South­gate to carry on trust­ing rad­i­cal youth pol­icy

The Guardian - Sport - - Football England V Brazil - Ed Aarons

It was the kind of mo­ment Gareth South­gate must have en­vis­aged when the idea to call up two play­ers from Eng­land’s Under-20 World Cup-win­ning side was dis­cussed in the af­ter­math of Fri­day’s en­cour­ag­ing draw with Ger­many.

With eight play­ers in­clud­ing Harry Kane and Jor­dan Hen­der­son hav­ing al­ready pulled out of tonight’s friendly with Brazil, the ad­di­tion of Lewis Cook of Bournemouth and Liverpool’s Do­minic Solanke was an in­di­ca­tion of the kind of long-term plan­ning that is quickly be­com­ing South­gate’s hall­mark.

“The first afternoon I saw Lewis just sat hav­ing lunch with Joe Hart and Gary Cahill,” the man­ager said. “It’s a very easy squad to set­tle into. The se­nior play­ers are very open, very wel­com­ing. Most of the squad are young any­way and know each other from younger age groups. And so those guys have fit­ted in, which helps them fit in on the field. And they’re good play­ers. In train­ing, they look fine.”

Whether ei­ther Cook or Solanke, whose Premier League ex­pe­ri­ence amounts to 85 min­utes from seven sub­sti­tute ap­pear­ances since his move to An­field in the sum­mer, will be thrown in against Neymar and co re­mains to be seen. But af­ter a year that has seen Eng­land en­joy un­prece­dented suc­cess at youth level, the gaunt­let has clearly been thrown down a lit­tle more than six months be­fore the se­nior side de­part for the World Cup in Rus­sia.

Even the prospect of play­ing the team South­gate de­scribed as “the best in the world” has clearly not per­suaded him to veer from his charted course, with Eric Dier to cap­tain a team ex­pected to be brim­ming with youth once more. “We have to see how the game pro­gresses but I wouldn’t have any hes­i­ta­tion about putting them on the pitch,” he said in ref­er­ence to Cook, Solanke and the goal­keeper An­gus Gunn, who is on loan at Nor­wich from Manch­ester City.

“An­gus has worked with us in the under-21s, he’s play­ing in the league. The other two are the cap­tain of the under-20s’ World Cup win­ners, and the golden boot win­ner in the under-20s’ World Cup, so they’ve got good pedi­gree.

“We won’t hes­i­tate to put them on the pitch. The mes­sage is that there is op­por­tu­nity. We want some of these young­sters who have good in­ter­na­tional pedi­gree al­ready to have a path­way.”

Af­ter hand­ing de­buts to all three new faces in his squad against Ger­many, you have to take South­gate at his word. It must be said a lack of vi­able al­ter­na­tives have forced his hand some­what given that less than a third of all ap­pear­ances in the Premier League this sea­son have been made by play­ers qual­i­fied for Eng­land. The ad­mis­sion he had seen more in one game from Joe Gomez, the man of the match Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek and Tammy Abra­ham “than you might see in many more from other play­ers” was a warn­ing there is to be no turn­ing back now.

Cook, who came through the youth sys­tem at Leeds be­fore mov­ing to Bournemouth last year, is a case in point. He has rep­re­sented Eng­land at ev­ery age group from under-16 up­wards and was also part of the under-17 squad who won the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in 2014. “I think ev­ery in­ter­na­tional game you play is a great learn­ing curve,” Cook said.

“We play these teams with dif­fer­ent styles of play and it boosts your knowl­edge about the game it­self. We are try­ing to get to the stage that you are play­ing sim­i­lar to the first team and ev­ery­one is play­ing well. You have to try your hard­est to get there and have a good re­la­tion­ship with the play­ers on and off the pitch.”

As far as records go against the coun­try who have won more World Cups than any other, Eng­land’s most re­cent en­coun­ters with Brazil could of­fer sim­i­lar en­cour­age­ment. A 2-1 vic­tory at Wem­b­ley thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney and Frank Lam­pard in Fe­bru­ary 2013 and the 2-2 draw in Rio four months later, both under Roy Hodg­son, ap­peared to pro­vide evi- dence that progress was be­ing made, only for it all to end spec­tac­u­larly af­ter only two group stage games at Brazil 2014.

Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain scored Eng­land’s first goal in that friendly at the Mara­canã but is now out­side the squad, hav­ing failed to es­tab­lish him­self for club or coun­try. His ex­pe­ri­ences should pro­vide a warn­ing for the young play­ers, al­though South­gate has com­plete faith they will be dif­fer­ent if they are given an op­por­tu­nity.

“With this par­tic­u­lar group, if they didn’t do so well the fall isn’t so far be­cause they are young,” he said. “They’ll learn quickly from it. We know for one or two it’s a bit too early but the ex­pe­ri­ence is in­valu­able and some of the mes­sag­ing around is: ‘OK, this is where you are, you’ve played against two of the best in the world but what’s next? What do you need to go away an work on?’ Maybe if that’s an older player, 26 or 27, and it doesn’t hap­pen that’s a lit­tle bit more dif­fi­cult be­cause op­por­tu­nity to im­prove is a bit dif­fer­ent.

“So I think it does help know­ing the in­di­vid­u­als. Also you have a closer re­la­tion­ship be­cause you’ve worked with them so there’s a bit more se­cu­rity when they are com­ing into the group, a bit more com­fort, which al­lows them to re­lax on the field more.”

Af­ter the last two major tour­na­ments, that can only be a wel­come prospect.

EDo­minic Solanke has fea­tured in 10 games for Liverpool this sea­son, the only start com­ing in a League Cup third-round de­feat in Septem­ber Game on Ruben Lof­tusCheek, left, gets on the ball with Harry Maguire and Lewis Cook look­ing on dur­ing Eng­land’s train­ing session at the Tot­ten­ham cen­tre yes­ter­day

Alli, Kane and the ex­pe­ri­ence of Cahill. Alli and Kane are not play­ing against us, but in­stead there will be Marcus Rash­ford and Jamie Vardy. The level is strong. “They have got tra­di­tion which car­ries weight, so I see Eng­land as one of the favourites. And I’m not just say­ing that be­cause I’m here at Wem­b­ley speak­ing in front of English peo­ple,” he added.

Eng­land will be Brazil’s first Euro­pean op­po­si­tion since they com­pleted their World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion. The sealed their place in im­pres­sive style, los­ing only once in 18 games and scor­ing 41 goals in the process, but Tite played down the sug­ges­tion that this match

Ed­die Keogh/FA/ Rex/Shut­ter­stock

Philippe Coutinho, one of two English-based play­ers likely to start, gets his eye on the Wem­b­ley sur­face

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