Danny Mills has branded young English footballers as "robots" after the Under-21 squad's stuttering display at the European Championships which culminated in a group stage exit.
An England side which is ranked as the best team in Europe by UEFA failed to win a single game, and was sent tumbling out by two late Czech Republic goals when a semi-final date against an impressive Switzerland side was within their grasp.
However, progressing from a group easily won by a classy Spanish side would only have papered over the cracks. A trio of performances had worrying comparisons to the senior side's fragile confidence when playing in an England shirt. England's midfield was particularly ineffectual.
Former England right-back Mills believes the problem is symptomatic of the way players are mollycoddled through the formative stages of their careers, meaning they no longer have the ability to think for themselves on the pitch.
Mills, who was out in Denmark at the tournament covering the games for the media, said: "When these youngsters are playing for England, they are fearful. They seem to be too aware they are under scrutiny. None of those players had the confidence or wherewithal to play and get England through.
"I appreciate they're young and still learning the game. But let's not forget either, they're not playing against senior professionals, they're playing against their peers. Nobody had the ability on the pitch to stand up and say, 'Right, this isn't going well, I'm going to change this and make a difference'.
"That's because academies are now almost creating robotic players, who have had everything done for them from the age of nine. Ever since that age, they've been told what to do and they can't think for themselves.
"It's hard for the players because they've been brought up this way. But we have to change it for the younger generation moving through the system. We have to realise the old English style of football isn't quite good enough to compete at the very highest level.
"That's why we haven't won anything since 1966. We've got to the odd quarter-final but that isn't good enough for a nation like England. The players have got to be able to express themselves out there and the shackles have to be released. If not, it will be a long, long time before we win anything else.
"These boys should be getting out and seeing some of the countries they are staying in. It might teach them a thing or two about life and make them appreciate what they have. But by being holed up in a posh hotel, the gap between them and reality is widening and that can't be a good thing.
"They are frightened to go against the manager during a game and it's difficult for them. But something has to change because the under-21s played a bit like the senior squad did at the World Cup.''
Mills also hit out at Pearce's tactics, saying: "The Czechs sat back and allowed England to play. England had 64% of possession - roughly the same amount Spain had against us. Stuart Pearce said after that Spain game that if England would have had 60-odd per cent of possession, they would win 4-0. But we didn't. That's because we had no cutting edge.
"Football is very much a game of risk and reward. You have to take risks. And for me there weren't enough players going forward who were willing to take a risk to make something happen.''