The Toulon tournament did not go well for England’s U20’s recently. Three defeats in the group games meant they were forced to play in a ninth-place play-off game against Guatemala, which they did win 4-0.
However, England Under-20s teams have won the Toulon tournament for the previous three years under three different managers – Gareth Southgate, Neil Dewsnip and Aidy Boothroyd, so this year was a dramatically worse performance.
Now, the England Under-21s play in the European Championships hoping to end an international campaign on a high for the FA after a disappointing year. However, an England Under-21s team have not won any version of this tournament since 1984. Aidy Boothroyd’s squad contains some excellent Premier League talent, with the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Foden, James Maddison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin amongst those playing for the young Three Lions.
But for the England male junior teams it has been a very poor year in tournament football and nothing close to the golden summer of 2017 when the FA’s junior sides brought home two world titles (Under-17s, Under-20s) and one European championships (Under-19s).
That was a high benchmark, but the FA has slumped spectacularly off its podium, not helped by some of the Premier League clubs who denied allowing a whole range of players to compete at last summer’s Under-19 European Championships, which is also a qualifying tournament for the Under-20s World Cup.
That meant the team struggled and will now not be able to defend their Under-20s title in Poland in October. For the Under-17s, when they competed at their Euros in Ireland in May, the situation became embarrassing when one selected player was found to be ineligible to play.
The FA had hoped that paperwork for 16-year-old Arsenal midfielder, Yunus Musah, would come through in time for FIFA to allow him to represent England, but it turned out that it only arrived on the day the team were travelling home. Musah would have been eligible to play in the knockout stages, but the team had failed to make it that far.
So why the sudden slump? Well, there have been some big changes at the FA, especially affecting the talent identification department, which underwent a restructure in October 2017 that saw its then head, Richard Allen, leave.
Jonny Zneimer, the FA’s first head of people and team development, also left after a successful two-year stint that saw him work alongside technical director Dan Ashworth.
Ashworth has since left to join Brighton and Hove Albion, being replaced by Les Reed, whilst it seems likely that Under-17s 2017 World Cup-winning coach, Steve Cooper, will also be on his way out of the FA, to Swansea City.
All this upheaval comes at a time when there has never been so much competition to plan the success of national teams’ years in advance, and nations are scouting young players from other countries like never before. For example, Liverpool Under-18s captain, Paul Glatzel, who was born on Merseyside to German parents, and identified by the FA as one with great potential and began by representing England at junior level, has since switched to Germany after being pursued by their scouts.
Hopefully, the U21’s can make us proud and bring home some silverware, but it is going to be incredibly difficult.