No, not that World Cup. The other one. England has lifted the World Cup trophy for the first time ever, at U17 level. Right on the heels of the U20 World Cup and the Toulon Youth Tournament, it has been an amazing summer for English Youth football.
Coming close to clinching the U21 European title, Germany only stopped them at the semi-finals, on penalties. Some things never change after all.
This is quite the upturn in fortunes for England who haven’t had the most convincing record at youth tournaments recently. They had previously never been beyond the quarter final of any U17 tournament before Rhian Brewster’s sublime hat trick in the 4-1 win over USA. Getting to the quarterfinal only twice previously, they had only actually progressed from the group stage 4 times in 14 attempts.
This year’s tournament proved to be something else altogether. Phil Foden and The Young Lions (wonderful band name) swept all that was before them, scoring 23 times in 7 games including 5 in the finals avenging their Euros U17 heartbreak.
The U20 World Cup was no different. They had only made it beyond the round of 16 on 2 previous occasions, the last being 1993 when David Unsworth, Nicky Butt and co made it to the semis. However, the class of 2017 with players like Dominic Solanke, Kyle Walker-Peters and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, all nominated for the Golden boy award, have done even better. They’ve won the gong for the first time ever, completing a rare sweep of youth international tournaments.
What does it all mean for English Football?
They claim to be firm believers in the “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” adage. Now is the right time to prove it starting with the domestic clubs. Players like Solanke, Foden, Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman should ideally be given a chance at some proper playing time to aid their development. With England already qualified for the showpiece in Russia in 2018, one or more of these impressive youngsters could be in the squad for the senior World Cup.
Good performances at these types of competitions more often than not point to better things to come for the senior teams and occasions. Look at Portugal’s “Golden generation” that got to the 2006 World Cup semis as well as the Euro 2004 final. This same team, which got to the Euro 2000 semis, had a number of players in the team that conquered the world at U20 level in 1991. The Argentina team that made it to a World Cup final and 2 Copa America finals also had more than a few players who had won the 2005 and 2007 editions of the U20 World Cup including Golden ball winners Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. Spain’s World Cup winning team is no exception, it included players from their 1999 U20 triumph, 2000 U21 Euros third place finish and 2003 U17 silver medal winning squad. See where this is going?
It is quite evident that if (and it’s a big IF) talents such as Brewster, Solanke, Calvert-Lewin and Foden are properly nurtured, in addition to the already blossoming young players like Raheem Sterling, Rashford, Alli, Loftus-Cheek and Harry Winks, the English National team could become a real force to reckon with. Who knows, it might just be a matter of time before they win the World Cup for real.