England are still on course for success, says Norfolk’s FA chief Dan Ashworth Norfolk’s key man at FA
- Credit: PA
England's European Under-21 Championship failure is just a bump in the road to long-term success.
That's the view of Norfolk's Dan Ashworth – the Football Association's technical director and a man charged with turning around England's international tournament record across the board, and especially at senior level.
Ashworth admits his confidence is not shared across the board in the aftermath of England Under-21s' exit in the Czech Republic at the group stage earlier this week – having been tipped to win the competition.
Debates over which players to select and the approach of manager Gareth Southgate have made for a difficult period since Wednesday's 3-1 defeat to Italy – in which Norwich winger Nathan Redmond scored England's late consolation.
But despite all that and the FA's stated goal of winning the 2022 World Cup, Ashworth is steadfast in his high hopes for England's future.
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'Yeah, why not? I honestly believe,' said Ashworth when asked about success in seven years' time.
'Having just been knocked out of the 21s, people will probably read this with a smile on their face and think I'm deluded.
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'I honestly believe we have players in the system, players who were not here, players playing in the Premier League. The seniors have gone unbeaten for a season for the first time in god knows how many years.
'I honestly believe the signs are there and the players are in the development programmes. Nine of this squad can go again to the next U21 campaign, and the work clubs are doing with the Elite Player Performance Plan has and will make a big impact. I'm still convinced it is realistic. I'm absolutely convinced you'll see improvements in senior performances.'
Plenty of controversy surrounded the FA's decision to opt against including eligible big names such as Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley in the Under-21 squad for this summer.
'We will never know whether those players would have been beneficial for this particular tournament,' added Ashworth. 'We made our decision and live or die by that decision. One of the difficulties is that depth of squad Roy Hodgson has at his disposal. If we had a deeper pool of players, that would put less pressure on 21s moving up into seniors.
'You will always get players who have moved through the system quicker than others. Wayne Rooney was a great example – at 16, 17, physically he is a man, playing first-team football. He accelerated through the system quicker than others.'
And that pressure to promote players is something Asworth hopes will ease as his long-term plan for success starts to bear fruit.
'People can twist it however you want, but we are effectively a year into a plan,' said Ashworth.
'We are implementing it at 15s, 18s and an Under-20s. Are you going to see the results of that now? Anyone who has been involved in football and youth development is clearly going to say no. Come back in a few years.
'Youth development is always an easy one. You could turn around and say, 'oh, he is getting his excuses in for the next five, 10, 20 years'.
'But we have got to make improvements in our national game at senior level. That is what we will get measured on.'