Kane’s premature inclusion represents The FA’s failure to move beyond short-termism.
There’s no World Cup or European Championship this Summer, so the nation’s footballing attention will focus on the progress of Gareth Southgate’s side as they compete in the U21 equivalent in the Czech Republic.
As became commonplace during Stuart Pearce’s reign in charge, the reaction to failure will be loud and angry. It’s a dichotomy of sorts, because England are not known for prioritising age-group football and, yet, the country still demands a degree of success at that level.
Should England fail to make it through a group containing Italy, Portugal and Sweden, we can expect the hand-wringing to last for most of the rest of the Summer and the repercussions to be relatively serious.
As with any tournament, preparation is key. Southgate’s side were very convincing during their qualification program and cantered through their group with nine wins and one draw before beating Croatia home and away in a playoff. Quietly, the former Middlesbrough manager has created an impressively cohesive squad and, in so doing, has done his chances of inheriting Roy Hodgson’s job in 2016 no harm at all.
In the news this week, obviously, has been Harry Kane’s first senior call-up. Kane has deserves it, not least because he’s currently the top-scorer in the Premier League and has outshone every other English forward in the division.
The curiosity over what he can do at international level is only natural, but the urgency to satisfy it is odd. Typically English, but still odd.
The England senior team will play Lithuania in a qualifier on Friday night and then face Italy in a friendly the following week, so Kane will likely feature in at least one of those games – but at what cost?
During the same international break, the U21s are scheduled to play two preparatory friendlies against the Czech Republic on the 29th March and then Germany on the 30th. For Southgate, those games represent the last in-season opportunity to work with his group ahead of this Summer’s tournament and the calibre of the opposition provides him with an invaluable testing ground for the various shapes and structures he intends to use in that competition.
Harry Kane will be an integral part of this Summer’s squad, but Harry Kane will play no further role in the preparation.
How does that make sense?
If the senior side’s upcoming games were crucial or if Kane’s abilities were essential to overcoming Lithuania, then there would be a very valid argument built around precedence. As it is, though, the decision to exclude him from Southgate’s preparation seems to represent exactly the sort of short-sighted approach that English football is trying to move away from.
Given the choice, the player would rather win his first senior cap but, as much as Kane is owed that career-defining moment, there would have been no harm in deferring it until the beginning of the 2015/16 season and, furthermore, doing so wouldn’t have disrupted any tournament preparation.
Kane isn’t an incidental player at U21 level, he’s the attacking cornerstone of the side; it’s the equivalent of the senior team preparing for a World Cup by leaving Wayne Rooney out of the preceding friendlies.
The benefits of success at the developing levels are debatable, of course, and it doesn’t necessarily translate into anything tangible, but there’s a distinct correlation between other countries’ mature approach to these competitions and their progress in the senior arena.
The frustration with England – and more specifically The FA’s decision-makers – occurs because they’re unwilling to learn from the mistakes that they’ve made in the past – and this Kane situation is another example of that, another instance where logic has been sacrificed for the sake of immediate gratification.
Make no mistake: those who lobbied hardest for Kane’s early inclusion will be those who complain the loudest should England flounder in the Czech Republic.