Truth be told, it hasn’t been the greatest summer of football so far. With the Confederations Cup not quite filling fans with excitement about being the ‘World Cup Warm-up’, its been very much down to the youth teams to give us our daily football fix during the sunny season. And what a summer it’s been for the England Young Guns! The U20s side, under the stewardship of Paul Simpson, won England’s first World Cup in over half a century, while the U21s reached the semi-final of their European Championships, culminating in a penalty shootout defeat to Germany, something that is very much becoming a tradition with regards to the Three Lions. Aidy Boothroyd’s men should still hold their heads high despite not quite matching the U20’s feat in South Korea, but there still remains the age-old question when it comes to the England youth sides, how many of these players can realistically make it to the Senior Squad, and maybe in time for the World Cup in Russia next summer? Here’s our suggestions:
Lewis Cook (Bournemouth)
Cook was the captain of the victorious U20 World Cup winning side and his experience and leadership was there to see over in the Far East. He was used in six out of the seven matches in the tournament, and scored a crucial goal in the group stages and the Young Lions drew 1-1 with Guinea-Bissau. The first captain to lift a trophy for England since Bobby Moore in ’66, the Bournemouth midfielder needs to kick on from here and put his name in the thoughts of Gareth Southgate ahead of the Russia World Cup next summer. A lot was expected of Cook when he joined Premier League side Bournemouth from Leeds last year for £6 million, but injury ruled him out for most of the campaign, limiting him to only 6 appearances in 2016/17. But with Jack Wilshere’s loan from Arsenal at an end, a spot in the Cherries’ midfield is now available for Cook to stamp down a regular Premier League spot. The former Leeds man doesn’t have much competition from other potential England midfielders, with Dele Alli used further forward, and Eric Dier sometimes used in a back three, Cook has a real opportunity to show why he is better than Jake Livermore, Danny Drinkwater and Jordan Henderson, and now he has an international trophy to prove it.
Tammy Abraham (Chelsea, Swansea City 2017/18 loan)
Abraham had a breakthrough season in the Championship last year, with 23 goals in the Championship for Bristol City making him the second-highest scorer in the division. He also excelled in the U21 tournament in Poland this summer, with some tireless hold-up play in England’s first two group games, and a goal which put England ahead in the semi-final against Germany. He is now set to head to Wales to play Premier League football at Swansea, where he has a good relationship with manager Paul Clement from their time in the Chelsea youth team, so it looks like a smart next move for the striker, who is also eligible to play for Nigeria. If Abraham scores enough goals in the Premier League, then surely he should be given an opportunity by Southgate to show his worth in the senior squad. Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford are now pretty much automatic selections as the national team’s strikers, but with fitness concerns over Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck, and with age catching up over Jamie Vardy and Jermain Defoe, is some more young blood needed up front for England?
Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United)
Another mainstay in the U20 side that won the World Cup in Korea, and Woodman’s heroics throughout the tournament are one of the big reasons why they were victorious. He won the Golden Glove award for being the best goalkeeper in the tournament, and saved a penalty in the final to keep the game at 1-0 and prevent the game from going to extra-time. Woodman really was the hero of the final and, like his fellow youth internationals, has the opportunity to impress at a higher level. After a loan spell at Kilmarnock in 2016/17, the 20 year-old will now head back to Newcastle looking to be the first choice goalkeeper in the Premier League, and with Matz Sels having just been sold by Rafa Benitez, Tim Krul returning from an uninspiring loan spell in Holland, and Rob Elliot only just back from injury, Woodman now has the momentum to stake his claim as the Toon Number 1.
Will Hughes (Watford)
If you play Football Manager, then you know that Will Hughes is, on the game at least, the next big thing when it comes to wonder-kids. But his career, so far, has not quite hit the heights. He made his U21s debut five years ago, and played his final game at that level in the semi-final against Germany, as he has now hit the age of 22. Hughes grew into the tournament in Poland, but showed his talent in that semi-final, providing the assist for Abraham to put England in front against the Germans. With over 150 appearances for Derby in the Championship, including 38 last season, Hughes has now sealed an £8 million transfer to Watford, where he’ll finally get to show his true potential at the highest level. Like Cook, there’s somewhat of a vacancy in the senior squad’s central midfield, currently occupied by Jake Livermore, so a good run of matches in the Premier League with a few stand-out performances could see Hughes finally break out of the youth internationals and into the national squad.
Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea)
Chalobah partnered Hughes in the centre of midfield for much of the U21 tournament, and his talent was there for all to see. Like Hughes, he has also been in the U21 set up for a while, but has never made the upgrade to the senior squad because of lack of game time at the highest level. He has been at Chelsea since the age of 10, but only made his first team debut in September of last year, following unsuccessful loan moves to teams such as Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Napoli. He stayed in the first team set-up last year, making ten appearances as Chelsea won the Premier League title. But with Tiemoune Bakayoko set to sign for the Blues, first team opportunities will be difficult to find for the young midfielder this campaign. So a loan move to a Premier League side, or perhaps even a permanent move away, is needed to Chalobah to thrive.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
Calvert-Lewin was another hero of the U20s team, scoring two goals in the tournament, including the winner against Venezuela in the final. He’s the first player since Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters to find the net in a final for England. The 20 year-old has also had a breakthrough campaign at club level too. After joining Everton from Sheffield United for £1.5 million in August 2016, he made 11 appearances for the Toffees, and scored in a 4-0 win over Hull in the Premier League in March. With more first team football promised for Calvert-Lewin next season by Everton manager Ronald Koeman, this is certainly not the last we have seen of the tricky winger.
Dominic Solanke (Liverpool)
Solanke is another England youth player to come through the ranks at Chelsea but never really get an opportunity in the first team. But the 19 year-old got his chance to impress in the U20s World Cup and took it with both hands. He scored four goals to send England to glory, including the winning goal in the quarter final against Mexico, and two in the 3-1 semi-final win over Italy. He also won the Best Player award at the tournament, despite a nervous performance in the final. However, his first team chances are set to change with a move to Liverpool already finalised this summer, and with Jurgen Klopp a big fan of giving youth a chance, we could potentially see Solanke hitting the net in the Premier League as well.