Too much too young: Why Sterling and Zaha prove rushing young prospects into the England team usually backfires
The cases of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling and Zaha show it should be more haste and less speed when it comes to England’s youngsters
Alex Olxlade-Chamberlain was England’s good news story of last season.
Raheem Sterling is this season’s new kid on the block and Wilfried Zaha is the wildcard, the exciting unknown quantity.
But what have Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling and Zaha got in common?
England and manager Roy Hodgson have done them and their clubs no favours whatsoever.
Of course, we have been here before. Theo Walcott went to the 2006 World Cup and it took him two years and a hat-trick against Croatia to recover.
Hodgson’s decision to take Oxlade-Chamberlain to the summer’s European Championships was heralded as ‘brave’ and a ‘breath of fresh air’.
In reality, it was nothing of the sort. It was reckless and a hugely talented teenager is now paying the price.
The Ox, as we have now come to know him, had started just six Premier League games for Arsenal when he was called up for a major international tournament. He had never played for the England senior side.
Euro star: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played at Euro 2012, but has been off the boil since
Like any bright, enthusiastic youngster would have done, Oxlade-Chamberlain jumped at the chance to go to the Euros and he impressed during his 81 minutes of action.
Hodgson and the FA convinced us Oxlade-Chamberlain would be better for the experience and well prepared for future tournaments. But, six months later, he has just three more top-flight starts to his name.
Not only did Oxlade-Chamberlain miss out on a well-earned break after his first season in the Premier League. He also, like the rest of the club’s stars who played in the Euros, missed the start of Arsenal’s pre-season preparations.
It meant he started the season on the substitutes’ bench and has struggled to get off it since. When he has, like against Aston Villa, Oxlade-Chamberlain has looked like a player weighed down by new expectation and attention.
He is yet to score a Premier League goal this season and has managed just two assists.
Arsenal are not entirely blameless in this story of early exposure, giving Oxlade-Chamberlain his own online television show in which he tries to learn beatboxing, djing, and, generally, anything other than football.
But Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has often accused England of trying to use promising kids as a positive distraction to the country’s shortcomings and the Frenchman is being proved right.
Sterling made his full international debut against Sweden and was one of England’s brightest performers.
But since that game there have been almost daily stories about the 17-year-old’s contract and interest in the Liverpool winger from Manchester City, United and Chelsea.
It is easy to be appalled that Sterling and his advisors could be asking Liverpool for up to £50,000-a-week, but is it really a surprise?
Raheem Sterling: Will his early England debut affect his development?
Sterling is officially an England international now and, no matter how young, he will feel within his rights to judge his value against that.
The situation has put him at odds with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and means he now has to try to justify his demands and the interest of rival clubs.
For all his promise and bursts of brilliance, Sterling has one goal and one assist to his name in the Premier League. In reality, his value lies in what he may be - rather than what he is.
Almost as quickly as Hodgson had named Zaha as a late call-up for the Sweden friendly, the Crystal Palace forward had confidently declared only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are better than him.
All very well and good, but Zaha has been playing in the Championship this season and has scored four goals – hardly world-beating statistics.
Zaha’s new Palace manager Ian Holloway accused Hodgson of simply picking the 20-year-old to try to convince him to turn his back on the Ivory Coast.
Hodgson refutes the claim, but what cannot be disputed is that Zaha’s form has dropped since his England call-up and his modest goal tally has not been added to.
Palace may have since reviewed the wisdom of erecting a giant poster on London’s south circular exclaiming ‘He’s just too good for you’ with a picture of Zaha.
Walcott’s premature World Cup call-up should have acted as a cautionary tale.
The cases of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling and Zaha again prove it should be more haste and less speed when it comes to England’s youngsters.
Filed under: Euro 2012
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