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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Ja­son Burt

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.

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