First of all, I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone that I’ve spoken with/consulted prior to constructing this article. They are as follows: @chelseayouth, @thfcacademy, @Wolves_Academy, KLife, Deluded Gooner, Luke Pawley, Matt Woosnam aka @PalaceYouth, Rowd, R_will1990, Grant, Benjamin Sharp and Barryfrom. Their thoughts and opinions are really appreciated!
The Golden Generation
“The Golden Generation”. A phrase that when it’s used, the person saying it always insists on it being 100% serious and not just wild speculation. There’s been quite a few cases of this turning the opposite to what they’d hoped – and perhaps I’m contradicting myself here, but this group of 21 2000-borns (and a large handful of those not in the squad) truly are special. Potential, yes. Ability right now, yes. The only thing left is for clubs across the country to actually acknowledge they have academies (we all know the main culprits here! But we’ll save that for another article). In fairness a couple already have, with a few of these players given first team minutes already, but looking forward in the future we need something a bit more consistent than a few minutes in the League Cup or a whole half against an Austrian 2nd division in pre-season.
If you’ve ever watched England 2000s play, whether it be the 2015 Nike Tournament back when they were U16s, or last season’s 8-1 dismantling of Germany U17s, you’ll know what a special group they are. It’s not like it’s just four or five players either – virtually the whole side is a very exciting prospect in their own right. From the creative yet dangerous attacking threats of Jadon Sancho, Angel Gomes and Phil Foden to the intelligent, composed defending of Jonathan Panzo, Marc Guehi and TJ Eyoma, the squad is littered with talent. What must be noted is that absolutely none of these guys is the finished article yet (they’re only U18s, obviously), but here’s hoping that when they are, they’re part of a somewhat exciting England team compared to the one we watch today.
U16 and U17 level
2015-16, when these guys were U16s, saw them just lose 2 games out of a total of 15 – against credible opposition in France and Brazil, too. For their first “real” season together (considering the U15s games programme isn’t as extensive/competitive as U16s, which isn’t “competitive” in the sense that U17/U19/U21 level is), that is no doubt very good. A wide variety of players were used as well – the core of which being that season Chelsea duo Jonathan Panzo and Marc Guehi plus their then Blues colleague Zech Medley, now of Arsenal. The former are set to start for Steve Cooper’s side in defence, whilst Medley is not included in the squad having made his last international appearance that season in the Montaigu Tournament.
The next season as the group moved up to U17 level was much more eventful, going unbeaten throughout qualifying for the U17 Euros plus the Croatia Cup, losing just one game all season in the Algarve Tournament v Portugal. Again, a nice variety of players were used, some such as Millwall’s Rob Strachan and West Brom’s Jamie Soule making a small amount of appearances whilst Panzo, then-Man City duo Sancho and Foden and Newcastle’s Lewis Gibson playing regularly. Sending a very strong squad to the Euros, they stormed their way through to the finals (unbeaten, of course), before being cruelly denied by an 86th minute goal by Spain’s Nacho Diaz before going on to lose out on penalties. England were extremely unlucky to lose out like that in such a cruel fashion, but this has only given them more reason to win the World Cup out in India.
A number of goalkeepers have been used these past couple of seasons – no less than seven. Likely first choice Curtis Anderson is the only one of the trio selected for the tournament to have represented England at U16 level, the Manchester City custodian making three appearances that season – those mainly being some spectacular performances in their Nike Tournament campaign. Stoke City’s Joe Bursik was next to be introduced the following season – then at AFC Wimbledon he found himself first choice throughout the actual Euros before signing for the Potters after interest from Derby County and Crystal Palace. Third choice Billy Crellin, currently of Fleetwood Town, made his only appearance as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat to South Africa early this September – although he only conceded one of those goals.
Admittedly, I know very little of Crellin – but he must be something special considering he has been selected over Brighton’s Thomas McGill – Anderson’s second choice prior to Bursik who travelled with the squad to the Euros as third choice – and even over Southampton’s Alex Cull and Leeds’ Harrison Male, the leading appearance makers out of all the goalkeepers back at U16 level with four each. With Crellin being around Fleetwood’s first team squad as well as England at youth level, no doubt there’ll be bigger clubs looking at him. There is no confirmed interest at this point (or speculated for that matter, I haven’t seen anything) but Everton could be an option, considering they made quite a lot of youth signings this summer.
Nearly everyone knows about the attacking talent this squad has – but don’t get it twisted, defence is just as important and England certainly have a nice selection of players to choose from. The most known 2000-born defenders are left-backs Ryan Sessegnon and Kane Wilson, though funnily enough neither have been selected. Sessegnon is established into Fulham’s first team already and Wilson will unlikely have been released by West Brom, but all is not lost.
If you’ve heard me speak about this group, you’ll know how much a fan I am of Jonathan Panzo. The Chelsea defender has all the attributes of a typically-desired modern day centre-back – he’s extremely comfortable on the ball yet defends well whilst retaining possession and bringing the ball out from the back. Sometimes he does not use his physique to the best possible effect however, and will likely start at LB much like he did at the Euros, with one of Everton’s recent youth captures Lewis Gibson and likely captain Marc Guehi at centre-back. The right-back spot is an interesting dilemma for me personally – either Tottenham’s TJ Eyoma or Fulham’s Steven Sessegnon (Ryan’s twin, if you didn’t know by now) able to start, but Eyoma is the more likely option. That’s not forgetting Manchester City’s Joel Latibeaudiere, capable of playing at CB or LB.
Probably the strongest area of the group, how Cooper will select this area of the squad all depends if Borussia Dortmund release Jadon Sancho for the whole tournament – but more of that later on in the article. His former Manchester City teammate Phil Foden is included (obviously), alongside Manchester United’s Angel Gomes. This trio of players is incredibly exciting – but it really doesn’t end there. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, arguably one of the most dynamic attackers of the squad is included after an excellent season for club and country, whilst Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe is also included in terms of wingers.
Centrally, Tottenham’s Tashan Oakley-Boothe is pretty much a guaranteed starter. He made his first team debut for Spurs earlier this season in the League Cup, and his former Spurs midfield partner Nya Kirby, now of Crystal Palace is also named in the squad. Wolves’ Morgan Gibbs-White, who already has a few first team appearances to his name, and George McEachran of Chelsea offer alternatives as both number 8s or 10s, whilst there’s a debut for Chelsea’s scholar of the season in 2016/17 Conor Gallagher, included at the expense of the likes of Oliver Skipp. Gallagher offers something different – as @chelseayouth puts it superbly: basically what Alex Denny offered in the Euros but more intelligent, more physically strong, more purposeful passing and will add that extra steel where needed.
There’s only two out-and-out strikers that have been named by Cooper. A 4-2-3-1 formation will likely be employed so it’s not much of a worry, whilst the aforementioned Hudson-Odoi and Smith-Rowe can play up front if needed. Named are Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster – who contributed a total of 16 goals in all competitions last season, and Reading’s Danny Loader, a powerful centre-forward that has also featured in midfield at club level. Both are different options but it is likely that Brewster will be given the starting berth.
Tottenham’s Reo Griffiths and West Brom’s Jamie Soule are a couple of players to have been involved with England before that don’t make the cut, but it’s not a huge worry that they aren’t involved. The likes of Sancho, Foden, Gomes and Hudson-Odoi have all chipped in with plenty of goals before so it is not as if England will be completely devoid of goals. In fact, some have even gone as far as saying that England could defeat most teams without a striker. Whilst that hasn’t been exactly proved, there’s no reason for that being impossible – but perhaps that’s a better thing to test in a friendly match rather than the World Cup!
Ignoring the obvious one of Ryan Sessegnon, there are a couple who are unlucky to miss out. Tottenham’s Oliver Skipp is one – the defensive midfielder also unlucky to miss out at the Euros considering his solid performances at club level and internationally. In fact, @thfcacademy even says he’s outperformed Tashan Oakley-Boothe at club level this season. This doesn’t mean Gallagher’s selection is not warranted however, considering he has always been a consistent figure at youth level for Chelsea and does offer something different to both Skipp and the other central midfielders. For those that don’t know much about him, there is an excellent compiled set of clips of him doing what he does best (not a “best moments” montage per se, just his usual style of play) – which you can watch here.
Defenders Marcel Lavinier and Brooklyn Lyons-Foster, of Chelsea and Tottenham respectively, have been impressive at club and country when they’ve played – although it is worth noting that Lavinier attended a Portuguese training camp not too long ago. Southampton left-back Jake Vokins and Manchester United midfielder Aidan Barlow both formed part of the Euros squad, whilst Brighton custodian Thomas McGill was not included in favour of Billy Crellin. Again, despite every one of those players being talented it is no major loss looking at the squad England have selected.
4-2-3-1 is the formation likely to be used by Steve Cooper. If squad numbers is anything to go by, it would look something like this:
Of course, that will leave out Callum Hudson-Odoi – probably the most dynamic forward in the squad. Jonathan Panzo has featured exclusively as a left back for Chelsea’s U18s this season – with Marcel Lavinier and Jack Wakely operating as centre-backs (Wakely perhaps could be a shout for an international friendly later on in the season), whilst Gibson often features as a CB for Everton.
The strongest lineup will probably look like:
The entire back four all have good experience of playing at CB. Eyoma has pretty much exclusively been a RB for the past year as @thfcacademy points out. He is solid defensively and comfortable on the ball but not as effective in the final third – which is not a huge problem (for obvious reasons). Panzo of course is comfortable on the ball and bringing the ball forward but the quartet will focus more on defensive duties allowing the midfield two plus the attackers to push forward as @chelseayouth notes – something their shared experience at CB will prove to be useful.
A big factor in the starting XI will be if Borussia Dortmund allow Jadon Sancho to travel. At the time of writing they are only allowing them to play in the group stages (bizarre, I know), so after that we could see something like:
A subtle change – this would allow Callum Hudson-Odoi to be pushed out to the left and have Angel Gomes in the no. 10 position – bringing Nya Kirby into central midfield to recreate the “iconic” partnership with Oakley-Boothe as seen by Tottenham at schoolboy level and England occasionally. Alternatively, George McEachran could start in either the 8 or 10 position, interchanging with Gomes. Sancho is a mercurial talent and arguably one of the if not the best in the team, but if he isn’t able to make it it’s not the end of the world at all.
Making a starting eleven from those not named in the “strongest lineup” is no hard task and still produces a quality team.
Joe Bursik was first choice in the Euros so he isn’t inexperienced at all. Marc Guehi will likely be captain so he should likely start regardless (unless he was injured). This scenario could allow Lewis Gibson to play in his previous position at LB with natural RB Steven Sessegnon starting (who also made his first team debut this season – playing the whole game in the League Cup game against Wycombe Wanderers this August) and Joel Latibeaudiere the other centre-back. Conor Gallagher can be deployed as a more defence-minded midfielder, with Morgan Gibbs-White (sadly injured for the majority of this season so far but still deserves his place in the squad nonetheless) operating as a number 8. Hudson-Odoi can start out left with George McEachran behind Daniel Loader and Emile Smith-Rowe on the right – who Deluded Gooner later points out in the article he is a huge goalscoring threat from the wings.
I’d be lying if I said I was an expert on England’s opponents and potential opponents. In fact, the only nation I have a relatively half-decent knowledge is Holland – who haven’t qualified for the tournament. Sadly, 2001-born duo Daishawn Redan (Chelsea) and Myron Boadu (AZ Alkmaar) won’t get the opportunity to cause terror to opposing defenders in this tournament, but there are probably a whole range of other foreign talents that will catch the eye of spectators throughout the tournament.
A few well known names participating though are Willem Geubbels (France), Vinicius Junior (Brazil), Abel Ruiz (Spain), Jann-Fiete Arp (Germany) and American duo Josh Sargent and Ayo Akinola. In fact, for a country that calls football “soccer”, the United States have quite an exciting team – Timothy Weah (son of George), highly rated defender Jaylin Lindsey and recent Aston Villa acquisition Indiana Vassilev to name a few.
“F is for…”
Fairly easy? No. Nothing is ever easy. There’s few things stupider than underestimating an opponent, especially our opponents in Group F – and it’s hardly as if England are playing teams that may seem like a walkover either. To start with this is U17 level, not senior level. For all we know, Iraq U17s could be a team of world beaters. Mexico are a team known for traditionally doing well at youth level – and on paper they are probably our toughest opponents in the group stage.
As well as that, Chile seem to have a strong team. Again, I’d be lying if I alleged I was an expert on any of these teams but I do hope the U17s won’t do what the senior team do and take any of the games not seriously. I would however like to see some squad rotation from Steve Cooper, rather than playing the same XI over and over again for all three games. Let’s see what the others can do – think about it, imagine going into a game in the knockout stages and you have to field several players who haven’t even played yet. Talent is there definitely. I’m no sports scientist but they’ll be lacking in match fitness!
THE ONES TO WATCH
A brief overview
In this section I’ve asked several youth football experts on who their “player to watch” is and why. I would like to say a big big thank you to all those that have contributed – each piece contains some excellent analysis and a strong overview of the player. You can find their Twitter/any other social media links as well, so give them a follow if you’re not already.
@chelseayouth: Callum Hudson-Odoi
After making his Under-18 debut for Chelsea last August, Hudson-Odoi exploded into prominence early in 2017 as he played a significant role in the Blues’ domestic treble success, highlighted by destructive displays against Tottenham and Manchester City in the FA Youth Cup. He carried that form into the European Under-17 Championships in May, scoring three goals en route to England coming within seconds of the title only to finish runners-up. Having since ascended to Development Squad level (scoring twice against Plymouth in the Checkatrade Trophy), his remarkable skill whilst operating at top speed will prove to be amongst the most potent threats at the tournament. A genuine candidate for the Golden Ball award for the Best Player.
@Wolves_Academy: Morgan Gibbs-White
The potential of Morgan Gibbs-White was realised when he made his Wolves first team debut aged just 16 away vs Premier League Stoke City, while also being named on the bench in a winning Wolves team away at Anfield a few weeks later. Comfortable on either wing or as a number 10 in our opinion Morgan will develop long term as a number 8, juxtapositioned with his obvious talent is his fantastic attuide and desire to improve. Nothing gives us greater satisfaction than seeing a local lad from Wolverhampton who has been with Wolves since the age of eight, playing for England and Wolves first team.
KLife: Angel Gomes
In a group of exceptionally talented youngsters it’s so tough to pick a “one to watch” but I have gone with the record-breaking Manchester United playmaker Angel Gomes. Already putting himself on the map by being the first player born in the year 2000 to play in the Premier League along with being United’s youngest recipient of the clubs Young Player Of The Year award, he’ll be looking to further stamp his mark on the game by showing what he’s made of at this tournament. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in technical ability with unbelievable feet and a lethal left foot that is just as effective in a dead ball situation as it is in open play. He also possesses a footballing IQ that is quite a way beyond his years and as a fellow Manchester native I’ll be rooting for him to show exactly why his club has put so much faith in him. By the end of the tournament I firmly believe people right across Europe will have the name “Angel Gomes” right on the tip of their tongue when discussing the future of the beautiful game.
Deluded Gooner: Emile Smith-Rowe
Emile Smith-Rowe is a player with a great eye for a pass, a great final ball and a great engine. He always looks to make runs beyond the last man and his energy is second to none. He is not the finished product of course but he can score and he can create chances with very good technical ability and strong dribbling skills. For England he seems to start on the bench however he could represent a brilliant option as a substitute with the qualities mentioned above a huge threat to tired defenders.
For more on Emile Smith-Rowe from Deluded Gooner, watch his video on him below:
Luke Pawley: Phil Foden
Manchester City’s Phil Foden is a very exciting left-footed playmaker, who orchestrates and dictates the play from deep. He has been likened to Paul Gascoigne, the type of playing that England has been missing for many years. Whenever I’ve watched a game featuring Phil Foden, my eyes have naturally been drawn to him. His style of play is beautiful to watch, with touches and flair you’d expect from a Spanish or South American player. He may be slight, but his physicality surprises many and he relishes every obstacle and challenge that is put in his path.
Matt Woosnam (@PalaceYouth): Nya Kirby
Nya Kirby is highly thought of at Crystal Palace. The 17-year-old became the first player born this millennium to feature for the Eagles’ first-team, albeit in a pre-season friendly. A regular and almost ever-present in Richard Shaw’s U23 side, the central midfielder is an integral part of the squad, and was rewarded with a trip to Hong Kong for the pre-season tournament in the summer. Kirby also participated in the first-team squad’s trip to St George’s Park during pre-season. With a great eye for a pass and the ability to challenge for the ball, he is good at breaking up attacks and creating opportunities for those who play in more advanced roles. It is not always immediately noticeable, but he is a player whose absence is sorely missed when either injured or away on international duty.
R_will1990: Jonathan Panzo
A Rolls Royce of a centre back, Jonathan Panzo is an elegant, left sided defender that is aggressive in the tackle when needs be. He has been a leading young defender for the 2000 England age group, being almost an ever present over the past 2 years. This tournament is an opportunity to extend his reputation to the global stage.
Rowd: Angel Gomes
Having missed out on the European Championships through injury, Manchester United’s Angel Gomes will finally have a chance to represent England at a major tournament. Despite being acknowledged as a dominant force in European development football as early as 12 years old, Gomes probably still has more questions to answer than any of his ‘superstar’ peers in the England squad. Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden have all have settled into a defined position and role that they will carry into senior football in the coming years, whereas at a generous 5’6, where Gomes will play as a pro is still up for debate. As shown by his debut cameo for United on the final day of last season and his performances in this seasons UEFA Youth League, Gomes is most comfortable when he’s allowed to dictate the play from midfield with receivers spacing the play in front of him. In any other historic England side, Gomes would be deemed too small for midfield and would play as a pure No.10, but with the excess of attacking talent in this U17 squad, the option is there for Gomes to play in midfield behind Sancho, Hudson-Odoi, Foden and Brewster. In this role, he has a real opportunity to be the ball dominant glue that pieces together the most gifted ensemble of players that England has ever had. For any fans of pure technical ability paired with intelligence, Angel Gomes will be one to watch in India this October.
Grant: Callum Hudson-Odoi
A versatile forward with outstanding vision that is capable of playing wide on either flank (preferably the left) or through the middle. You can expect him to take players on as well as both score and create goals. His versatility will be vital due to the squad balance.
Benjamin Sharp: Jonathan Panzo
The Chelsea centre half, who made the team of the tournament at the Euros this summer, is a key element of Cooper’s ambition to dominate games. Quick, strong, and blessed with superb technical ability, he’s the definition of a ball playing centre half, who’s not afraid to get past one or two players to start moves. Left footed, he’s been used at left back this season with Chelsea but will be eager to impress in his favourite centre-back position.
Barryfrom: Tashan Oakley-Boothe
Tashan Oakley-Boothe has played a deeper central midfield playmaking role for England and also as a box-to-box midfielder. He is very assured on the ball and deals well when pressured by opponents. He has a good range of passing and has helped with dictating the tempo of games for his team to dominate possession. With an ability to get past players with feints or turns he can then dribble forward and create space for other players. With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Angel Gomes ahead of him to link up with, Oakley-Boothe will be provided with a great platform to impress onlookers at this tournament.
Myself: Steven Sessegnon
Much like KLife I find it incredibly hard to select “one to watch” when the whole squad is filled with such talented players. So after a while I’ve thinking I’ve decided Fulham’s Steven Sessegnon is my player to keep an eye on this tournament. Whilst he may not be guaranteed a starting spot, the right-back is also able to fill in at left-back, centre-back and even in defensive midfield if need be. He suffered an unfortunate injury back in December 2015 whilst playing in the Nike Tournament which kept him out for a fairly long period of time but bounced back to become a key player in Fulham’s academy sides in 2016/17. Whilst he is not established in the Fulham first team like his twin brother, following a solid debut in the League Cup vs Wycombe Wanderers there is certainly more to come from the other Sessegnon.
For these guys, anything is possible. Providing they keep working hard and their respective clubs give them good opportunities then they will go very far. Surely at least five or six will make the senior squad one day, but in the short term, the focus for these players is establishing themselves at U23 level (which should prove easy) or out on loan, then the first teams of their parent clubs. Whatever happens this World Cup, whatever happens after this World Cup, it will no doubt be an exciting journey to follow.
Luke Pawley writes: “Pep Guardiola was full of praise for Phil Foden, who made his debut against Manchester United in pre-season this summer. “”I don’t have words – I would like to have the right words to describe what I saw. You are the lucky guys who saw the first game, for the first team for Manchester City, of this guy. It’s a long time since I saw something like this. His performance was another level. He’s 17 years old, he’s a City player, he grew up in the academy, he loves the club, he’s a City fan and for us he’s a gift.””” This small quote here just shows how highly thought of some of the players are. If Pep Guardiola, perhaps one of the most respected managers in the eyes of many in modern football, knows how good these guys are, then you know they’re going to be good.
First of all, another massive thank you to everyone that contributed. All the contributions were fantastic and it really means a lot to me. All were at fairly short notice as well so a massive thank you to everyone for taking the time out to supply a piece. I’ve linked every contributor’s twitter/blog/YouTube – if you enjoyed their piece please give them a follow/shoutout/message too.
And second of all, a massive thank you to everyone that has read this article, either on my personal site or Off The Post News. Any support would be greatly appreciated, from a quick comment on Twitter or a retweet/share elsewhere. If you enjoyed this article please let me know – I hope to write more in the future.
Extra thanks to KLife for taking the time to read through the article and give feedback, and to Richard (Off The Post News) for giving me the opportunity to have it published there.