Unbeaten in ten matches, winners of the prestigious Algarve Tournament and among the favourites to land the Uefa Under-17 championship this summer — are England unearthing a new ‘Golden Generation’ of talent fifteen years after the last great side to promise so much ?
It was 1993 when an England Under-18 side including Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Sol Campbell, Nicky Butt and Robbie Fowler won the Uefa tournament on home turf.
That class, quickly followed by others featuring David Beckham and Michael Owen, failed to deliver glory in a series of senior tournaments from 1998 to 2006 but they have set the yardstick by which the latest will be measured.
Last year, 2007, was a year of unprecedented success for John Peacock’s side. Having qualified for the European finals in Belgium, England topped their group and won through to the final where they were narrowly defeated by a Bojan Krkic-inspired Spain. A trip to the FIFA World Under-17 Cup followed that and England were far from disgraced in Korea, going out to Germany in the quarter-finals after upsetting Brazil.
Building on that success, Peacock has a new group with several promising starlets that look destined to play on the big stage.
Jacob Mellis (Chelsea) and Ryan Donaldson (Newcastle) were on target in February’s 2-0 win over France in Portimao which should give England the psychological edge going into next month’s Elite group clash.
Mellis is a rangy attacking midfield with a good eye for goal who has impressed in Chelsea’s FA Youth Cup campaign this season. Like so many other Stamford Bridge starlets, he was signed from another club — Sheffield United — for £400,000 rising to £1.3million on appearance and achievement clauses.
Jon Bostock hit the headlines earlier this season when he was thrust into the Crystal Palace first team ten weeks before his 16th birthday. The forward has the potential to be great — according to his former manager Peter Taylor, who encouraged him to take fewer touches on the ball and cultivate his weaker right foot.
And while fellow strikers like Nathan Delfuoneso (Aston Villa) and Donaldson will also catch the eye, it could yet be the defenders in Peacock’s group that are the most precious gems.
Fulham’s Matthew Briggs turned 17 this week, but has already appeared in the Premier League — 65 days after his 16th birthday. The Cottagers defender has played full-back and centre-half for the Young Lions and could be getting more first-team club games next season. Jack Rodwell is another record breaker — having made his Everton debut aged 16 and in Europe – and another fine prospect having come through from England’s schoolboy side.
Seven clean sheets in ten matches speak volumes about the standard of the back play with England also defeating Denmark 3-0 and drawing 0-0 with Portugal in the Algarve tournament, following a good 3-0 home win over Italy at Luton.