Joey Barton Says English Football Is 'Rotten' After Under-21s' Exit

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The culture of English football is “rotten from top to bottom”, according to former QPR captain Joey Barton.

Gareth Southgate’s England side went out of the European Under-21 Championship at the group stage with a 3-1 defeat by Italy on Wednesday.

“There is a problem with the Premier League being a lot stronger than the Football Association,” Barton, who won one cap, told BBC Radio 5 live.

“It makes it impossible for England to build good teams.”

FA director of elite development Dan Ashworth defended England’s selection policy for the tournament, despite a number of high-profile players not featuring in the Czech Republic.

Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling, Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, Arsenal midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere and Manchester United defender Phil Jones were among those eligible but not called up.

“Those players are established internationals. It’s like being a first-team player and asking them to come back and play in the U21s. It’s not necessarily the right thing to do,” said Ashworth.

But Barton, a free agent after being released by QPR, countered: “As some players get towards the top, they say: ‘I’m too good for the 21s, because I’ve been in an England senior squad and I don’t want to go to a tournament because I need to rest.’

“They’re not available because they’re saying ‘it would be better for my career not to go to this tournament’, or their managers at club level are saying ‘we’re not going to do that’.

“The FA should just say to them ‘look, if you don’t make yourselves eligible for an U21 campaign if you’re selected, then you won’t be considered for the national side for however many years’.”

Though England went out at the first-round stage for the third successive European Under-21 Championship, Ashworth’s predecessor Sir Trevor Brooking said young English players are not behind the rest of the continent in terms of ability.

“The performances were not as good as the squad selected could have produced,” said Brooking.

“I don’t think there’s a skills gap between our young players and the rest of Europe. We have to work on the mental toughness, decision-making and how you deal with tournament football.”