Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you cannot have missed England’s under-17 team winning the World Cup at the weekend, to add to the success of the under 20 side winning the same competition in their age group during the summer. But can this success be replicated by the senior team? And how many of these talented youngsters will make the senior squad?
Only Brazil have won the under-17 and under-20 World Cup in the same year previously, which just goes to show how much of an achievement it is by these young players. It’s no secret that the players need first team minutes at Premier League clubs, or maybe even higher end Championship clubs, in order to aid their development. From the under 20 squad, it’s arguable only Dominic Calvert-Lewin is starting on a regular basis for a Premier League side. Sure, Jonjoe Kenny, Dominic Solanke, Ademola Lookman, Lewis Cook, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kyle Walker-Peters have all seen first team minutes this season as well, but Freddie Woodman, England’s number one goalkeeper at the tournament, has yet to play a game for his club, Newcastle United.
It is a case of playing these guys consistently. Despite their poor start to the season, Everton are bleeding through the youngsters into the first team picture. We have Tottenham producing and nurturing world class English talent. Tashan Oakley-Boothe, a part of the under-17 success, has seen first team minutes for Tottenham in the Carabao Cup this season, and I am sure will see some more during the season.
Realistically, how many of the players from this under-17 side will make the 2022 World Cup squad, provided England qualify? Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho probably have the best chance, but it is still incredibly early to tell. With the success still being so recent, it will be two years or so when these kind of predictions can be made.
Phil Foden in pre-season action with his club, Manchester City
Going back to the under-17 squad from the 2011 World Cup, only two players have a senior England cap – Raheem Sterling, and recently, Nathan Redmond. Nathaniel Chalobah has also been called up, but is yet to be capped. If we have to wait six years for two of these World Cup winners to be capped; that has to be deemed as a failure at nurturing talent.
Having said that, the last few years have seen players fast-tracked to the senior team, such as Marcus Rashford, and Dele Alli making his senior debut at 19 years of age, and a lot of that is down to having faith shown in them by their club managers. Louis van Gaal had no hesitation in playing the youngsters during his time at Manchester United, whilst Mauricio Pochettino is demonstrating the same thing at Tottenham. Pep Guardiola has spoken very highly of Phil Foden at Manchester City, but is he going to get a game ahead of Kevin de Bruyne? He failed to convince Jadon Sancho to stay at the club as he opted to move to Germany and Borussia Dortmund in search of first team football, and has already made his debut for BvB.
More and more of the English youngsters are moving abroad to further their career. All of the England under-20 squad that won the World Cup played their club football in England. Since then, four players have been called up who are currently playing away from England. Reece Oxford and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts, on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach and FC Twente from West Ham and Manchester City respectively, as well as Kaylen Hinds of Wolfsburg and Chris Willock of Benfica, all of whom moved abroad this summer, have seen call ups by the under-20s. And with the exception of Willock, all of them have played for the first teams of their current clubs this season.
There’s no doubt St George’s Park, England’s national football centre which opened in 2012, has been a major factor in the recent success. All 28 national sides train here, and the integration that comes with using the same facility has no doubt helped with not only the player’s ability, but their mentality as well.
St George’s Park in Burton-upon-Trent
This closeness and tightly-knitted togetherness instilled by the FA, as well as the promotion of a former England youth manager to the senior position clearly hopes for success on the senior stage, which starts with the youth sides. There’s also the question of the under-20s and under-17s making these triumphs continual, rather than just being one-off wonders. It is also too early to call them a new “golden generation”. Judge them when they make the senior squad. If indeed they do.