England’s youth revolution is finally reaching its next level. The bright young things that first emerged into the public consciousness less than two years ago already seem on the cusp of great things with the senior side.
The prospects that first emerged in that summer of 2017, when England won World Cups at U20 and U17 level, are already beginning to display not just promise for the future but tangible assets who can make a difference to Gareth Southgate now.
The U20 that won in South Korea have already provided two fully-fledged internationals in Bournemouth duo Lewis Cook and Dominic Solanke. Meanwhile the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Ezri Konsa and Ademola Lookman can all aspire to a place in Gareth Southgate’s side in the years to come, even if the latter has not had the chances at Everton that his prodigious talent merits.
However it is the U17 world champions of 18 months ago that look the harbingers of a bold new era for England.
Jadon Sancho, who played with the U17s up until Borussia Dortmund realised they needed him in their first-team during the World Cup knockout rounds, was a certainty to be present in the first senior squad of 2019.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, who provided two assists in the final win over Spain, had to wait until an injury to Luke Shaw to get his first call-up but he is already vindicating Southgate’s decision at the St George’s Park training grounds, where more senior team-mates have been raving about his impact.
Usually when a player is fast-tracked to the England squad after only 119 minutes of Premier League football there is an inevitable hand-wringing over the ease with which these prestigious caps can be obtained or the shortage of top flight opportunities available to English players. Yet Hudson-Odoi’s addition was roundly praised by pundits and even team-mates.
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, two caps short of a half-century for England and the second-oldest outfield player in the squad at 28, will be one of those shepherding this new generation into the national setup, though, as he notes, even the most senior members of this squad cannot compete with the silverware of its new arrivals.
“It is good, those younger players have so much talent,” Henderson told football.london. “It’s good for England because I can see in a few years we are going to have big, big players.
“Young players who are maybe only starting now who are going to be more experienced and even better in a few years. The future is bright really with all the young players coming through and how well they are doing, that’s really good for England.
“It’s up to me to try and help them when they come here and perform and feel comfortable around the lads and the squad to go out in a game and do what they do for their clubs.”
“I don’t think many of us have won things for England even at youth team level so that’s really good that they have experienced that and that will help them in the future.”
Hudson-Odoi looked right at home in his first training session with England after being swiftly promoted from Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 side, hitting a string of immaculate strikes in training that will have Southgate salivating over what he might be able to do if needed in the Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
His new captain Harry Kane was particularly energised by what he had seen from the Chelsea forward.
“He has been great over the last couple of days,” said Kane. “We’re excited to have him. Everyone is fighting for places and he sees this as an opportunity for himself.
“The youth are not scared of expressing themselves and trying to score goals and that’s what we want to have – that flair and flexibility – and it’s a great sign in this country that we are producing these type of players.
“Callum has had a taste of cup competitions, a little bit in the Premier League and I’m sure he wants to play and gain that experience. Everyone knows he is a fantastic player and I’ve no doubt he has the ability to play at the highest level.”
Hudson-Odoi is not the only new face in an England squad that grows more youthful, vibrant and exciting with every meet-up. Declan Rice has been among the Premier League’s best performers this season, bringing energy and a forward-thinking approach to the defensive midfield position that the country has been lacking for some time.
His switching of eligibility from the Republic of Ireland to England has not been entirely controversy free but now that he is firmly ensconced in the Three Lions setup his future team-mates are embracing the 21-year-old.
“We want the best players in the squad and we want to compete with each other to improve,” Henderson said. “Declan has done really well, he’s an English lad, born in England and he wants to play for England.
“I’ve seen him a few times obviously for West Ham. Fantastic player, I know he is very well thought of and he’s settled in very well over the last few days in training.
“He seems like a really nice lad as well, he seems like a great addition to the squad.”
He is unlikely to be the last from his age group to burst onto the scene. Phil Foden’s time will come at Manchester City and England whilst Morgan Gibbs-White seems a likely candidate for an eventual call-up.
But for the best of the best, including Hudson-Odoi and Rice, an immediate impact is already expected.