Prior to last summer’s triumph England’s best run in the Under 20 World Cup came 24 years ago when David Burnside lead the Three Lions to third place in Australia. So who were those young lions and how do they compare to the class of 2017?
England arrived Down Under in March 1993 with limited expectations and garnering little interest from back home. Things got off to a stuttering start with a late goal from Chelsea’s Ian Pearce earning a 1-1 draw with South Korea. But Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Chris Bart-Williams secured a 1-0 win over the USA and England won the group with an early Julian Joachim strike enough to beat Turkey 1-0.
In the quarter finals England battled to a 0-0 draw with Mexico and secured a rare penalty shoot out win to move forward to the Semi Finals. There they faced Ghana lead by Bayern Munich’s Samuel Kuffour, Ghana scored twice early on and although Middlesbrough’s Jamie Pollock pulled a goal back from the spot England went down 2-1.
In the third placed playoff England defeated hosts Australia 2-1 thanks to goals from Joachim and David Unsworth. By the time of the knockout stages interest back home had been stirred with Sky showing England’s games live but with the inaugural Premier League season approaching its climax and Graham Taylor’s World Cup qualification campaign in trouble interest in youth level football quickly subsided. England would not make it to the last 4 of the Under 20 World Cup for another 24 years.
The Squad: The Full Internationals
Nicky Butt (39 Caps)
The low-key member of Manchester United’s famed class of ’92, Butt established himself in the Manchester United team in the 1995-96 season gaining his chance after the sale of Paul Ince. The defensive midfielder went on to win 6 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups and played a pivotal role in the 1999 Champions League Final with Roy Keane & Paul Scholes suspended.
Butt was handed his England debut by Glenn Hoddle in 1997 but was a surprise cut from the 1998 World Cup squad. Butt became a squad regular under Sven Goran-Eriksson but was usually understudy to Steven Gerrard in defensive midfield. Butt’s star shone brightest at the 2002 World Cup, with Gerrard injured Butt stepped into the holding midfield role and was rated England’s best player by none other than Pele, he was man of the match against Argentina (still England’s last tournament win over another tier 1 nation) and formed an excellent central midfield pairing with club mate Paul Scholes.
Butt stayed with England until Euro 2004 after which injuries started to debilitate his career and United sold him to Newcastle after 270 first team appearances. He stayed at Newcastle until 2010 before a brief stint in China, he’s now back at Old Trafford as a youth team coach
Nick Barmby (23 Caps, 4 Goals)
Barmby started his career at Tottenham under Terry Venables where he showed great promise winning him an England call up in 1995 from erm Terry Venables. Barmby was a surprise inclusion in Venables’ Euro ’96 squad at the expense of Peter Beardsley- much to the annoyance of Kevin Keegan. Venables used Barmby twice as sub in the tournament including the quarter-final win on penalties where he was scheduled to take the 6th spot kick if needed- it wasn’t but what if El Tel had brought him on in the semi final?
At club he played mostly as a number 10 Barmby and his career took a surprise twist when he signed for Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough in 1995 where he couldn’t fit into the same side as Juninho and moved on to Everton where he made over 100 appearances in 4 seasons before a career best run of form secured him a move across Stanley Park. He was part of Liverpool’s cup treble squad of 2001 before being signed by Leeds in 2002 by new manager, yes you guessed it Terry Venables.
He was in and out of the England squad after Venables’ departure until the appointment of Sven on whose England debut Barmby scored a timely goal. He was the initial solution to England’s left-wing problem and did play in the 5-1 win in Munich, laying on the assist for Michael Owen’s opener. But he gave a dreadful performance in England’s final qualifier against Greece (you remember- Golden Balls big moment!) and never played for his country again. Barmby played out the final 8 seasons of his career with hometown club Hull and earned the distinction of scoring Premier League goals for 6 different teams.
The One Cap Wonders
Alan Thompson (1 cap)
A cultured left-wing, Thompson was actually a Newcastle player at the time of his U20 call up. But it was at Bolton that he made his name clocking up 157 appearances and earning renown for his crossing and free kick abilities. He moved up to Aston Villa in 1998 but stayed inly 2 seasons before going Celtic.
Thompson was a hit North of the border and during a purple patch in 2004 Sven finally relented and gave him his solitary England cap. Thompson was ultimately not quite up to international football- his lack of pace being his Achilles heel, but his 7 years in Glasgow won him 4 SPL title medals and 3 Scottish Cups before moving back to England and dropping down the divisions.
David Unsworth 1 Cap
A year on from the U-20 World Cup ‘Rhino’ was part of the England Under 21 set up and regular for the Everton side that won the 1995 FA Cup. A month later he won his first England cap, but Terry Venables found his young centre backs in Gareth Southgate & Sol Campbell and Rhino never played for his country again.
In 1997 after 133 games for Everton Unsworth moved to West Ham but struggled to adapt to life in London and a year later was back with Everton via an aborted transfer to Aston Villa. He stayed at Goodison Park for another 6 years before eventually leaving aged 34.
His career got an Indian Summer with Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United, helping the Blades to promotion in 2005. Bizarrely he moved to Wigan in January 2007 and promptly scored the last day penalty at Bramall Lane that secured Wigan’s Premier League status and relegated Sheffield United- now that is vengeance! He was recently seen failing miserably as an interim manager for his beloved Everton but remains a youth team coach at Goodison.
The Premier League Club
A North East native Watson had already made 50 appearances in the old Second Division for Newcastle when he was called up for the Under 20 World Cup. A versatile defender Watson occasionally played mostly at left back but played across virtually every outfield position including striker during an 8 year stay at St James Park, his career high point coming with Kevin Keegan’s entertainers and he remained a regular for Kenny Dalglish’s more prosaic Newcastle side . However he was almost immediately sold by Ruud Gullit to Aston Villa for £4million.
He stayed at Villa for 2 seasons before moving on to Everton for another 5 years and then signed for newly promoted West Brom but found himself relegated in the Baggies first season in the top flight and Watson played out the end of his career at Sheffield Wednesday. In all he played an impressive 14 straight seasons of Premier League football.
A tall rangey defender with neat footwork, Pearce left Chelsea 6 months on from the World Cup to join Blackburn Rovers for a bargain fee of Â£300,000. By the 1994/95 season he was a regular in the heart of Rovers defence and picked up a Premier League Champions medal.
In 1997 with Rovers in headlong decline he moved to West Ham for Â£2.3million and enjoyed 2 fruitful seasons in East London and there was talk of an England call up before knee ligament damage curtailed his promising career. He did return 14 months later for West Ham and stayed at Upton Park for a total of 7 years before moving on to Fulham for a further 4 years of Premier League Football. After that the injuries piled up and Pearce eventually conclude his career in 2008 with Kingstonian.
Bart-Williams was already a fixture for then Premier League high flyers Sheffield Wednesday by the time of the U20 World Cup. Shortly after his return he scored his first career hat-trick in a Premiership game against Southampton.Â
Bart-Williams had a nice passing range and started out as an attacking midfielder before adopting a central defensive sweeper role. He ended the ’93 season with heartbreaking double cup final defeats to Arsenal, but went on to make over 100 appearances for Wednesday before moving to Nottingham Forest in 1995.Â
He amassed over 200 appearances and 30 goals at the City Ground before injuries curtailed his career. For England he made 16 Under 21 appearances but with competition in midfield fierce he only played for England B at senior level.
The diminutive forward netted twice in the U20 World Cup and returned home to first team football with Second tier Leicester City. One year on he won promotion and then scored the Foxes first ever Premier League goal on the opening day of the 1994/95 season.
He also broke into the England Under 21s winning 9 caps over the following year. His rising stock saw him secure a move to the then bigger Aston Villa. He stayed at Villa Park for 5 years scoring 39 goals but never quite lived up to his early promise, setting the template for Villa strikers over the next decade- small, instinctive with the pace to get in behind defences but lacking the know how of what to do next, later incarnations of Joachim were found in the less rubbish Darius Vassell and Gaby Agbonahlor.
Joachim dropped down to the Championship in 2001 with Coventry and never returned to the top flight. He joined relegated Leeds in 2004 but failed to sparkle and went weaved a nomadic road where he continues to play to this day taking in a staggering 16 clubs!
…and the rest
Simon Sheppard (Watford), Marvin Hariot (Luton), Andrew Myers (Chelsea), Darren Caskey (Spurs), Jamie Pollock (Middlesbrough), Andy Johnson (Norwich), David Watson (Barnsley), Adrian Mike (Man City), Ian Selley (Arsenal), Anthony Hughes (Crewe)
How do the class of 2017 compare?
It will be a major disappointment if England’s Under 20 World Cup winners don’t exceed the 64 caps won by the class of ’93. What’s noticeable about the class of ’93 is most of the better players where defensive and it showed as they only conceded 4 in 6 games but scored only 6 compared with the 11 goals scored by eventual winners Brazil. Whereas the 2017 England side was packed with more creative players and scored 12 goals in 7 games.
It’s also noticeable that despite playing in the 1993 FA Youth Cup David Beckham, Paul Scholes & Gary Neville were all missing from this squad as was Robbie Fowler who instead played with England’s under 18s. It points to a strange lack of joined up thinking from the FA who should surely have sent their best youth players to a World Cup? Indeed Beckham & Scholes would not experience tournament football of any kind until the 1998 World Cup.
It’s worth pointing out that although Fowler was part of an England Under 18s side that won a European title in ’93 England were generally poor in youth tournaments in the ’90s despite the emergence of the Golden Generation- they failed to qualify for 3 successive Euro Under 21s from 1994 to ’98. It showed a lack of interest in developing youth sides or a Club England mentality the FA has mercifully put right in recent years.
The lesson learned from the 1990s is that youth tournaments matter in developing the mentality to succeed in the pressured environment of senior tournaments and build the team dynamic the golden generation so obviously lacked. Only a minority of the boys who won England 4 youth tournaments last year will play for the seniors but those experiences of winning those trophies in a Three Lions jersey will stand them in great stead.