Monday, 14 February, 2011
Kenny Swain has taken his side to Slovenia for a different challenge.
by Glenn Lavery
Every season, Kenny Swain takes his England U16 side overseas to face non-British opposition during the February half-term.
So, while there would appear to be nothing out of the ordinary in Swain currently preparing his players to face continental opposition, this time namely Slovenia, it is worth highlighting the fact that this season has been like no other at this level.
Usually by the half-term break, England’s U16 players would have completed their Victory Shield campaign, a round-robin tournament against the three other Home Nations – which the Young Lions have won or shared for the last nine years. However, the incremental weather that swept through the British Isles late last year caused England’s Victory Shield matches against Northern Ireland and Scotland to be postponed and ultimately re-scheduled for March. Their only match in this season’s competition so far was a 4-0 defeat in Wales.
“In terms of the planning and our strategy for the U16s this season, it has really tested us,” Swain said of the unusual circumstances.
“Although we’ve only had 80 minutes of football, we have always said to the boys that there is as much value in the training as there is in the game, so we are not totally ill informed on the players and their abilities at this stage,” he continued. “We are making judgements not just on games but on what we see at their clubs and what we’ve seen of them on the training pitch as well.
“It’s a whirlwind trip but they are here for a purpose. This is a great opportunity for us to play some continental opposition and it prepares the players for what is to come, in this case, the final two Victory Shield matches.”
Although Swain’s mantra makes perfect sense, Victory Shield preparation is not his customary reason for these overseas trips. He likes his players to experience facing non-British opposition - for some players it might be their first time doing so - and he also wants them to familiarise themselves with living away from home for a three- or four-day period.
“They’ve got to be disciplined and focused to approach this kind of trip and that’s why we arrange these overseas matches,” he explained. “It tests the players’ concentration powers from leaving their club games on Saturday right up until the debrief after the game over here.
“It’s a totally new challenge but I’m confident in them because they have showed ability. They have showed that they learn quickly. I said that last year’s U16s were the quickest learners I’ve seen at this age group, but I’d have to put these boys in that same category. A lot of the work we are doing they are picking up quite quickly and showing it in training, so we’re quite confident of them coming out with a performance and we just hope that they can do that.”
In recent years, Belgium and Holland have provided the half-term opposition, but Slovenia are no strangers to Swain.
“We played them in 2007 and we had a real hiccup against them,” he explained. “They beat us 3-1. That England team included the likes of Jack Rodwell, Jack Wilshere and Andros Townsend so that experience certainly didn’t hinder the progress of those players in the long run.
“Slovenia will be technical and a bit lower-tempo in their approach. They will have some good individuals, but we are not really focusing on what they can offer. Our focus will be to carry on where we left off against Wales, which was a long time ago, but we hope that in this game, and against Northern Ireland and Scotland, we can get back on track in terms of where we are going with the players.
“However, win, lose or draw, ultimately, it is the experience that will stand them in good stead.”