England’s youngsters became world Champions and lifted the U20 World Cup on Sunday, the nation’s first major international trophy since 1966.
The triumph showed that England’s youngsters are as good as (or better than) any in the world. But conquering the world might prove easier than breaking into first team Premier League football, unless the victory motivates clubs to change their approach to youth development.
There has been a lot of discussion around English youth and their struggles to get game time in the top flight. Of the World Cup winners, only four players got game time last season, and they only managed 12 games between them. The pressures on Premier League clubs means there is no patience for youth development anymore, and players need to prove their individual abilities to earn their place. These youngsters are competing with some of the world’s best talent for game time in the Premier League.
In other top leagues around Europe and the world, there is much more opportunity for homegrown players to break into teams. In Spain, Germany, Italy and France there are the top teams that have some of the best talent from all over the world, but most other teams have mainly homegrown players. UEFA say that almost 70% of Premier League players are from overseas, and even the Championship now has more foreign players than La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.
That makes it difficult for English players to get experience and develop their talents on home soil. If you look at Solanke, he’s just won the Golden Ball award for his contributions in South Korea which has been won by Maradona, Messi and Figo in the past. He’s just signed for arch rivals Liverpool and will be hoping to break into Klopp’s first team but will likely start in the U23 team.
If Solanke was from a different country would the English clubs be willing to pay a big price for him?
A lot of young players go out on loan to better themselves and pick up some experience, and hope to come back competing for starting position in the first team. I’ve never experienced it myself but I can imagine that it’s not easy to go away with that feeling of not being good enough yet. That said, I do understand the idea of clubs and sometimes the players themselves, that they need to play a full season somewhere before they are ready. Club’s couldn’t give all their young players the time to develop in the first team without weakening the side and risking results.
But now that everyone is congratulating the U20’s and are happy for them to win the World Cup, I hope more teams will take risks and give some of these players the opportunity to become a starter in the top teams. But remember young guns, playing a couple of good games or one good season doesn’t make you a star. You’re only as good as your last game.