Ashworth: Lack of chances remains England's big issue

Ashworth has been with the FA since 2012

Ashworth has been with the FA since 2012

INCREASING opportunities for homegrown players will be English football’s biggest challenge in 2018, says FA Technical Director Dan Ashworth.

In his annual review, Ashworth lauded the huge successes of England’s national teams in 2017.

England’s U20s, U19s, U18s and U17s all won major tournaments and Ashworth said “history tells you success at junior level is more likely to bring success at senior level.”

But he added: “The challenge has always been getting into the Premier League. It is the most competitive league in the world [and] the hardest one to get into as a young player because the clubs have the money to go and buy ready-made senior players from across the globe.

“If a player is going to be an England senior player, they’re going to need to be playing regular football and that’s what we want to see more of in 2018.”

In the piece, Ashworth argued “we’ve got the talent in this country and I believe we are as good as anybody else, certainly up to the age of 19, and I think our players have proved that this summer.”

He praised the role of club Academies and EPPP, which is now six years old, but admitted young English players were not getting enough opportunities to play first-team football.

“We have a structure in England and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, with the introduction of B teams or anything like that," Ashworth said.

"So the Premier League and EFL have made some initiatives to encourage clubs and make English players more competitive to try and bridge the gap between youth and senior football.

“Things such as the CheckaTrade Trophy and making the U23 league more competitive can only help. Between the three parties, we’re really trying to give young players a better games programme to bridge that gap and give them better experiences so that they’re in a stronger position to make their debuts.

“Once they’re in there, they’re really tested every week against top quality players and their development acceleration goes through the roof. The challenge is getting them in there and all three of the key stakeholders are acutely aware of that."

Harry Kane is an excellent example of this last point. The striker had failed to impress during loan spells at Leyton Orient, Leicester, Millwall and Norwich, but once given a run in Tottenham's first team, his "development acceleration" certainly did "go through the roof."

Ashworth added: “The players have to be that good every day in training, be that good when they get the opportunity to train with their senior team, be that good when they’re with their U18 or U23 team or when they’re out on loan.

England's summer of success:

  • Men's senior team: 2018 World Cup qualifiers
  • Women's senior: Euros semis
  • U21s: Euros semis
  • U20s: World Cup winners
  • U19s: Euros winners
  • U18s: Toulon winners
  • U17s: World Cup winners and Euros runners-up

“I don’t think there’s ever one pathway for players. For instance, some clubs like Tottenham have tended to send players out on loan and some of the others such as Southampton have, in the past, not done that as much.

“The likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have an extensive loan programme and send players abroad as well, so it all depends on the player in question, their maturity and their own development cycle.

“But if playing abroad in someone’s first team is part of that cycle, either on loan or permanently as we’ve seen with some of our players this year, then fantastic. To play in a different league with a different culture or environment, it can be a really good thing.”

The FA's Technical Director only briefly mentioned the Eni Aluko case in his 2017 review though. The England women’s striker accused national coach Mark Sampson of racism and he was later sacked after evidence of "inappropriate and unacceptable" behaviour came to light.

Ashworth had to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee and there were calls for him to be sacked. In the review he said “lessons have to be learned and I personally am aware of the distress caused to the players involved.”

And there was no mention of the football child abuse scandal, which was one of football's biggest stories in 2017.

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