D3D4 Columnist Darren Young explores the potential of England’s group of talented youngsters following their excellent U17 World Cup victory…
The Kids Are Alright – Aren’t They?
But are they alright enough to win a World Cup?
I’m going out on a limb here by assuming that some people out there still care about their national team. I do – always have – and I’d welcome an England success (at senior level, I mean) as much as I would my club.
I have to specify ‘senior level’, as England has won (yet another) World Cup at junior level. We’re almost getting bored by it this summer, having added the Under-17 world crown to our Under-20 one. We are also European Champions at one of those age groups, and were narrowly beaten on penalties – what else? – in the finals and semi-finals of two other European and global competitions. Add to this the fact we sent a young team to the prestigious Under-21 tournament in Toulon and they won the bloody thing as well.
Even the Germans admit that England has ‘the best’ young footballers in the world right now and this, people, is the way Spain kick-started their movement from perennial under-achievers to winning three major trophies on the trot.
So rather than pontificate about whether this will indeed lead to England lifting the FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship in one of the following:
- Home comforts of Wembley in 2020
- The air-conditioned luxury of Qatar in 2022
- The familiar (Germany) or not-so-familiar (Turkey) surroundings in 2024
- North America or North Africa (depending on who gives FIFA the most money) in 2026
…. I’m going to consider a radical and maybe slightly left field approach as a path to glory.
You’ll notice I’ve bypassed Russia next year for obvious reasons. No one seriously gives us an earthly, do they? Which is kind of the point I’m making – for the umpteenth time, we will take twenty-three (that number would have totally buggered up our 1982 World Cup song BTW) tired, over-hyped young men to a tournament in June and struggle to make a real impression. A quarter-final will be considered an achievement.
So, let’s make it a watershed. And try something completely different instead.
Let’s give Gareth Southgate (or if we decide he’s not the man, then whoever we think is) a contract that goes all the way to 2026, and give them the job of overseeing and nurturing – with a team of top coaches – this incredible crop of youngsters into a force in world football for the next decade.
Does that mean jettisoning the current bunch? I think it probably does. I suggest we keep our one truly world-class player (Harry Kane) and make him leader, captain and spearhead of the new squad and build around him. I’d also consider a goalie or two (Pickford and Butland) also being retained.
After that, let’s take the best of the best from these undoubtedly gifted squads from the younger age groups and mould them to play together, grow together and win together when it really matters.
Let’s put Dominic Solanki and his younger strike partner, Rhian Brewster together. And Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and the rest behind them and over the next few years, pick from this talent pool even if it means we sacrifice the odd competition due to inexperience. It can’t be any worse than going out to Iceland or finishing bottom of a group including Costa Rica.
Here are the advantages:
They’ll be (roughly) the same age
The more I think about this the more it makes sense. At the moment, we have the older players (aka veterans) alongside much younger players and some (but not many) in-between. Three different age groups, if not generations, that have all been developed in entirely different ways by different people. Is it any wonder they aren’t all on the same wavelength? Just look how differently Spurs play compared to Manchester United.
They know what it’s like to win major events
They have experience that no one in the current squad has…winning cups at international level. We can keep convincing ourselves that the lot now might come good and be better than the ‘golden generation’ but there is nothing to suggest they will. Better to start again now than waste another hundred–odd caps on them.
They know what it’s like to be behind
When, in the semi-final of the 2024 Euros, they are two down to Spain at half time they can think ‘we’ve been here before, and we know what to do to dig ourselves out of it. We’ll just knock five in at the other end’. Don’t underestimate that strength of knowledge, confidence and experience. All they need to do now is learn how to take penalties and they’ll be virtually unstoppable.
Talking of penalties, this new breed, despite their tender years, don’t have the weight of crushing disappointment, missed opportunities and Baden Baden behind them. They aren’t scared of playing at Wembley, pulling on the three lions or of their own shadow. They give us the chance to make a fresh start with winners.
They know each other
They will, over the next decade, know everything about each other. Every pass, every dip of the shoulder, every potential mistake. Instead of looking like a bunch of ringers who’ve been hastily assembled on a Sunday morning, they’ll have an intimate knowledge of each-other’s games, strengths and weaknesses.
There’s probably more but aren’t the ones above enough anyway?
Of course, I know what you’re thinking. The problem with this idea (or one of them anyway) is that most of these players mentioned will end up languishing in an Under-23 development squad for years, or on loan at Royal Antwerp. I admit that is a problem.
And I know that this means that many will fall out of the picture altogether (for example, only two of the 2011 Under-17 squad made it to the Premier League).
But I’m not here to pour cold water on ideas. We have enough people in the media to do that as it is. I’m just putting it out there.
They don’t have to fade away. Someone, somewhere will give them game time. If they have any sense, PL teams will but it doesn’t have to be Chelsea or Manchester City (where the majority of them are currently assigned).
And if the PL clubs won’t play ball, why not put them on central contracts (Rugby and Cricket in England has led the world this way) or form a Team England and put them in the football league? We could call the club, St George’s Park (because that’s where the magic happens) and build a proper stadium for them there.
I did say said the idea was a bit left field.
Playing together, learning and developing with the right mentors, opportunities and support could take this group a long way. Of course, some will fall by the wayside but that happens with any squad. As does the introduction of one or two late developers – and that’s fine too.
So, the worst idea in the world?
Or finally, a chance to rule it again?