Stuart Pearce interview: Why England are in better shape now
The former England full-back on the importance of youth
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 04/09/18 11:40am
Stuart Pearce is not only a legendary England left-back but was also the coach of the U21 team for six years, taking them to the final of the 2009 European Championship. He didn't always agree with how national youth teams were treated back then but speaking at the McDonald's Grassroots Football Awards at Wembley, he feels that has changed…
Why was it so important to get England's youth setup right?
From my early days of going into the FA to work, I felt that the only way the England senior team were going to be successful is if you managed to make sure the teams below that were successful. The whole development pathway has to be correct for the England senior team to be successful. That is what we are seeing now.
The grassroots setup has got to be right as well so that when youngsters get the opportunity to come into the game, the coaching is right, they have a good experience and they get taught the right messages. I came through the grassroots myself. I was a non-league player with nowhere to play my football at the age of 16 so I understand its importance.
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Did you experience some resistance to that as England U21 coach?
I felt as though there was a little bit of resistance to it from my side of it in terms of my vision and how I saw it. When they came into the setup at 15 for the Victory Shield, I felt that people didn't really see the importance of it. I think they are seeing it now because the U17s and the U20s are world champions and the senior team have got the semi-final.
I think there is a real vision now that comes from the England senior manager. I am biased because Gareth is a friend of mine, but he cares about the whole process not just the team that he is dealing with now. When you have got a manager who cares about the whole process, and they see the importance of the whole process, it's helpful.
Are the opportunities there for young players in the Premier League?
Fans love nothing more than a home-grown player who lived in the area and has now got onto the pitch to play for the club they love. I think we need to take some of the pressure off the managers in the Premier League so they can feel more comfortable putting young players into the side.
Sometimes you have got to accept that young players, like senior players, will make mistakes. But because they are young players there is a bigger question mark against them. Declan Rice was fantastic for us at West Ham and that link is vital at any football club.
You have only got to look at the model at Tottenham. I think they do it really well. They spend money on big-name players and rightly so but there are also the likes of Harry Kane and others who have come through their academy setup and that's a great bonus for the club in the long run.
The bar is so high at some of these clubs. But as I found out when I was at Manchester City, when the club runs out of money you need the academy. So you have to be very careful. At any point at any football club, there might not be that big financial backer and your academy will need to be strong to supplement what you have got.
Stuart Pearce was speaking at the 2018 FA & McDonald's Grassroots Football Awards, celebrating grassroots heroes across England.
Find out more: www.mcdonalds.co.uk/grassroots