Lou Macari: Kids wasting their talent by failing to put hard work in
I'VE got some consolation for England fans this week – at least you are not French.
England's limitations were exposed by a superior Italian team on Sunday, but at least Roy Hodgson's side didn't go out of the tournament in the same pathetic manner as Laurent Blanc's shambolic France team.
England weren't good enough against Italy, but at least they dragged the game to penalties with some decent organisation and solid defending.
France couldn't even manage that as they sloped out of their much-hyped quarter-final against Spain with barely enough effort to muster a Gallic shrug.
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There were reports of a dressing room row after the French lost to Sweden in their final group game, but coach Laurent Blanc said he hoped the defeat and arguments might help motivate his team for their clash with Spain.
Well, if that 2-0 defeat to the World Champions was them motivated, I'd hate to see them when they weren't bothered.
The French and the Dutch are two teams whose over-inflated reputation was popped during this tournament. As for England, they did what we should have expected ... got out of the group, but then went home after coming across a half-decent side.
All the soul-searching about how England players are technically inferior to the likes of Italy will only strengthen the FA's case as they set about revolutionising youth football in this country.
Smaller-sided games with more emphasis on learning skills than winning meaningless games are supposed to help develop much better England players of the future.
My only concern is that the FA shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water and forget about the bulldog spirit which has traditionally been one of England's great strengths.
After all, that was enough to get England within a penalty-shoot out of the Euro 2012 semi-finals.
It's fashionable to sneer at hard-work, passion and desire, but you only have to look at what Stoke City have achieved over the past five years to see how far it can get you.
There is a problem with youth football in this country, but I just don't think all this talk about small-sided games addresses the real issue.
The problem is young players thinking they have made it when they are still at the start of their careers.
If youngsters become wealthy overnight by signing a contract at 18 or 19, then not all of them will still have the hunger to work at their game.
I hope Nick Powell doesn't fall into that trap following his move from Crewe to Manchester United in a deal which could add up to £6m.
I say "could" because the fee will depend on Powell achieving his full potential ... and I assume there is a clause in his contract about him going on to play for England.
But that will depend on the player himself. He'll get great coaching at United and train with quality players, but in the end it will be up to him.
I hope he makes it because, sadly, too many players fail to develop once they sign their first big contract.
That's the main reason England boss Roy Hodgson doesn't have a much better squad at his disposal.
If any young player needs an example they should look to David Beckham, a lad who worked his socks off to make the very most of his talent.
Early in his career, I saw him playing on loan for Preston at Walsall. He didn't stand out as a future England star, but made himself one with hours of extra practice, not least on his crossing so he could deliver the ball with devastating accuracy.
Compare that to Theo Walcott. When he was taken to the 2006 World Cup, aged 17, I thought he had devastating pace, but looked like he needed to work on his finishing and be a bit braver.
Six years on, he has devastating pace.....and looks like he needs to work on his finishing and be a bit braver.
I don't mean to pick on Walcott because there are plenty of players up and down the country who never reach their true potential.
But these days it's not so easy for a manager to give a player a kick up the backside, leave him out of the team and tell him to buck his ideas up.
Rather than being determined to save his career, the player is more likely to have his agent telling him how great he is and orchestrating a move.
Players are being built up from a young age and I'm not convinced that is good for them or for the game.
For example, players as young as nine are taken on in football academies.
It's all very well for a dad to say Little Johnny is at Stoke, Liverpool, Arsenal or whoever, but only a tiny fraction of these players will ever go on to play for the first team.
Let's face it, this system isn't producing players any better than 30 years ago when scouts would go out and find the best players in the local youth teams. Or have I missed something and Roy Hodgson does have a squad of young world-beaters to call on?