England continued their annus mirabilis at the weekend with an extraordinary success in the under 17 World Cup.
Steve Cooper’s charges exacted revenge upon Spain in the final in Kolkata, coming from two goals down to register a thrilling and fully-deserved win over the side whom they lost to in the final of the European Champions in the summer – all coming down to a nail-biting penalty shootout.
How will the U17 England squad fare in the 2022 World Cup? We asked Dan Roebuck, football betting expert, for his thoughts on the next generation…
The victory in India completed a year that saw England representative teams at under 17, under 19, under 20 and under 21 level claim three titles. They may have lost in the final of one and the semi-finals of another – but and it is worth pointing out that those defeats were both by penalties.
In 34 games across six finals tournaments England were unbeaten in 90 minutes.
To say the Three Lions junior teams are the envy of the world is something I thought I’d never write, but it is without question true.
It is the under 17 age group that has got most pundits purring and pondering whether this group are primed for future world domination.
And that’s not to take anything anyway from the under 20s who claimed the world title in Korea in the summer – although it’s fair to say they were perhaps fortunate to beat Venezuela in the final – or the under 19s who were successful in the Euros in Georgia in July defeating Portugal in the final.
Opportunity knocks for Brewster and company
The spotlight is shining brightly on those that made the headlines in India, with Rhian Brewster and Phil Foden the two players grabbing most of the plaudits.
Brewster, who swapped Chelsea for Liverpool at 15, ended up as the Golden Boot winner, thanks to netting eight times (including two hattricks), while Manchester City’s Foden was awarded the coveted Gold Ball for the best player in the tournament.
Both were deserved winners, but for every Cesc Fabregas – who claimed both honours in the 2003 renewal – there are also the likes of Sani Emanuel, who was voted best player in the subsequent running but whose career has sunk without a trace.
Brewster might be flavour of the month but he failed to shine in two UEFA Youth League fixtures this season.
And, with Welsh wonder kid Ben Woodburn – already a first team scorer for Liverpool – and Dominic Solanke – who starred for the under 20s in Korea – ahead of him in the Anfield pecking order, it appears his route to Premier League participation is particularly difficult.
Foden is talked up by Pep Guardiola, and the City coach did play the midfielder in pre-season fixtures against Manchester United and Real Madrid.
However, given the Spaniard’s propensity to buy big and take few chances with younger players – at least so far in his time at the Etihad – Foden is another who might have to bide his time to get a top flight run out in a meaningful fixture.
The same can be said of the Chelsea contingent which included the exceptionally talented Callum Hudson Odoi – one of 19 players who hone their talents at Cobham.
Chelsea have been the dominant force in youth football in England in recent years, twice winning the UEFA Youth league and enjoying success in the FA Youth Cup six times in the last eight years.
Fast-track finishing schools
So, will that mean that some of the class of 2017 will follow in the footsteps of Jadon Sancho, who left Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in the summer in search of clearer progression to first team football?
Sancho played the group games in India before being recalled by his Bundesliga club, making his top division debut as a substitute in a 2-2 away draw at Eintracht Frankfurt.
I’m sure he was gutted to miss out playing in the knockout stages in India, but there is no doubt that Brewster, Foden et al will be tallying up how many minutes Sancho gets for Dortmund.
The other route to the top might be the one Ryan and Steven Sessegnon have embarked on.
Steven played in India and made his debut for the Fulham first team in the Carabao Cup this season, while twin brother Ryan starred for the under 19s in Georgia – scoring twice in the 4-1 group stage win over Germany.
Ryan has already racked up 39 Championship appearances for Slavisa Jokanovic’s team and the opportunities seem to be much more forthcoming at a club like Fulham.
Which brings us to the wider question of whether the next generation will be good enough to lift a World Cup at senior level.
Age group football is notoriously difficult to measure. Players who are best in class at 17, can falter for any manner of reasons by the time they are 21, 25 or 28.
But what should give England and their fans an awful lot of hope is the amount of levels their team is successful at.
If just two from each age group fulfil their potential then surely England will have enough talent to be competitive at the business end of major tournaments. The fact that they are likely to come up against the same players from the same countries should give them the confidence that they can come out on top.