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Should Ross Barkley play for England Under-21s this summer?

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Everton midfielder caught in club v country row

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The Premier League's role in developing young players is the hot topic in English football right now after the national team's abject failure at the World Cup in Brazil last summer.

England's struggles at major tournaments is nothing new and the reasons for it are varied and complex, with pundits and so-called experts citing, among others, the lack of a winter break, England's outdated physical style of play or the lack of game time for young English players at top clubs due to the influx of foreign players.

Another reason for England's struggles, according to the experts, is a failure to treat Under-21 football seriously. In previous years the likes of Italy, Spain and Germany have all fielded strong sides at major Under-21 tournaments with the majority of their players going to become full internationals.

Indeed five of Germany's 2009 European  Championship winning side started last summer's World Cup final against Argentina. While six members of Italy's 2004 winning side went on to lift the World Cup two years later.

The theory is that the experience gained of high-pressure tournament football will be invaluable to young players in their development and stand them in good stead when they travel to senior tournaments.

There is a clamour therefore for England to send their strongest-possible squad to the Czech Republic for this summer's European Under-21 Championships.

That would include Ross Barkley, who is a regular in Roy Hodgson's senior squad but also eligible for the Under-21s.

It has put the FA on a potential collision course with Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who has stated on many occasions that Barkley needs a rest this summer.

Those in favour of Barkley's inclusion will again point to the likes of Spain, who included several senior squad members in their 2011 European Under-21 Championship winning side.

They argue that Barkley should be playing as much football as he can, and that the tournament experience will prove invaluable should he travel to  Euro 2016 next year.

Martinez meanwhile is always going to seek to protect his players, but in Barkley's case it is with good reason. The midfielder has played tournament football the last two summers, first the Under-20 World Cup in 2013 and then the senior World Cup in Brazil last June.

He is almost certainly going to be included in the senior England squad for next year's European Championships in France, meaning he has precious little time to have a rest.

Should he travel with England U21s at the end of the season that will mean four successive summers without a break.

Even for a young player like Barkley that is surely going to have a detrimental impact on his game? You could certainly put a together a case for his below-par performances this season being down to a lack of rest last summer.

You also have to consider that he hasn't played for the Under-21 side for two years and so played no role in their qualification for the finals in the Czech Republic.

It is a different situation for someone like John Stones, who has earned senior caps but has no real big-tournament experience. Even Harry Kane, despite his senior call up, was a regular for the Under-21s during their qualification campaign and is more than likely to go to the finals.

As an England fan I welcome this shift back towards supporting the England team and last summer's failure could prove a watershed moment in Premier League clubs' attitude towards the national team.

I agree that sending a strong Under-21 side will benefit the seniors in the long-term, but parachuting in players from the senior side is not the answer, not least because it would be harsh on the players who got the Young Lions to the finals in the first place.

The whole situation is not helped by pundits like Gary Lineker, who have said it would be a "national disgrace" if Premier League managers prevented Under-21 players from representing England this summer. Such a blanket view is neither helpful nor accurate, as it needs to be decided on a player by player basis.

It is also unfair to label Everton as a side that stands in the way of young players' development. They have done more for the progression of young British players in recent years than the majority of other Premier League clubs.

My gut feeling is that Barkley will not travel to the Under-21 finals this summer. And while some will accuse Everton of being selfish, I believe a break this summer will be the best option for his long-term development - and that will benefit both Everton AND England.