It has been a glorious year for England’s junior squads. The under-20s won the World Cup, under-19s were victorious in the European Championship, under-17s were runners-up at the Euro and the under-21s made it to the Euro semis.
Such has been their run, the under-17s have been placed among favourites for the FIFA U-17 World Cup that will kick-off on October 6. Their previous best in this age group was quarterfinal appearances in the 2007 and 2011 editions.
But it won’t be a walk in the park for the Three Lions, who are placed in Group F with South American runner-up Chile, CONCACAF champions Mexico and Asian champions Iraq.
Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, who hasn’t arrived with the squad, Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster, Manchester United’s Angel Gomes and Manchester City’s Phil Foden are some of the players who will shoulder England’s hopes.
Winger Sancho was the Player of the Tournament in Under-17 Euro, forward Brewster has been praised by Juergen Klopp, midfielder Gomes has been tipped by Jose Mourinho for greater things while Foden has already caught the eye of Pep Guardiola.
England’s under-17 coach Steve Cooper feels the perfect summer has raised the profile of talented junior players, and the clubs are taking note.
“Academies are doing an outstanding job producing quality players in England and we are working in a good way as well promoting the development of youth players. This summer has raised the profile of talent in England and I think it hasn’t gone unnoticed,” said Cooper, whose young troops landed in Mumbai on Friday for their preparatory camp.
“The most important thing of youth development is players getting opportunities at senior level, but I think everybody wants that. The players are given the opportunity but they should take them as well,” said Cooper.
England will face New Zealand in a warm-up match on Sunday at the Andheri Sports Complex and then proceed to Kolkata on October 3, where they will be based.
Cooper said these tournaments are more than just about winning. “It isn’t just about the games. It’s also about what is going around it. These are still young boys. These tournaments are like experiences which will help develop these boys into the people they want to be.”
Cooper said this has been achieved because of the good relationship and co-ordination between the clubs and the Football Association.
“We have excellent relationship with clubs in England and that’s something both sides have worked really hard on; certainly with the FA we are making big strides to get to know the clubs even better and build relationships that will be long-lasting. I have to say that clubs are very mutual as well, they very much see the value of playing international football and the opportunities and experience it can offer,” added Cooper.
Sancho going the Vinicius way?
Like Brazil, England may also have to do without their star player Jadon Sancho, who is yet to join the team in Mumbai for the preparatory camp.
The England players trained at the Andheri Sports Complex on Saturday with only 20 available. Sancho, who moved from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund this season, is yet to arrive.
England, who arrived on Thursday night, initially trained with just 19 members on Friday but Manchester United’s Angel Gomes arrived on Saturday morning.
The absence of Sancho, who was adjudged Player of the Tournament in the U-17 Euro, will be a blow for England.
According to reports in the British media, Dortmund are refusing to release the player. The Mirror reported: “Dortmund would like he remained in Germany as his Bundesliga registration came through last week and they want to integrate him into their first team set-up. His new club claims he is not yet up to speed and fit enough to go to the championships having only joined them on deadline day.”
When Hindustan Times asked England coach Steve Cooper and team manager Jenny Baker about Sancho’s arrival, both said all 21 members of the squad are in Mumbai. However, on Saturday, Sancho was an unused substitute in Dortmund’s 2-1 win away at Augsburg.