England's fortunes looking up

England's players celebrating after their Fifa Under-17 World Cup victory over Spain at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday. After years of underachievement at senior level, successes at age-group tournaments show that youth development plans ar
England's players celebrating after their Fifa Under-17 World Cup victory over Spain at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday. After years of underachievement at senior level, successes at age-group tournaments show that youth development plans are working.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

U-17s thump Spain to win World Cup, great run in youth and junior c'ships raises hopes

KOLKATA • Manchester City starlet Phil Foden scored twice as England came from behind to defeat Spain 5-2 in the Under-17 World Cup final on Saturday.

The triumph in India took England's record in age-group football this year to extraordinary heights: They have not lost in regulation and extra time in 34 games.

The only defeats - the U-17s in a European Championship final, and U-21s in a Euros semi-final - involved penalty shoot-outs.

England became global champions at the U-20 level in June. Brazil are the only other nation to win two male age-group world titles in the same calendar year. The Cubs are also U-19 European champions and Toulon Tournament winners, thanks to their U-18 team in the annual U-21 competition.

The results suggest that the future is bright for the senior national team, whose continued failures at major tournaments since winning the World Cup in 1966 have led to the execution of long-term plans.

About five months after England's exit from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they finished bottom of their group with a point, the England DNA programme was unveiled. The revamped approach towards coaching from the U-15 level onwards stressed a consistent style of play throughout the various development teams.

But the U-17s, in particular, represent the generation of St George's Park - the English Football Association's national football centre. They are the boys who were seven or eight years old and just entering academies when the St George's Park opened in 2012, and were 10 or 11 when the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan came in.

  • HOW ENGLAND'S YOUTH TEAMS FARED THIS YEAR

  • U-17 WORLD CUP Champions

    EUROPEAN U-17 CHAMPIONSHIP Final

    EUROPEAN U-19 CHAMPIONSHIP Winners

    U-20 WORLD CUP Champions

    EUROPEAN U-21 CHAMPIONSHIP Semi-finals

    TOULON TOURNAMENT Champions

"We've played like we want all of our England teams to play," England coach Steve Cooper said after his side fought back from being 0-2 down inside 31 minutes.

"Brave on the ball, pass, pass, pass, not one long ball, get into good areas, play as a team and some good individual play up the field as well. I am just so proud of the performance. We played our way back in, and stuck to our style. We are building for the future, and that is the way to do it."

Foden, 17, won the Golden Ball for being the tournament's outstanding player - an accolade that has been bestowed upon the likes of Cesc Fabregas (Spain, 2003), Anderson (Brazil, 2005) and Toni Kroos (Germany, 2007).

The midfielder has impressed City manager Pep Guardiola, while forward Rhian Brewster is well regarded by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Angel Gomes, a substitute in the final, has already played a few minutes for Manchester United's first team.

Yet perspective is still required. For at exactly the same age (17 and six months) as Brewster, Michael Owen had already scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool. And at five weeks younger than Foden, Wayne Rooney was actually playing for England's senior team.

Still, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insisted that Saturday's win is proof of the increasing success of England's youth system.

For decades, the technical development of young players in England has been compared unfavourably with that of their counterparts in rival European nations such as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The Frenchman, in charge of the Gunners since 1996, said: "It shows that since they restructured the (youth) academies and dedicated a lot of work to that, you have the results."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2017, with the headline 'England's fortunes looking up'. Print Edition | Subscribe