially after finishing bottom of our group two years ago. Here’s who I think should be in the 23-man squad, including some top Premier League stars.
Jack Butland (Stoke City – born 10 March 1993)
Jack Butland is currently with the senior squad for this month’s internationals, but is a regular for the Under 21s, having made 27 appearances. He may not get much of a look in at Stoke at the moment, but he is this country’s best young keeper, and has experience, having been in the senior squad for Euro 2012, as well as being first choice for Team GB at the Olympics that year.
Jonathan Bond (Watford – born 19 May 1993)
Challenging Butland for a place in the starting 11 is Watford keeper Jonathan Bond, who will be hoping that the Stoke man’s absence will give him a chance to shine and show Gareth Southgate what he can do. Bond actually played for Wales’ U17s and U19s before being picked for England’s Under 21s. He has five caps since making his debut in November 2013, and has featured four times for Watford this season.
Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham – born 24 May 1992)
The only keeper to be playing regularly for his club side is Marcus Bettinelli, who is also surprisingly the oldest of the three shot stoppers. After enjoying loan spells over the past few years, he was given a chance by Fulham in the Championship this season, and his form has led to an Under 21s call up. At the start of the season, he was the last person you’d put on the plane to the Czech Republic, but after making his debut on Friday night, Bettinelli won’t let his place slip easily.
Luke Shaw (Manchester United – born 12 July 1995)
He might be one of the youngest members of the squad, but Luke Shaw went to the 2014 World Cup with the senior team, so has to feature. Manchester United don’t spend £30 million on any random youngster, and Shaw’s attacking intent could be a real threat to the opposition in the summer. He’s had a few injury worries since moving to Old Trafford, but if he can overcome those, Shaw should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Currently has five caps to his name as well as four senior ones.
Jon Flanagan (Liverpool – born 1 January 1993)
Yet to make an appearance for Liverpool this season, Jon Flanagan underwent corrective surgery on his left knee at the start of this season. He is nearing full fitness though, and if he can prove himself in the last few months of the season, Gareth Southgate should pick him in the squad. Flanagan currently has three caps to his name, as well as being picked for the seniors once, when Roy Hodgson chose the full-back to join his team on their pre-World Cup training camp in the USA, after which he was named on the standby list for the tournament. That shows he’s got talent.
Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United (on loan from Arsenal) – born 8 February 1992)
You wouldn’t have thought it, but Carl Jenkinson played for the Finnish youth teams when he was younger before being picked for the England Under 21s (9 caps, 2 goals) and senior team, who he has featured for once in November 2012. A loan spell at West Ham United has gone well so far this season, with the likelihood being he joins Big Sams’ side permanently in the summer.
Calum Chambers (Arsenal – born 20 January 1995)
Calum Chambers actually has more caps for the senior team (3) than he does for the Under 21s (1), but that just shows how far he has come in the last few years. A product of Southampton’s famous academy, Chambers moved to Arsenal in the summer for a fee that could potentially rise to £16 million. He has made 35 appearances for the Gunners so far, scoring once. He’s versatile too, as he is able to play at right-back or centre-back.
Phil Jones (Manchester United – born 21 February 1992)
He’s now a regular in the senior team, but Phil Jones is still just about eligible to play at the tournament, and there’s no reason why shouldn’t as it could be said the defence needs tightening. He would bring the experience of 14 England caps with him, and could even be a candidate to captain the side. The last time Jones featured for the Under 21s was in February 2013, but if he wants to play, then I think Gareth Southgate should definitely pick him.
John Stones (Everton – born 28 May 1994)
Like Jon Flanagan, John Stones was on England’s standby list at last summer’s World Cup, as well as featuring in the pre-tournament training camp and friendlies. That followed a strong breakthrough season at Everton, but neither or The Toffees have particularly impressed in 2014-15. Stones has featured 19 times for the Merseyside club this campaign, and was even sent off in the Europa League against Young Boys. His talent is still there though, and with nine Under 21 caps would be a valuable addition to the squad.
Michael Keane (Burnley – born 11 January 1993)
Not necessarily a name you would instantly recognise, but Michael Keane has been a regular for the Under 21s in recent seasons, making 18 appearances, and scoring three goals. He signed for Burnley in January from Manchester United following a successful loan spell at Turf Moor in the first half of the season. The centre-back played for the Republic of Ireland’s Under 17s, but is a part of the Three Lions now, along with twin brother Will, who misses out on this squad.
Liam Moore (Brentford (on loan from Leicester City) – born 31 January 1993)
After starting the season in Leicester’ starting line-up, Liam Moore was loaned out to Brentford in February, where unfortunately he has failed to impress. He’s got pedigree though, making 12 Under 21s appearances (one goal), whilst he was named the Football League Young Player of the Month for September 2013. The question is whether Gareth Southgate picks him on those accreditations or his current form. I think he’s a good young player, so hopefully the former.
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal – born 1 January 1992)
As you can see by his birthday, Jack Wilshere scrapes into the squad by the skin of his teeth. But there’s no doubting his quality, even if he hasn’t quite lived up to the massive expectations many had of him. The Arsenal midfielder would be the heartbeat of the team if he featured in the Czech Republic, with his range of passing and technique on the ball. The last time Wilshere was in the Under 21s squad was for the 2011 Championships, the longest absence of anyone in this squad. He has has the most senior caps then anybody else in this squad, with 26, but is yet to score.
Ross Barkley (Everton – born 5 December 1993)
Another player who featured at the 2014 World Cup for the senior side, Ross Barkley’s quality would be a real addition to this Under 21s side, and he could form a great partnership with Wilshere. 2013-14 was his breakthrough season, but like Everton team-mate John Stones, hasn’t performed quite as well as the Toffees have stuttered. He has two goals in 20 league games this season, as well as 11 senior caps and five Under 21 appearances, scoring once.
Will Hughes (Derby County – born 7 April 1995)
He’s been the young player on everyone’s lips for some time now, and it can only be a matter of time before Will Hughes plays in the Premier League, whether that be with Derby County or not. The midfielder is just 19 years old, but has been starring for The Rams for three seasons. So far in 2014-15, he has two goals and five assists, and is a regular for England’s Under 21s, having now made 13 appearances, scoring twice.
Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City – born 27 February 1992)
His discipline may not be great, but on his day Jonjo Shelvey can be a game changer, as you only need to look at some of the goals he has scored in order to see what he is capable of. He too only just makes the squad because of his birthday, but he’s playing at the top level and not being given a chance by the senior side so playing for the Under 21s in this tournament would be an obvious. Shelvey has 13 previous caps (four goals), whilst Roy Hodgson handed him his solitary first team appearance in October 2012.
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool – born 8 December 1994)
He’s now a central figure for both Liverpool and England, but Raheem Sterling would still be one of the youngest members of this squad if he were to play. But his presence could make all the difference. With 20 goals in the past two seasons for the Reds, he is a threat from the wing, whilst he can also set teammates up. Probably the most technically gifted player in the squad, Sterling has 14 senior caps (1 goal) to his name. He last featured for the Under 21s in November 2013, having made eight appearances and scoring three times.
Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur – born 16 July 1991)
The most competitive position in the Under 21s squad is probably out wide, and Andros Townsend is another player eligible to feature. After no less than NINE loan spells, he finally broke into the Tottenham team last season, whilst he also got called up to the England senior squad for the first time, and scored on his debut against Montenegro. He has five senior caps in total, as well as three for the Under 21s, who he last played for in 2013. This season for Spurs, Townsend has five goals and six assists in 23 games in all competitions.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal – born 15 August 1993)
The quality wingers keep on coming, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made a real impression in the England squad since receiving a surprise call-up to the Euro 2012 squad. He has not played for the Under 21s since, who he scored four goals in eight games for. When he’s not been injured this season, The Ox has shone for Arsenal, grabbing four goals and four assists. That pretty much sums up his career – if he can stay fit, Oxlade-Chamberlain can be a star for any team he plays for. For the senior team he has four goals in 20 games.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace – born 10 November 1992)
It’s back to where it all began for Wilfried Zaha, as a move to Manchester United in 2013 didn’t quite work out so he re-joined boyhood club Crystal Palace in January, where he is slowly making a name for himself again. A stuttering two years didn’t stop Gareth Southgate, and before him Stuart Pearce, picking Zaha for the Under 21s though. The winger now has 13 caps to his name (1 goal), as well as two senior caps which he earned in 2012. It’s unlikely you’ll stop him when he really gets going as well, with his pacing matching that of Sterling’s.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur – born 28 July 1993)
The man of the moment. But Harry Kane is still only 21 years of age. With 29 goals so far this season for Spurs, there was no way Roy Hodgson wasn’t going to pick him for the senior squad, and Kane didn’t disappoint, scoring just 80 seconds into his debut against Lithuania on Friday night. That followed ten caps for the Under 21s, who he has been equally clinical for, scoring eight times. If he obliges, Kane should be the first name on Gareth Southgate’s team-sheet, as there is no doubt he will cause some serious damage if he plays in June.
Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion – born 4 August 1993)
Saido Berahino also has a superb goalscoring record for the Under 21s, notching ten times in 13 appearances. He had to pull out of the latest squad due to a foot injury, but when he’s fit, Berahino could form a lethal partnership with Kane. He has 18 goals so far this season for West Brom, whilst the striker was also named the England U21 player of the year for 2014. Some are even touting him for a call-up to the senior side, but Roy Hodgson might want to do it quick, as Berahino’s native Burundi have approached him to play for them.
Connor Wickham (Sunderland – born 31 March 1993)
He seems to have been around for ages, and the truth is, he has, but Connor Wickham is still just 21. He made his Ipswich Town debut aged 16 in 2009, and from then expectations of him have been fairly high. He’s not necessarily quite lived up to them, but he does have six goals in 17 games for the Under 21s. His form at the end of last season for Sunderland caught the eye, as he was named the Premier League Player of the Month for April. So far in 2014-15, Wickham has just four goals, but he can still be a threat and will be a useful back-up.
Danny Ings (Burnley – born 23 July 1992)
Like Saido Berahino, many have called for Danny Ings to play for the senior team after an impressive season. Nine goals in the Premier League this season have followed 21 in the Championship in 2013-14 as Burnley got promoted and Ings was named the division’s player of the season. For the Under 21s, he has four goals from eight caps, and is one of just two strikers in the current squad, along with Fulham’s Cauley Woodrow.
Who misses out?
Picking who to be in the squad is incredibly tough, purely because there’s so many good young players to choose from, which can only be a good thing. Bringing in big names into the team mean that there’s no place for Eric Dier, Cauley Woodrow, Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse, Patrick Bamford, the list goes on. Some of these players were crucial in getting the Under-21s to the European Championships, and it seems quite unfair to leave them out. They may well get picked to go to the Czech Republic, but if we really want to go for this, and showcase young English talent, I think we have to have the big names in their. As you’ll see below, they make up an incredibly strong starting XI.
How they line-up
Agree with my squad? Is there anyone else you think should be in it? Maybe you don’t want the eligible senior players to feature? Let me know in the comments below…