For the first time since 1966, an England team reigned victorious at the most recent under 20’s world cup held in South Korea, holding Venezuela to a 1-0 defeat. For a youth programme, which is often doubted, the victory will go a long way in boosting the morale of the players and giving hope to the future of the senior England team’s success. Understanding who the players are and their experience playing at Premier League level gives a better insight into the potential of the squad moving forward. Reflecting on how the team won the 2017 world cup gives an interesting insight into the journey of a talented team of players and how they were able to succeed at such a prestigious tournament.
6 of the players in the Under 20’s world cup final were also part of the victorious under 17’s European Championship squad. Not only did the team win the World Cup this year, they also came home with the golden boot for Solanke and the golden glove for keeper Woodman.
Previously, England hadn’t invested as much time and money in tournaments like the World Cup as much as countries including Brazil, Argentina, and Spain, who have all gone on to greater success at senior level than the English squads in recent years. Giving youth players an opportunity to play at such a prestigious event helps the players to understand the talent they will face internationally at senior level and is a key part of their development.
The next step on from the World Cup is to see the game time these young players get in the Premier League increase. They will learn best through experience, by playing with senior level players weekly for their club. 16 players out of the 21-man squad played Premier League football last season, totalling 72 hours. But two of the leading players in the 2017 squad – Everton’s Kieran Dowell and Liverpool’s Sheji Ojo – didn’t play a minute of Premier League football, leading to questions why after such an incredible World Cup tournament.
Playing together as a squad at international competitions helps the players bond their experience of and awareness of the players they share the field with. From club games throughout the season to being called up for international duties, the players train and perform at elite level throughout the season, but can only truly work as a team if they’re given the chance to train and play with each other more often.
As England Manager Gareth Southgate stated about the Under 20’s squad: “That group have a very strong mentality. They’ve been through a lot together as a group, and recovered from knocks.” As manager of the senior team, Southgate will no doubt be following the journey of the junior players to evaluate the development of the players as they aim to progress into his squad.
Their ability as individuals and a team to recover from setbacks has enabled them to reign victorious in the most prestigious of tournaments, proving that the bond developed in training and playing is key to putting out a winning performance on the day.