ANY success at international level is welcome for English football, be it the seniors, the Lionesses or even schoolboy level. It’s no wonder the England under-20 team’s World Cup final (against Venezuela) in South Korea should be attracting a great deal of enthusiasm. But let’s not get carried away – talk of a new “golden generation” is premature and oolhardy. We never really had a golden generation in the first place.
However, there is a lot of optimism around Paul Simpson’s squad. It remains to be seen if the players fulfil their potential or rather, if they are allowed to realise their promise. Too often, youngsters do not get the chance to break through to first team football and instead get framed out to lower level clubs or even abroad.
The current squad has made 72 Premier League appearances between them, with Newcastle’s Adam Armstrong playing 15 times for the Magpies.
Most may be attached to big clubs, but they are getting experience through a series of loan deals. Chelsea’s Dominic Solanke, who has won the FA Youth Cup twice with his club, has been frequently singled-out as one to watch. But despite obvious promise, but he is joining Liverpool on July 1 for a £3m fee. He never made the breakthrough at Stamford Bridge.
Everton may have as many as four players in the final line-up – Jonjoe Kenny, Kieran Dowell, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademole Lookman. Of these, Lookman cost Everton more than £ 7.5m when he joined from Charlton, but the others have been earning their spurs (no pun intended) on loan at other clubs.
England have underperformed in past tournaments. They finished third in 1993 and fourth in 1981, but it was not known as the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in those days. Their record in recent gatherings has been abysmal, failing to win a game in both 2009 and 2011. In the latter, they drew all three games (North Korea, Argentina and Mexico) 0-0.
Their path to the final has seen them improve with every outing. In the group stage, they beat Argentina 3-0, drew 1-1 with Guinea and won 1-0 against hosts South Korea. In the last 16 they beat Costa Rica 2-1 and Mexico were beaten 1-0 in the quarters. They beat Italy 3-1 in the semi-final. Solanke has impressed in the tournament, scoring four goals.
Venezuela are also strangers to the final, but they have reached it on the back of a strong defence. England will have to watch out for Sergio Córdova, the 19 year-old Caracas striker who has scored four times so far.
The competition can be the platform for greater things – in recent years, players like Paul Pogba, Sergio Aguero, Alexandre Lacazette and Lionel Messi have made their mark on the Under-20 World Cup. The question is, are there any England players that will become household names in the years ahead, or will they get lost in the ether? If they have the talent, let them develop naturally before we start labelling them the great new hopes of English football. All eyes will be on them this coming weekend.