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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Kane, Ings and Berahino hope to emulate lost England generation

Peter Hucker, Mel Sterland, Danny Thomas, Gary Stevens, Dave Watson, Mark Chamberlain, Kevin Brock, Paul Bracewell, Steve Hodge, Mark Hateley, Howard Gayle, Mich D'Avray, Gary Bailey, Derek Mountfield, Nick Pickering, Nigel Callaghan; Danny Wallace.

To those of a certain age, such names resemble a decent haul of Panini football stickers but together they hold a special place in English football history.

Here were the young men who made up the national team's last U21 European Championship-winning squad.

The men who beat Spain over two legs in 1984 do not comprise a particularly distinguished list. Only defender Stevens, striker Hateley and midfielder Hodge went on to play at the World Cup while defender Dave Watson featured during England's disastrous Euro '88. Six of them never even won a full international cap while winger Chamberlain is best known these days as the father of Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The 1980s were of high achievement for the England national team though at the time, the shadow of actually winning the 1966 World Cup hung with heavy density. The quarterfinals were reached at Mexico '86 and the semis in Italia '90 but only Hodge of the breed of 1984 remained by 1990 and even then as the only outfield squad member who did not play a single minute of the tournament.

For much of that group the summer of 1984 would be a high point in their careers and the same will doubtlessly prove true of many of those Englishmen who begin their European Championship U21 campaign against Portugal on Thursday.

A glance at Gareth Southgate's 23-man squad for the Czech Republic produces few truly established Premier League players.

Aside from Harry Kane -- whose arrival as Spurs' talisman did not begin until November of the 2014-15 season -- only Carl Jenkinson, John Stones, Michael Keane, Saido Berahino and Danny Ings were first choice selections for their clubs. Keane and Ings both were both relegated with Burnley and Jenkinson was loaned out by Arsenal to West Ham.

Such a state of affairs serves as reflection of how difficult young English players find it to establish themselves at Premier League clubs flush with foreign talent. The boys of '84 were by and large first-team players with First Division clubs while much of the current crop has played much of its football on loan in lower divisions.

Goalkeeper Jack Butland, who enters the tournament with 28 U21 caps to his name, has played just five Premier League matches for Stoke City and been loaned to Barnsley, Leeds and Derby since being signed in the summer of 2013.

Luke Garbutt looks set to leave Everton this summer to find first team football. Chelsea midfielder Nathan Chalobah has never played a Premier League match for his parent club and has been instead farmed out to Watford, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley and Reading.

Such a block to progress fires Football Association chairman Greg Dyke's push for quotas of home-grown players. From May 1 and with Home Office approval, there will be a limit on the number of non-European Union players allowed to play in English league football. This is an attempt to push through a fresh generation of England stars to meet Dyke's ambitious aim of reaching the semifinals of Euro 2020 and winning the 2022 World Cup.

The Czech expedition is being treated particularly seriously by those at the FA. Germany won the 2014 World Cup with six players who won the 2009 U21 championship (at the expense of England) and that has been pinpointed as the power of progressing as a generation together.

Spain's 2013 winners included David De Gea, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Isco and Alvaro Morata -- all names now established within the elite.

Of the England team who were thrashed 4-0 in 2009's final, only James Milner and Theo Walcott remain within the senior set-up.

Southgate's crop does not possess gifted players like Mesut Ozil or Manuel Neuer, who a year later starred at South Africa 2010. In mitigation, he is denied players like Raheem Sterling, Phil Jones, Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere. That group and Oxlade-Chamberlain progressed to senior level ahead of schedule -- and all as teenagers, such is the scant supply of English talent to serve the full national team.

Southgate is being asked to perform with an arm tied behind his back but has established an admirable team ethic and a standard of pressing play that delivered 11 wins from 12 qualifying matches.

"We can all travel with hope, but I think we're going as genuine contenders," said Southgate last week ahead of travelling to young England's Olomouc training base.

The former full international clearly expects that his team can emulate that lost English generation of 1984.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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