European Under-17 Championship: England face extra scrutiny at home

Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper led England to triumph in the Under-17 World Cup last October

There will be extra scrutiny on England as they start their bid to win the European Under-17 Championship on Friday.

Home advantage in the 16-team tournament is part of it but it's more about the success the country's youth teams enjoyed last year when they won a European Championship and two World Cups, one of which was thanks an U17 squad containing rising stars Rhian Brewster, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden.

"There is no doubt the landscape has changed over the last 12 months. People are more interested in the England teams. That is a good thing," coach Steve Cooper told BBC Sport.

England open their campaign against Israel at Chesterfield on Friday at 19:00 BST.

There are no players remaining from the team that triumphed in the U17 World Cup in India last October, after losing to Spain in the final of European Championships in May.

England's U17 European Championship Group A fixtures
OpponentDate (time BST)Venue
Israel4 May (19:00)Chesterfield
Italy7 May (15:00)Walsall
Switzerland10 May (19:00)Rotherham

Arsenal well represented

Cooper's 20-man squad is captained by Manchester City midfielder Tommy Doyle and includes six players from Arsenal, all of whom were involved in their FA Youth Cup final defeat by Chelsea over the past week.

City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool make up another six members of Cooper's squad, whilst striker Bobby Duncan remains unattached since leaving City, although it is anticipated he will eventually join Liverpool.

England finished third in the four-team Algarve Tournament in February, losing to hosts and eventual winners Portugal in their opening game before drawing with Germany and beating the Netherlands in their last match.

Xavier Amaechi
Forward Xavier Amaechi, who scored in the FA Youth Cup final, is one of six Arsenal players in Steve Cooper's England squad.

Cooper does not view success this month purely through the prism of whether his team win the tournament for the third time in their history, after triumphs in 2010 and 2014.

"Of course, we want to be successful but we are not so short minded to think even if we lose, it is not still a good experience for the players," he said.

"It is about the lads spending a long time away from home, feeling what knockout football is like, knowing how to manage their bodies in a hectic physical period.

"We are also selecting players we think can go through the development stages and really get to the point of playing with Gareth Southgate in the senior team and being successful there as well."

Too many Messis?

In an interview with the BBC last month, Manchester United academy boss Nicky Butt said he thought the academy system was producing too many technical players like Barcelona's Lionel Messi, and not enough physical ones in the mould of former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard.

While Cooper accepts the need for a "positional mix" of players in his squad, his view of the academy structure is overwhelmingly positive.

He said: "Time will tell whether these players are good enough but there is no doubt academy football is thriving," he said.

"They are doing a brilliant job in giving players an opportunity and we really believe in them.

"Hopefully we can put it all together and clubs and country can benefit from it."

Phil Foden, Manchester City midfielder
Phil Foden has made nine senior appearances for Manchester City this season

Breaking through

Of last year's Under-17s, Foden has played nine times for Manchester City since winning the World Cup, Sancho has played for Borussia Dortmund on 10 occasions and Morgan Gibbs-White broke into the Wolves squad on a regular basis during the latter half of their Championship promotion campaign and played 14 times.

Cooper is delighted at the progress all three have made, although he feels it is the coaches who work with them at their clubs who deserve all the credit rather than him.

He said: "I have seen Phil play a few times for Manchester City's first team. I often wonder what his coaches at City are thinking because they have done so much good work with him.

England v European rivals at major tournaments in 2017
EnglandFranceGermanyItalySpain
Under-17 World CupWinnersRound of 16Quarter-finalsDNQLosing finalists
Under-17 EurosLosing finalists (penalties)Quarter-finalsSemi-finalsGroup stagesWinners
Under-19 EurosWinnersDNQGroup stagesDNQDNQ
Under-20 World CupWinnersRound of 16Round of 16Semi-finalsDNQ
Under-21 EurosSemi-finals (penalties)DNQWinnersSemi-finalsLosing finalists

"I was sitting behind Morgan's academy manager when I went to Swansea and watched him play in the FA Cup. He must have been so proud."

All three players are active on Twitter, social media offering both an opportunity to engage with fans and become a target for those who prefer to use the platform for criticism.

It is just one of the off-field issues that has to be dealt with in order to ensure young players are fully prepared for what is likely to follow should they advance in their careers.

He said: "It is demanding to be a young, elite sportsman.

"A lot of these boys are still at school. We want to give them the best support possible, either through coaching, sports science or education. We need to be aware of what is going on in their lives and try to guide them in the right way."

England Under-17s line-up
England Under-17s line up before their 3-2 victory over Portugal U17s in November

Inspiring a nation

In addition to Israel, England play Italy at Walsall on 7 May and end their group campaign against Switzerland at Rotherham on 10 May.

Two teams qualify from each of the four groups, one of which includes Germany, Spain and Netherlands, who between them have won six out of the past 11 editions of this tournament.

This year's event is being played at six venues in the Midlands and South Yorkshire. The final will be played at Rotherham on Sunday, 20 May (18:15 BST).

Cooper is expecting a good response from local fans.

He said: "We took this team to Rotherham in November and got 9,000 when we played Germany, which was amazing. There was 5,000 when we played Portugal at Chesterfield.

"We are sure the public will come out and support the players. We want to try and inspire the people who are watching, particularly the younger generations.

"If kids come to watch, we want to give them an England team they can be proud of, so they want to play and be more active. If we can do that, we will be really pleased."

The players to watch out for

Tommy Doyle (Manchester City): Grandson of City legends Mike Doyle and Glynn Pardoe, the midfielder has the pedigree to have a successful career in the game. Doyle was named player of the tournament when City won the Premier League Under-15s title two years ago and has continued his progression since. Two-footed and quick, has earned comparisons with Foden, another City player, who won the World Cup in this age group last year.

Jimmy Garner (Manchester United): A Manchester United player from Merseyside. A tenacious midfielder, Garner has earned huge plaudits from United's head of academy Nicky Butt, who feels it won't be long before he is going to be pushing for recognition at under-23 level and beyond.

Tino Anjorin (Chelsea): The only player selected from the hugely impressive Chelsea academy and a goalscorer in the Blues' recent FA Youth Cup win against Arsenal. Has the ability to play in both central defence and midfield and the command to wear the captain's armband on occasion too.

Bobby Duncan
Current England Under-17 international Bobby Duncan is the cousin of former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard

Bobby Duncan (unattached): Steven Gerrard's cousin left Manchester City this season after spending six years at the club. It is widely anticipated he will join Liverpool, although it remains to be seen whether Gerrard's likely departure for Rangers will change that decision. As a 16-year-old, Duncan achieved the notable feat of becoming the first England player to score a hat-trick against Brazil at any level.

Ajibola Alese (West Ham): Played for West Ham's Under-18 team as a 16-year-old, and for their Premier League 2 side this season, Alese is a ball-playing central defender. Born in England to Nigerian parents, Alese captained England at Under-15 level and attracted interest from Liverpool and Manchester City before committing himself to West Ham.

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