England’s next generation has delivered a huge message this summer

England’s next generation has delivered a huge message this summer

For the football-loving English public, it is a sentence that still doesn’t quite make sense. England are world champions.

Out in South Korea over the course of the past three weeks, the Three Lions’ Under 20 side have battled their way past Argentina, Guinea, the host nation, Costa Rica, Mexico, Italy and Venezuela to win the World Cup.

It’s all come as a bit of a surprise but maybe it shouldn’t.

England’s age-group sides are, for the moment at least, a dominant force on the international stage.

While Paul Simpson’s Under 20s were busy beating all-comers out in Asia, a separate squad aged mostly 19 and under defended their Tournoi Toulon title in the French city.

At the Under 17 European Championship, meanwhile, only a penalty shootout could separate the Young Lions and Spain in the final.

The Under 21 team can add to this gluttony of glory this month when they travel to Poland for the European Championship. And they too have a good chance of victory.

It’s a remarkable situation for England, so famously bereft of senior silverware since Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and the rest lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley 51 years ago.

And once again it raises the age-old question on these shores – what must a young Englishman do to get his chance in Premier League teams.

Of the Under 20 World Cup winners’ 21-man squad, only seven played in the English top flight in 2016-17, and almost a third of the 34 appearances those seven accumulated between them were attributable to Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton.

There were smatterings of starts for this next generation of stars lower down the pyramid – be that with their parent clubs or out on loan – but most were left to learn and develop in Premier Two, the youth offshoot of the Premier League.

In total, they made 147 appearances in that division between them last season, more than in the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League combined.

Dan Ashworth, the FA’s operations director, has since tried to claim the unpopular collaboration between the Premier League and the EFL – the Checkatrade Trophy, in which academy teams have been allowed to enter alongside first teams from clubs in League One and League Two – directly benefited the Under 20s. Yet only three players featured in that competition, racking up six meagre appearances between them.

In fact, these remarkable young players are not getting the sight of senior football that perhaps they deserve – and that struggle to transition from academy teams to the rough and tumble of men’s football has often been cited as a reason for England’s paralysis on the world stage.

That’s not to blame this intransigence on an influx of foreigners. Far from it. In fact, the diversity of tactics, thought processes, styles and setups generated in our global football melting pot should only accelerate young Englishmen’s educations in the game.

But there must now be more encouragement for these stars of the future. There must be a willingness for managers to give them a go.

The examples of Southampton, Tottenham and Everton – common factors Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman – need to be taken into account. Both clubs have granted opportunities for the pick of their academy crops over recent seasons and reaped the rewards.

The youth at Chelsea must decide whether they really want to become stuck in an almighty loan cycle, revisiting the Championship and Vitesse Arnhem until their 24th birthday, or seek a move elsewhere.

Dominic Solanke’s wage strop was risible but he got his move and, after his performances in Korea, his new club Liverpool must be thinking of a way to fit him into their first-team plans from the off next season.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah, Lewis Baker, Jake Clarke-Salter and Fikayo Tomori must all consider what life has in store for them at Stamford Bridge. If clubs won’t give them a chance, they must take it upon themselves to seek that opportunity out.

And that must also mean being open to the idea of moving abroad. If English clubs won’t channel through their English talent, teams in Spain or Germany or Holland just might. For too long, the notion of Brits abroad has been almost unthinkable in football terms.

We need to ask ourselves why.

This is the next golden generation, perhaps even more precious than the 2006 England squad of Beckham, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Terry, two Coles and Rio Ferdinand. It has to be given the chance to shine.

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