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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 08:49 GMT
Small talent pool hurts England
Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole
By John Sinnott

Four teams will fly the flag for England when the Champions League resumes this week.

But just how many English players are likely to feature in Europe's premier club competition at the last-16 stage?

Well, the answer may surprise you. It probably will not be more than 12, even though there are more teams from England remaining in the competition than any other nation.

When BBC Sport looked at the starting line-ups of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool for the last round of Champions League group games in December it found that only 11 Englishmen were present.

It is a worrying statistic, especially if you are new England coach Fabio Capello. It is even more worrying, given that of those 11 Englishmen, Jamie Carragher and Paul Scholes have retired from international football.

We have to focus with greater intensity on youth development - we have to become the best youth developers

Former England technical director Howard Wilkinson

"Given those statistics the job of the England coach will become increasingly difficult," former England technical director Howard Wilkinson told BBC Sport.

"Your best players need to be playing against the best players in the Premier League and the Champions League consistently."

During his time at the Football Association one of the first things Wilkinson did was to carry out a study of all the World Cup and European Championship semi-finalists and finalists since the Second World War.

"The evidence suggested when you start a two-year campaign you've got to have 50 players in your provisional squad who are very experienced - experienced, on the verge of being called up, or who have been picked in the past," said Wilkinson.

"The sheer nature of the two-year qualifying period demands that number because of suspensions, injuries and loss of form.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you want quality then quantity matters."

Champions League bar chart
Different nationalities likely to play in Champions League last 16 games

From the analysis BBC Sport undertook, Capello could be forgiven for wondering whether he is working with one hand tied behind his back.

Of the 16 teams left in the Champions League a staggering 23 Brazilians are likely to be involved, which gives an indication of the depth of talent available to Brazil's coach Carlos Dunga.

World Cup champions Italy, with 16, provided the most number of players from any of the European countries.

Spain and France each had 13 players involved, with England in fifth place on 11.

BBC Sport's John Sinnott
Lyon are the only French side remaining, though Alain Perrin's side could possibly start with seven French players against Manchester United - a statistic that speaks volumes for the strength of the French youth academy system.

United could feasibly field six English players - Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves and Paul Scholes - against the French champions.

Chelsea's English contingent for the game with Olympiakos is likely to number five players - John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are arguably the only certain starters for Liverpool's match with Inter Milan.

And it is highly unlikely any English player will start for Arsenal against AC Milan.

In contrast, back in December when AC Milan beat Celtic 1-0 their coach Carlos Ancelotti started the game with six Italian players.

ENGLAND: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd
ITALY: AC Milan, Inter Milan and Roma
SPAIN: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla
GERMANY: Schalke 04
GREECE: Olympiakos
TURKEY: Fenerbahce

These statistics mean Capello has 40% fewer selection options than Dunga, when it comes to picking players who have experience of top-flight European football.

FA chief executive Brian Barwick has already expressed his concerns about the dwindling numbers of star players capable of lifting England out of the doldrums.

Just what he expects the Premier League and England's leading clubs to do to help redress the balance is unclear, however.

One man who does think he has the answer to the national team's problems is football consultant Alex Fynn.

Credited with helping form the Premier League 16 years ago - he has even been called its 'Spiritual Godfather' - he believes the only way to produce more world-class players for England is by expanding the top flight.

It is not a new idea - a similar proposal, 'The Phoenix League' was floated in 2001 - but Fynn argues it remains the best solution.

"The pragmatic solution is to introduce a Premier League Division Two," he stated.

Jamie Carragher
Liverpool defender Carragher has retired from international football

"Then you'd have 40 clubs with all the hype and the money and you would have 40 academies that matter.

"It would see players and clubs going up and down, with more fluidity and many more opportunities to develop through academies and Premier League Division Two.

"It would be a quantum leap up on the Premier League. Many opportunities for English players both through academies and the two divisions.

"The question you have to ask is if the Premier League is the most successful, biggest and richest league in the world, does it really compensate for the fact that it is weakening us as a football nation.

"And the Premier League doesn't help us develop our own players."

Wilkinson disagrees with Fynn, arguing that clubs would continue to buy overseas players rather than develop talent.

"We have to focus with greater intensity on youth development - we have to become the best youth developers," he insisted.

"We have to produce a generation of youth developers that are second to none in the world.

"When I become aware of a commitment to this idea that's tangible to taste I will start to get optimistic."

Wilkinson reveals England fears
18 Feb 08 |  Europe
Alan Hansen's column
18 Feb 08 |  Football
Tim Vickery column
17 Feb 08 |  Internationals
McClaren ready to manage abroad
15 Feb 08 |  Football
The challenges that face Fabio Capello
05 Feb 08 |  Internationals
Burton 'vital to England success'
18 Dec 07 |  Football
Brooking urges coaching overhaul
18 Dec 07 |  Football
Why are Brazil so good?
23 May 06 |  Brazil
Liverpool v Inter Milan
18 Feb 08 |  Europe
Olympiakos v Chelsea
18 Feb 08 |  Europe
Arsenal v AC Milan
18 Feb 08 |  Europe
Celtic v Barcelona
18 Feb 08 |  Europe
Lyon v Man Utd
18 Feb 08 |  Europe

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