Aidy Boothroyd has described his England Under-21s manager role as the “utterly impossible job”, citing the dual demands surrounding player development and outside expectations that the team compete for major honours.
England must beat Croatia by two goals in Koper on Wednesday, while hoping Group D leaders Portugal overcome Switzerland, if they are to reach the Uefa Under-21 Championship knockout stage and avoid another ignominious exit. They have departed at this point in four of the competition’s past five iterations and Boothroyd believes their lack of tangible success owes largely to the priority taken by Gareth Southgate’s senior side.
“I know the England senior men’s job has been called the impossible job; I think the England Under-21s job is the utterly impossible job,” he said. “The reason I say that is because of the amount of players that have to be produced for the senior team and the fact we are expected to win.
“There’s a reason we haven’t won this [tournament] for 37 years and why we haven’t progressed as much as we thought we would. Part of that is because our primary aim is to get players through to Gareth and that’s what we’ve done.”
Asked whether an injection of eligible players with senior caps would have helped the Under-21s’ cause, Boothroyd explained that would go against the priorities of the England pathway. “Could you imagine a reserve-team manager asking a senior manager for their best players to win the reserve league?” he said. “That just wouldn’t happen. The only team that needs to win is the senior team.
“My job isn’t to ask for Jude [Bellingham], Phil [Foden] or Mason [Mount]; it is about the senior team and always will be. If someone is keeping players here then the system is flawed, but it isn’t flawed because we get players through.”
Boothroyd accepted the importance of defeating Croatia after emerging pointless against Switzerland and Portugal, agreeing it will be the biggest game of his career. “Yes, I think it is,” he said. “I represent England and my job is to get players through the pathway. We are capable of getting a result. The players look lively and ready.”
Presiding over a second group-stage failure would increase speculation about Boothroyd’s future but he insisted proving critics wrong was far down his to-do list. He feels the support of the Football Association and revealed he spoke to Gareth Southgate yesterday, as well as the technical director, John McDermott.
“Are we on the same page? Absolutely,” he said. “You shouldn’t be working in youth development if you think your job is to win every game and not produce players for the senior team. Of course we do [want to win], but what would you rather have: an Under-21 team going around on an open-top bus, or do you want your senior team to win?”
Callum Hudson-Odoi has added to Boothroyd’s selection problems by returning to Chelsea with a shoulder injury. Emile Smith Rowe is a major doubt and several other players have knocks.