England’s Under-20 World Cup winners have been a revelation, sparking a fresh debate on youth development.
A 1-0 win over Venezuela in Sunday’s final in South Korea gave England their biggest international title since 1966.
So can the nation dare to dream that some of these players could go on to help revive the full senior side, perhaps even in time to help the FA achieve its stated aim of a World Cup victory in 2022?
Having not won a single match in the U20 tournament since 1997 – and failed to even qualify on four occasions over the past 20 years – manager Paul Simpson’s side have confounded the theory that English youngsters are not as technically proficient as their European or South American rivals.
Yet as well as pride and excitement, their success has also been met with scepticism about the inevitable talk of a new ‘golden generation’, and concern that this proves another false dawn.
What does bode well for the future is that this squad appears to have been the result of a long-term plan, testament to the FA’s National Football Centre at St George’s Park, and its adherence to the sometimes derided ‘England DNA’ philosophy, in which consistency of tactics through the various development teams – both male and female – is paramount.
The FA may not have anywhere near as much control over youth coaching at the clubs as their counterparts in Germany – the DFB – but their vision does at least set a template for coaches, and now has a tangible example of what can be achieved.
Certainly St George’s Park has become familiar territory for the U20s, the core of which won the U17 Euros in 2014 under John Peacock, and then reached the semi-finals of the U19 Euros last year under Aidy Boothroyd.
The Staffordshire site’s location and cost has not been without controversy. And after England’s abject humiliation at the hands of Iceland at Euro 2016, a solution to a generation of under-achievement seemed further away than ever. Several coaches, meanwhile, have left to join club set-ups.
But five years after St George’s Park opened, there are signs the FA’s investment is paying dividends, and that it finally has players who can handle the pressure of tournament football.
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