Dear Roy, all we are saying is give youth a chance

England's Raheem Sterling during a training session in Rio. England's Raheem Sterling during a training session in Rio.

Chris Lakey
Thursday, June 12, 2014
4:56 PM

Give youth a chance. You’re never too young. If they’re good enough they’re old enough. You’ll never win anything with kids.

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The argument of youth against experience has been taxing the best brains – and some average ones too – for years, so it is no surprise that it has resurfaced ahead of England’s World Cup opener on against Italy on Saturday.

But why?

Let’s assume that most people agree on one thing: Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling have provided arguably the most influential, interesting and tempting performances of England’s build-up – as well as the past season in the English Premier League.

Between them, they have been responsible for providing more misplaced optimism than the rest of the squad put together. They have lured us into the “can England actually win the World Cup?” trap. But they may also been the difference between a three-game tour of Brazil or an extended tournament for which England are 25-1 to win.

I heard one debate last week when Barkley was described as the next Paul Gascoigne (heaven help him) which, amazingly, prompted half the panel to refuse to mention both in the same sentence should they curse the young Everton man.

He is certainly a great looking prospect: the skills are complemented by an attitude which favours self confidence more than just arrogance.

Sterling, as Norwich City fans know too well, blossomed last season; his pace strikes fear into opponents and, frankly, is unique among the current squad.

Danny Welbeck has a quick burst, but nothing like Sterling, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s untimely injury rules him out of this particular argument for Saturday.

It’s not about tactics and formation, it’s about the simple argument of youth – and are they up to it?

The curiosity of the argument is that the youngsters are regarded as being better used as impact subs. Curious, because most teams step on to the pitch intent on getting a good early start.

Why not attempt to make the impact at the start, rather than later in the game? There are surely no questions over stamina and fitness simply because of their age. Therefore, why not use them to gain an early advantage?

There’s also a certain naivete of youth – not that Barkley and Sterling often show it - which helps them ignore the pressures of the big occasion.

Wayne Rooney had it in his youth, but there is also no evidence to suggest that freezing on the big stage, making errors against the best in the world, is exclusive to young players.

What better attitude to take into a game against an Italy team without a win in seven international matches: if they are twitchy now, the pace of Sterling could tilt them over the nervous edge.

Italy aren’t quite as young: in defence they have 33-year-old Andrea Barzagli, who may miss the game through injury, Giorgio Chiellini, 29, Leonadro Bonucci 27.

Their midfield maestro really is that, but Andrea Pirlo is 35 now.

Roy Hodgson has put his faith in youth – Sterling, 19, Barkley, 20, Oxlade-Chamberlain, 20, and Luke Shaw, 18 – in a squad with an average age of 26, so why not use it?

Let’s hope Hodgson is brave enough to dispel any theories that young talent isn’t as good as older talent.

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