At last a bright shaft of light. The day after England seniors’ drab display at Hampden, the under-20s came gloriously through in South Korea to win the world championship final against Venezuela. To whom all credit for their own performance, at a time when Heaven knows their own benighted country, economically torn apart by crazy socialist economic policies, gave England a hard fight for their victory and could even have thwarted it had they not missed that penalty. For which huge credit to the young English keeper, Freddie Woodman.
It was even reported that on the previous evening, the Venezuelan players had come to blows with their Uruguayan opponents whom they had eliminated on spot-kicks in the semi-final.
Alas, it is to early for this vibrant young English team to make any kind of contribution at the incipient Russian World Cup. What one does ferociously hope is that they will all get a decent, sustained chance in our club football, when so much money is poured out by the Premiership clubs on foreign talent. A hope properly expressed by the full England team manager Gareth Southgate after that turgid draw in Glasgow.
Several of the under-20 squad are at Chelsea where the excellent youth policy – each season seems to see another victory in the FA Youth Cup – is alas no guarantee of a place in the first-team squad. Already the under-20s striker Dominic Solanke has had the good sense to abandon Stamford Bridge for Liverpool.
At the time of writing, Chelsea have no fewer than 38 players are on loan, including 19-year-old Fikayo Tomori, the effective centre-back who was on loan last season to Brighton. Jake Clarke-Salter, who played on loan last season for Bristol Rovers, is admired by that titan of Chelsea centre-backs, John Terry, that rare bird, a player who excelled after coming through the junior ranks.
I have admired that classically effective winger, 19-year-old Ademola Lookman, since I saw him playing for Charlton in a game which bizarrely he started on the bench. But at least Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who so powerfully and expertly got the vital goal in the Final, has at aged 20 played 11 times for Everton in the Premiership.
In parenthesis, what an embarrassing contrast there was in the televising of last weekend’s two England games. Who knows what possessed the TV director of the Hampden game, whose players might just as well have been chess men, so small and remote were they for most of the game. By sharp contrast with the excellent production of South Korea’s coverage, which showed the Final with an expert mixture of close-ups and panorama.
At Hampden, England looked woefully mediocre. That you could see well enough even on the dismally shot television production. Whatever his heroics in Slovenia, his spell in Turin seems to have done nothing for the form in goal of Joe Hart. Leaving Harry Kane alone up front put far too much of a burden on him, and there was a marked absence of vigour on the wings against a Scotland massed in midfield.
Any chance of replacing Southgate with Paul Simpson as England’s senior manager? After the exhilarating triumph of his Under-20s in South Korea, Simpson has been asked by the FA to compile a guide to winning the World Cup.
“We had a really structured plan,” he says and how splendidly it worked. By sharp and dismal contrast with the senior team’s two dismal and worse displays in Glasgow and Paris.
That England could not even manage draw with a French team reduced for almost half the game to 10 men was deplorable.
“Playing from the back,” as Southgate put it, is all very well but not when you have a centre-back as error-prone as John Stones while Gary Cahill, though he did clear off the line, showed painfully how uneasy he is at this level and was deemed responsible at least in part for two of the French goals.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had done well in Glasgow when he came on as a substitute, operating vigorously on the right flank. To use him in central midfield in Paris was always going to be a risk as alas it proved. Jake Livermore, an unexpected midfield choice in Glasgow, is never going to be the definitive answer, but at least he gave a solid defensive performance there and might surely have done the same in Paris; where even that contentious penalty and expulsion were not enough to save England.
At full-back Bertrand impressed. Walker will do, Jones will not.
Southgate’s apologia made scant sense in the circumstances. Remember that France, albeit it on a daft goalkeeping error, had lost their previous game in Stockholm.
So on, ploddingly, to Russia and alas the all-too probable early elimination.