Cook says surprise call-up is to help team find ‘identity’
Selection is reward for leading Under-20s side Midfielder says creative flair is vital to Southgate
It was interesting to hear a 20-yearold footballer, who has never played for his country at senior level and who has made just eight starts in the Premier League, explain his call-up for England as being part of an attempt to find “an identity”.
But then Lewis Cook was the first England captain since Bobby Moore in 1966 to lead his country to victory in a World Cup final, although Joel Latibeaudiere did then emulate him.
Cook, the Bournemouth midfielder,
captained England Under20s to triumph in South Korea in June. Latibeaudiere, a defender with Manchester City, then led the Under-17s to victory in India to cap a golden summer of unprecedented achievement for the junior teams.
“It is a hard one. That took a while to sink in,” Cook says when reminded of the Moore link. “I got back from the World Cup and, when I got back to the training ground, that is when it sunk in and everyone congratulated me. It is obviously a great achievement to be named in the same sentence as someone like him.”
Such victories have also led to a sense of tentative optimism around England that manager Gareth Southgate has seized upon. Cook, along with Dominic Solanke, his team-mate in South Korea, who won the Golden Ball at that tournament as top scorer, have been drafted into the senior squad for
the friendly against Brazil along with goalkeeper Angus Gunn, a stalwart of the Under-21s.
Southgate has already spoken about the call-up being a reward and Cook acknowledged that the manager must have spotted something in his character that suggests he can thrive at this level.
“I think so,” Cook says. “England are trying to get an identity of how we want to play and if I fit into that category then fine. I feel like I must have ticked some boxes and am grateful for the opportunity.”
So how would Cook describe that identity? “I think it’s just trying to be the best we can be on the ball and trying to create something that we all can do throughout the age groups,” he explains. “We can see that happening with how well we have been doing.”
Southgate also spoke of how comfortable players such as Cook already feel around the senior setup, having spotted him having lunch with Joe Hart and Gary Cahill, the two most senior members of the squad. Out on the training pitches, Southgate said he had no doubt over their ability and, although none of the trio are expected to start against Brazil, there remains the possibility of a debut.
“I’ll take anything,” Cook says. “Coming here is a great achievement – just being around the lads is really great for me.”
Cook is in only his second season as a Premier League player since leaving Leeds United – the club he joined aged nine, after being scouted as a six-year-old – for Bournemouth. Last season he was, to a degree, mentored by Jack Wilshere, with the irony now that he, rather than the Arsenal midfielder, is in the England squad.
“The last year at Bournemouth has been a massive learning curve,” Cook says. “I feel like I have been working hard on the pitch and trying to improve things in my game and getting here is an acknowledgement of Bournemouth and the FA bringing players through.”
There is also a school of thought at the FA that players such as Cook, who has been capped at every age group up to the seniors, may bring a different kind of winning mentality to how England approach international football.
Now Cook is making the biggest step of all and is clear on what the greatest challenge will be. “It’s pressure, really,” he says. “Playing in front of bigger crowds, more pressure from the media etc. You just want to do the best you can. Pressure is the hardest bit but you are here for a reason, you are good enough so it’s just giving it your all and trying to take your chance.”
Does he feel he is equipped to cope? “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t,” Cook says.