Peacock's pride in young Lions
© FIFA.com

As one of the highest qualified coaches in England, John Peacock's opinions are respected by his colleagues and the players he helps to nurture. As the FA's Head of Coaching, he not only assumes responsibility for the country's U-17 side but also assists in the education of those called to share their knowledge of the game with players from every walk of life.

From the beginning of August, however, Peacock's schedule will be entirely devoted to guiding England to glory at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic. It is a job which he obviously relishes, given his enthusiasm for the game and his obvious pride in the youngsters who helped the Three Lions reach their first-ever FIFA finals at this age range.

The respect between Peacock and his players is more than mutual. Just as they value his guidance, he in turn believes that they have the potential to be just as good as Liverpool's Scott Carson, Manchester United's Kieran Richardson and Tottenham Hotspur's Tom Huddlestone, who not only impressed in the Premiership, but also shone at the recent UEFA U-21 Championship.

"The U-17 squad have developed quite a lot over the past 12 months," said Peacock in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "Their footballing intelligence has grown; they've got a better understanding of the state of the game and a better appreciation of how to win matches. They've created a strong spirit within the group - as a unit they are always looking to win games and they hate to get beat.

"I think this is a very good year group for English football and that's the reason why they have done so well this year. I would put them on a par with the age group that have reached the semi-finals of the UEFA U-21 tournament in the Netherlands. There are some talented players with excellent technical ability who have bright futures ahead of them."

Tournament tuition
England's U-17 side enjoyed wonderful results in the 2006/7 season. In the 21 matches they played against some of Europe and the world's eminent footballing nations, they won 14, drew four and lost just three.

Peacock believes that the tournaments in the Algarve, Bosnia and Belgium have been of the utmost importance to his young charges, as they have given the players the opportunity to learn quickly in pressurised situations.

"The tournaments we've played in away from home have been great for the squad and taught us different lessons," he continued. "The Algarve tournament taught us that we needed to improve our level of performance over three games, but the lads took those lessons on board and used them to good effect in the qualifying group.

"Bosnia was very tough for us. We got off to a very good start, stuttered somewhat against Azerbaijan, but still won 1-0 and that meant that we went into our final game with Serbia needing a win. That was never going to be easy. The last minute winner gave us a lot of confidence going into the qualifying tournament, but it was a victory which I felt was fully deserved.

"In Belgium we knew that the standard of opposition was going to be high. If I am being honest, we were probably happier that we were in the group that we were in and avoided France, Spain and Germany. It was always our objective to reach the semi-finals and qualify for Korea - and I am delighted that we were able to achieve that."

Time to adjust
The squad will be arriving in Asia on 7 August, giving them 11 days to acclimatise before their first match against Korea DPR.

As well as the North Koreans, England have been pitted with New Zealand and Brazil in what promises to be a closely-fought Group B. Their first two matches will be played in Jeju, a venue for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ before a final showdown with Brazil in Goyang.

"It's a very tough group, but it is also an exciting one," smiled Peacock. "It will be great to come up against the North Koreans and New Zealand, as we've never played them before. We've met Brazil a few times, but we don't play them very often. It will be difficult, but I'd like to think we can qualify from the group and make a push for the latter stages.

"Our first two games are in the World Cup stadium, so that will be a great experience for the lads. I was out in Korea two weeks ago to take a look at the hotels, training grounds and the stadiums and they were absolutely fantastic. The players are relishing the prospect of playing in the World Cup and I hope that, together with the surroundings, inspires them.

"From what I have seen, the organisation has been first-class and it is something to really look forward to. I think these types of tournaments are becoming more prominent in the UK and they deserve to be. It's always exciting for football fans to see which players are coming through as in a few years time, some of these players may be at the next World Cup."