One of the recurring themes running through Brendan Rodgers' first season in charge at Liverpool FC was his heavy reliance on the club's youth contingent. This reliance had it's good points and bad, with young player development being a cornerstone of Rodgers' approach that conveniently coincided with needing to play in multiple competitions with a threadbare squad, but by the end of the season many of the club's youngsters had managed at least a taste of the first team if not a decent run in with the more senior members of the club.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Liverpool were bested only by Arsenal — another club that loves its academy — when it came to total minutes played by English U21 players in the Premier League this season. In a report by the astronomic sounding CIES Football Observatory, just shy of 10% of available playing minutes featured the club's U21 players. This number would be even higher when taking into consideration LFC's non-English U21 players, although this was not a statistic measured by the Football Observatory's report.
The report has been accompanied by much media hand-wringing about the state of the English in English football, with the narrative largely centering around the inability of U21 players to make the jump to the senior team, the evils of foreign investors using foreign players to win trophies rather than letting their brave English boys have a go, and the incredibly tragic fact that five clubs (Chelsea, Manchester City, Stoke City, Swansea, and Wigan) did not field a single English U21 player in the 2012/13 season.
With England falling victim to Italy today at the U21 Euro, the report's findings dovetail nicely into this narrative. It's easy to panic and prematurely lament the loss of yet another generation of England players who could have been great, but it's clear that the amount of work to be done with youth academies across the country is not equal. With only two clubs having more than one representative in Israel at the moment, Liverpool's four and Tottenham's three participants suggest that not all areas of the English game are dire and that some clubs are already reaping the benefits of having invested in their young players.
Club or country is a debate that isn't going to die for English players, but the pull between the two has an opportunity to be far more symbiotic than it has been in the past. Liverpool's philosophy can only benefit the English national set-up in the long run, while exposure to international competition and the responsibility of representing your country in turn can help the maturation process for young players at a club level. Time will tell, but it may not be a huge coincidence that Jordan Henderson plays for Liverpool and is already captaining an English side.