England's triumphant U-20 World Cup winners turn attentions to club competitions
English Premier League kicks off on 11 August
Young Lions coach Paul Simpson looks ahead to their next step
After a summer holiday to remember for many of England’s Young Lions, this weekend sees the new footballing year kick off with their tales of Korean triumphs occupying only footnotes to what could be a crucial club season.
Having come out on top in a thrilling FIFA U-20 World Cup final in Suwon back in June, coach Paul Simpson’s stars will now be hoping to see that golden promise materialise into football at the highest level as the English Premier League gets rolling.
“It’s a big challenge for them now,” Simpson told FIFA.com. “It’s the same as every footballer, they’ve got to go into their clubs and show that they are worthy of breaking into their first teams. They’ve shown at U-20 level that we have English footballers who are able to compete with the best in the world.”
Opportunities glimmer There have been positive omens for some of their star performers from Korea Republic, too. adidas Golden Ball winner Dominic Solanke, fresh from a move to Liverpool, has been getting on the pre-season scoresheets, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin – who scored the winner in the final against Venezuela – netted a crucial UEFA Europa League goal for Everton.
“Ade Lookman is getting games at Everton,” Simpson added. “Fik Tomori was involved in a few games at Chelsea, Josh Onomah has gone on loan to Aston Villa and will hopefully get some game time. A lot of them are getting opportunities to go out and play."
Having seen young English players get game time at the likes of the Merseyside clubs, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in recent seasons, he is hopeful more chances will come. “There’s a situation at Tottenham that might give Kyle Walker-Peters an opportunity with Kieran Trippier getting injured last weekend, too," Simpson said. "It may open the door for him.
“But he has to show the level of football he showed in the World Cup. If he does that, hopefully Mauricio Pochettino will think he is worthy of a place in the side and can go show everybody what he’s all about.”
Armed with the experience of playing in high-pressure games, such as the comeback win over Italy in the semi-finals, Simpson hopes all his young charges will be better placed to grasp these potential chances when they arrive. Though there was one thing missing from the tactician’s checklist for the perfect Korea Republic 2017.
“If we could have set the script perfectly, we would have had a penalty shootout and won it, though sitting back now I’m delighted we didn’t,” he reflected. “Those are the kinds of the experiences we need the players to have. The next time it comes around hopefully they’ll have that subconscious knowledge of what they’re going to be facing.
“We can’t say that it will make them better but we hope it will and the opportunities will come around for them.”
New-look Lions Beyond lifting the trophy, England’s first World Cup at any level since winning the FIFA World Cup™ in 1966, the highlight of Simpson’s month among this next generation of players was the drive and maturity they showed on the road. It is a reality he admits does not fit the stereotype.
“I want to be a part of helping to change the perception of English footballers to the rest of the world and I think our players went a long way to changing the view of what English players are all about,” Simpson said.
While he praised the clubs for the work in producing players of that maturity, the FA deserve plenty, too, having seen the U-19s triumph in Europe, the U-17s getting to the continental final and the U-21s reach the EURO final four.
“We want to be considered as one of the top footballing nations in the world and as it stands at the moment we’re not,” Simpson admitted. “We’ve got to keep working at that and trying to get ourselves up the FIFA rankings and make sure that we keep developing the players.
“What we don’t want is just to have a really nice summer of 2017 and then things don’t go our way. We want to keep building.”