England coach John Peacock is hoping for a big win in his side’s second game on Wednesday against Canada - but maybe not too big as he might find himself in hot water with his wife Karen when he gets back home. The coach, a former defender for Scunthorpe United in the 1970s, will be going head-to-head with his brother-in-law, Rob Gale, Canada’s assistant coach.
“When the draw was made it was extremely ironic for my family,” said Peacock, who guided his England side - European champions from last year - to a comprehensive 2-0 win over African debutants Rwanda in their first game. “England has some pretty powerful players who play in a professional environment, but you never know, it’s still eleven against eleven,” added Gale, who will be keen to see his North Americans rebound from their 3-0 loss to Uruguay, in which they played well in spurts.
One of those English players Gale and Co should be worried about is Nick Powell, who caused the African debutants no end of problems from his withdrawn striker position. He dictates the pattern of play and controls the pace of the game with a cool calm well beyond his 17 years of age.
Crewe youth to the fore
Powell is a product of the famed youth academy at Crewe Alexandra, a club with a tiny ground known for consistently producing talented youngsters and potential internationals. “It’s a family club so everyone is together all the time there; all as one,” said Powell, who this year made the jump to the first team in England’s fourth tier of professional football, putting in 16 appearances for Crewe. “The club has always produced a lot of good players for England, and there’s three of us in the squad right now, so that’s some indication.”
Crewe’s current director of football and father figure in chief is one Dario Gradi, who Powell says “is always around from the youngest of the young to the first team, checking on progress”. Gradi was the longest-serving coach in English football, holding the reins at the club for a full 24 years before moving to the back office in 2007 (he is currently back on the bench as caretaker manager though).
Not only did the Italian-born Gradi give young Powell his break, but his coach, Peacock, as well. “Gradi gave me my first chance as a coach,” said the England U-17 coach, who worked under the Italian as a talent scout following his short playing career. “Crewe is a special club that does things in a special way.”
Common ground for club rivals
England have two more impressive attackers in their ranks. Hallam Hope of Everton was the team’s top scorer in European qualifying, and Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling represents a rampaging presence up the flank, blessed with sizzling pace and a keen eye for goal.
“No, no, no” said Evertonian Powell with a mischievous smile when asked if there’s any light-hearted ribbing between himself and his attacking partner, Sterling, who is considered by many at Anfield as the future of Liverpool. “We’re all friends and together for England despite club rivalries. It’s great that we have players from all over, a lot of different clubs, rival clubs, but when we come together for England it’s just one big team and we’re completely as one.”
Sterling, already a YouTube sensation, is in full agreement as England head into their second contest against the Canadians, a team he admits to knowing little about. “We’re keeping it simple, which is important when you start out in a tournament, and we eventually took some of our chances,” added the jet-heeled winger, who scored England’s second against Rwanda, hit the post early and is eager for more against the Canadians. "We just need to keep doing what we're doing and keep together as a group."