Monday, 27 April 2015

Why Kane is the International Example to Follow.

Let's just get this out of the way - I spent far too much time trying to fit a Cain and Abel pun into the headline, before deciding against. But rest assured, it would have been awesome. Any other business?No? Then read on!

The allure of international football has taken some subtle but noticeable blows in recent years. It has become increasingly common, for youngsters breaking into their club side, to sacrifice one of the key stepping stones and experiences in a player's formative career - the under-21 international side.

The Tottenham striker Harry Kane, 21, has made clear his desire to take part in the Euro 2015, according to manager of the seniors Roy Hodgson, despite breaking through to the full side with a brace of appearances last month.

Kane's teammate at Spurs, Christian Eriksen, has backed the newly crowned PFA Young Player of the Year's decision with a heartwarming appraisal of the summer's Czech Republic-hosted tournament. It is a view which sadly has been snuffed out in recent years, with some clubs, managers and even players themselves choosing the cold, hard riches of domestic football and the increased downtime of the summer months. Yes, that has its merits. Obviously, it would be harder for Kane to replicate his stunning form this season next time around if he was to appear for Gareth Southgate's side. But let's not forget, the striker spent long periods of the autumn bench-warming, particularly in Premier League games, with Mauricio Pochettino apparently unconvinced of the youngster's worth.

Should Kane lead England to any kind of glory in the summer, say, an appearance in the final, then imagine the confidence boost. While he would obviously start feeling the physical drawbacks eventually, at which point Spurs should ensure they have forwards capable of filling his space in the team, the emotional and personal satisfaction would surely outweigh that. What is more worth telling the grandchildren - I won the European Under-21 Championships, or I scored a few extra goals for my club the next season after sunning myself on a beach all summer?

Stuart Pearce had many limitations as coach of the under-21s, but I can understand his immense frustration at the events surrounding Euro 2013. His squad was hit by the withdrawl of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones, and while it is questionable whether they would have had a positive impact anyway given the Three Lions lost all three games, the whole affair left a sour taste in the mouths of many followers. 

Look at the facts, Phil Jones turned his back on England. What followed was a disastrous season, with not only his side dipping to seventh in the table, but his own form earning some fierce criticism even from his own supporters. Yes, the whole Moyes era was one of under-performance throughout the squad, but it was hardly a ringing endorsement of Jones' decision to give the national side a miss.

Then when you look at Oxlade-Chamberlain, he only managed 14 Premier League appearances in 2013-14 due to injury, which might suggest, fair enough, he had problems, but he had only made 25 appearances the previous season. Given his age, there was hardly any danger of burnout quite yet. In fact, you could argue that a productive Euro 2013 might even have cemented him further in the minds of both club and international managers. 

The sheer joy of winning trophies is a thing that all players should be looking to achieve, in whatever form. With the Premier League title being a closed shop to many, and the domestic cups subject to the whims of the resource-preserving boardrooms across the land, international football should remain the one untouched outlet for pure personal achievement, particularly for youngsters.

One remaining point, aside from injuries and fatigue, and this applies to the Europa League as well, is that success breeds success. A lot is spoken about winning mentalities, and there is some merit to it. The last three Under-21 tournaments have been shared between Spain and Germany - a similar statistic to the seniors. If you are good enough, you are fit enough. Another four names, this time from the club game - Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid. Each of these sides have tasted many good times at both domestic and European level.

Atletico Madrid were winners of the Europa League twice in three seasons, before reaching the Champions League final and winning La Liga. In contrast, English clubs treat the Europa League with a barely-disguised disdain, preferring instead to chase the top dollar that comes with just existing in the Champions League. Arsenal have attracted plaudits for their metronomic participation, yet until the FA Cup success of last season they had been drifting for many years. It is surely no coincidence that they are on course to finish in the top two for the first time since 2005, which was also the last time they won the FA Cup.

At such elite levels of sport, it is the mental approach to potential success that defines the regularity of actually achieving it. Harry Kane should go off this summer and give it his all. Not that he won't already be planning this, but he should be aiming to drag England to the final, be top scorer, score a hat-trick, score the winning penalty. In essence, be a comic book superhero. Too many are content to drift, and so they do. Football, or indeed any sport, should be about those winning moments. Not, as more and more seem to do, scrape enough points together to increase their league position prize money, so they can afford to buy that sexy-sounding superstar who ends up failing to adjust because the weather is too cold.

Harry Kane should be applauded, and yet at the same time, he shouldn't be, because that's ideally what all footballers should have in their hearts - the sheer will to win, in whatever competition, for whatever team, at whatever time of year.

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