England’s new cohort of Under 17s came close but ultimately went out of the Euro U-17 semi finals on penalties. The fact a semi-final loss is considered a disappointment says a lot about how far England’s youth sides have come in the last year. It’s still very early to be judging this crop of under 17s who have yet to sign professional forms but it their efforts do point to a production line of young English talent.
With the nation’s attention this summer focussed on Russia it may go almost unnoticed that England’s under 20’s will be defending a title their peers have won twice in a row- The Toulon Tournament. The Toulon success was the least celebrated of England’s 4 tournament wins last season. Part of the reason it slipped under the radar was with England sending a strong squads to South Korea for the Under-20 World Cup & Poland for Euro Under 21s the Toulon squad was largely a scratch side.
Despite the scaled back squad three goals apiece from Leicester’s Harvey Barnes & Sheffield Wednesday’s George Hirst lead England to the final where Leeds’ Ronaldo Viera hit the winning penalty (yes England won a shoot-out!) to beat Ivory Coast and retain the trophy.
A year earlier then Under 21’s manager Gareth Southgate had taken a strong side to Toulon featuring two players now going to the World Cup: Ruben Loftus-Cheek & Jordan Pickford. Also in the squad were Lewis Baker, Nat Chalobah, James Ward-Prowse, Jack Grealish and Callum Chambers. Loftus-Cheek was the tournament’s best player and England scored an incredible 15 goals in 5 matches to life the trophy.
It was England’s first win at the Toulon for 22 years when the likes of Robbie Fowler, Trevor Sinclair, Jamie Redknapp & Sol Campbell lead the Young Lions to a fourth Toulon crown in five years; as six-time champions England have a rich history in this tournament.
Current Under 21s boss Aidy Boothroyd takes charge this summer with a glut of familiar names in the squad. There’s Under 20 World Cup winners Freddie Woodman, Jonjoe Kenny, Fikayo Tomori, Kyle Walker-Peters, Dael Fry, Kieran Dowell, Adam Armstrong, Jake Clarke-Slater, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and captain Lewis Cook- a man who may yet go to Russia this summer. With Barnes in the squad for a second straight year, Everton midfield tyro Tom Davies and Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham also in the party England are sending a strong group with the goal of maintaining the current momentum in English youth football.
The bigger goal for Boothroyd is the 2019 Euro Under-21s to be held in Italy. It’s a tournament England haven’t won since 1984 and is a key milestone for the Young Lions in their graduation from junior to senior International Football. But for now success in Toulon will keep things going nicely.