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Back to the future for England’s promising youngsters

The Boot Room

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A summer of success for England’s development squads has demonstrated two things, neither of which should come as a great surprise. Namely:

  1. Germany are better at penalties than England
  2. England produce some very talented young footballers

While even the most optimistic of English fans may have to accept the occasional shoot-out heartbreak as an occupational hazard, failure to make the most of obvious potential should not be tolerated. A group such as this, clearly among the best in European football, should produce stalwarts of the senior team for years to come. However, there are already signs that some from the newest crop will struggle to live up to the hype.

England’s Under-21s made it to the semi-finals of the European Championships in Poland last week, with Chelsea’s Lewis Baker as captain. As for much of his early career through the youth ranks of both club and country, Baker was the No. 10, the leader.

An intelligent, lavishly talented prospect, he has been the subject of much anticipation amongst Chelsea fans who have waited eagerly to see him finally emerge as a rare success story from their academy. He is now 22 years of age, and Blues supporters have seen him in action for just three minutes, in a 3rd round FA Cup tie.

Failure to turn promising youth into accomplished internationals is a worrying trend amongst England’s development sides, and was also the case with the team who faced Germany in the 2009 Under-21s European Championships Final.

From that starting eleven, only James Milner and Theo Walcott have made over 20 senior caps, and this at a time when the national team has consistently underachieved. Premier League clubs are largely reluctant to give English prodigies such as Baker a chance and while they are free to sign seasoned professionals from abroad, it is the national team who suffers.

This is not always the case though, and some clubs still pride themselves on bringing through exciting talents, who are as envied by opposition fans as they are loved by their own.

Much of the talk during the summer months revolves about big money transfers of international superstars, but there will be few signings capable of delighting stadia as much as Marcus Rashford enthralled Old Trafford when he burst onto the scene less than 18 months ago.

Tottenham Hotspur’s progression under Mauricio Pochettino has been built around a spine of English youngsters as Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane have been allowed to flourish.

Spurs fans will attest to the joy of seeing young players lighting up the first team, but it is a sight that has become so rare as to shock most Premier League supporters. But given that managers are routinely sacked for their ‘style of play’, should youth development not also be a consideration? 

Tony Pulis left Stoke, a club he guided from Championship mediocrity into Premier League stability (and even, briefly, the Europa League), because the fans grew tired of his failure to play free-flowing attacking football. If fans and owners value entertainment this highly, why is failure to bring through exciting prospects so readily accepted? 

Baker, like Nathaniel Chalobah and Tammy Abraham, is unlikely to find regular playing time at Chelsea this year, yet it is hard to imagine many supporters questioning Antonio Conte after his stellar first season at Stamford Bridge.

As fans become increasingly convinced that youth development is an unexpected bonus rather than a footballing necessity, the national team will continue to struggle. Clubs must be put under pressure to ensure that England’s flourishing development teams do not become another lost generation of English football.

There has been little to cheer about since halcyon days of the 1990s which saw England reach the semi-finals of major tournaments twice. This could be within reach for England’s youngsters, and while a World Cup victory may be a touch too ambitious at this stage, recent success suggests that we may return to the glory days of heroic defeat in the traditional fashion. Losing to Germany on penalties.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Chelsea

Willian could hold key to Tottenham landing Anthony Martial

If Manchester United land the Brazilian it would undoubtedly improve Tottenham’s chances.

Jamie Watts

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Manchester United are reportedly preparing a £60 million bid to bring Chelsea winger Willian to Old Trafford this summer, according to reports from the Daily Mail, with manager Jose Mourinho having been linked with an approach for his former star for some time.

Chelsea were unwilling to sell at that time, but it is possible that Willian could be interested in a new challenge after apparently growing frustrated with life at Stamford Bridge, according to recent reports from Sky Sports. He managed a combined 25 goals and assists in 55 appearances in 2017/18, but only 20 of his 37 Premier League outings actually came as a starter.

Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham meanwhile, have become frustrated at United’s assertion that Anthony Martial will not be sold this summer (Sky Sports), after Mauricio Pochettino made the Frenchman his priority target last month (the Sun), as he looks to bolster the supply line to Harry Kane next term.

However, Martial’s revelation that he wants to leave the club could be vital for Spurs, as Mourinho has previously stated that he would never stop a player from moving if they really want the move and the money is right. And he’s backed up his words, selling two-time Chelsea Player of the Year Juan Mata to his current club in 2014.

Photo: Getty Images

The Red Devils are currently stacked in terms of depth for the left wing, with Marcus Rashford struggling to start games over January signing Alexis Sanchez, but wide-right is somewhat scarce and Willian would undoubtedly improve United’s balance for the better.

Although the manager would prefer the Frenchman went abroad, if he asked for the move to north London, Willian’s transfer to United would undoubtedly improve Pochettino’s chances of securing his key man. United will also be buoyed by their recent business with the west Londoners, having surprisingly secured the signing of Nemanja Matic from Stamford Bridge last summer.

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Atletico Madrid

Rafa Benitez should plot Fernando Torres reunion at Newcastle United

Rafa Benitez should plot a reunion with his former superstar.

Jamie Watts

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Newcastle United are reportedly in the market for new forwards this summer, with Rafa Benitez identifying the Magpies’ attacking output as a key weakness last term, despite their impressive 10th place finish.

The Spaniard is calling for the club to back him in pursuit of a “10 to 15 goals a season” striker this summer, with the likes of Salomon Rondon (Northern Echo) and Bas Dost (the Sun) circulating around the Newcastle rumour mill.

However, both would likely break the Magpies current club-record of £16 million – for Michael Owen from Real Madrid in 2005 – and perhaps Benitez would be better served going for a former favourite.

Photo: Getty Images

Fernando Torres is a free-agent having left Atletico Madrid, following last month’s Europa League triumph and Newcastle should offer the 34-year-old a route back to England’s top flight this summer.

Under Benitez’s tutelage at Liverpool, Torres was widely recognised as one of the most formidable forwards in world football, and though his impact has diminished over the years, there’s no doubting the World Cup winner’s quality in front of goal.

Photo: Getty Images

The prospect of an elite level striker arriving at St James’ Park on a free transfer is a no brainier if the player can be convinced and the club should make it happen.  He knows the league inside-out, having made 212 appearances for Chelsea – where he won the Champions League – and with Benitez at Anfield, and he could instantly propel Newcastle’s attack to higher levels.

Becoming a crucial part of a new project on Tyneside would be enticing for Torres, as his unwavering desire and tenacity on a football pitch is something that cannot be questioned. And he doesn’t seem the type to move to the States or China in pursuit of one last pay-cheque.

He has all the attributes to become a cult-hero at Newcastle, and the club should act now.

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Arsenal

Arsenal fans call for Aleksandr Golovin signing after dazzling World Cup display

Arsenal fans are calling for an impulse signing after the World Cup opener yesterday.

Jamie Watts

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Arsenal already possess any array of creative forwards, but Gooners are extremely keen on CSKA Moscow maestro Aleksandr Golovin, after seeing the midfielder dazzle in Russia’s World Cup debut againt Saudi Arabia yesterday evening.

The 22-year-old already had links to north London spanning back to January (the Sun), with Arsene Wenger revealing his admiration for the player’s talent ahead of the Europa League quarter-final clash against the Russian heavyweights in March.

And Golovin highlighted his obvious ability last night, as Russia routed Saudi Arabia 5-1 in Moscow, creating two goals for teammates, before rounding an impressive display off with a sumptuous free-kick in added time.

Photo: Getty Images

His vision and technical ability led the hosts to a comfortable victory, with a superbly placed cross finding Denis Cheryshev in the box to open the scoring in the 12th minute. Before he again showed his class to pick-out Artem Dzyuba with a floated cross, which the striker converted comfortably 20 minutes from time.

And Arsenal fans have taken to Twitter to demand that Unai Emery should re-ignite interest in the player this summer.

Here’s the reaction:

Arsenal’s recent focus has been on landing Sampdoria’s industrious midfielder Lucas Torreira, as the manager looks to add balance to the team, according to the Guardian. 

But it seems fans want Emery to keep a close eye on the World Cup this summer, as it has become something of a shop window in recent years. And Golovin could earn himself a high-profile move if he continues performing at such a high level.

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