Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes European football is more important than the Premier League in helping young English players reach their full potential.
Guardiola has suggested that it is only by playing regularly in the latter stages of the Champions League at major stadiums such as the Nou Camp, the Bernabeu, the Allianz Arena and the Juventus Stadium that England’s best young players can develop the right mental attitude to win major tournaments.
The Spaniard reckons that young players such as City’s Raheem Sterling and John Stones, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Danny Rose, Dele Alli and Kyle Walker, can match the world’s best developing talent and help the country win its first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.
As far as Guardiola is concerned, they can help England end the long wait for major international success that Spain endured before winning Euro 2008, a triumph that came 44 years after their last significant trophy.
However, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has hinted that the Premier League needs to be more flexible with its schedule, in order to give those players the chance to go as far in the Champions League as possible.
“From my experience in Spain and Germany and now here, you cannot imagine how good the young players here are,” said Guardiola.
“But then I could not imagine the (England) generation of Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand were not able to do something more. As a spectator, I don’t understand.
“For example, compare it with Spain, who always talk about the generation of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets. They are top players. But those players I mentioned before are of the same level.
“Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, John Stones, Raheem Sterling, they are top. From my point of view, the quality is there and they have the quality at Under-19 and Under-21 level too.
– ‘Talent is there’ –
“But it’s what you have to do to help that quality for the national team. Maybe they have to focus more on the European competitions so the guys can handle the important stages of the big competitions, and then go to the national team and play Germany, Italy, Spain and not have a problem.”
The former Spain international added: “The talent is there, I have no doubts about that. They need to make that step. Spain was the same too. In my time we were always quarter-finals, quarter-finals, quarter-finals.”
“But players started to go abroad, Alonso went to Liverpool and Cesc Fabregas went to Arsenal and bang, semi-finals, finals, win, win, win.
“It’s the same with Manchester City a bit in the Champions League. When you arrive in Europe, you need time. But I think the quality like City have now is there and the England players can do it.”
Guardiola echoed past complaints from Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, and the Portuguese’s most successful Old Trafford predecessor Alex Ferguson, about the demands placed by the English domestic fixture list on teams in European competition.
He said: “I have heard complaints in the past from Sir Alex, Jose Mourinho and a lot of players about the schedule being so complicated but it is what it is.
“You can only answer what you see and what you believe. At the end, the federations have to decide what they do. But my humble advice is try to enjoy the European competitions because it’s fun, really fun.”