FIFA U-17 World Cup: England think tank banks on insider knowledge

England coach Steve Cooper spoke about seeking assistance from Ashley Westwood and Steve Coppell as well before revealing the cricket bit.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Kolkata | Updated: October 8, 2017 9:44 am
fifa u 17 world cup, fifa world cup, england fifa u 17 world cup, india fifa world cup, England players during a practice session in Kolkata. (PTI Photo)

To have a successful U-17 World Cup, the England football team sought help from England cricket. That India senior football team coach Stephen Constantine helped the young Lions prepare for this tournament has been well documented. On Saturday, at the pre-match press conference, England coach Steve Cooper spoke about seeking assistance from Ashley Westwood and Steve Coppell as well before revealing the cricket bit.

Both England football and cricket share facilities at St George’s Park and as Cooper said, “the connections have been natural.” England cricket teams are frequent visitors to India and little wonder then that Cooper made phone calls to his cricket counterparts.

As soon as the team qualified back in May, preparations started for getting used to Indian conditions. Cooper spoke about his interactions with the England cricket team’s coaching staff and physios without naming them. But things point towards head coach Trevor Bayliss, a seemingly obvious help at hand. Bayliss coached Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL for four seasons and knows this city well.

“Cricket is big out here. The English cricket team has played here (many times). We have done our due diligence. We have taken everything on board and would like to think that has helped in our plans for Kolkata and India,” Cooper said. “We are very much working at St. George’s Park where the team is based. There have been some natural connections with cricket and hockey. It’s been very informal, just picking up the phone and asking what’s this and what’s that. It’s not just the coaches but the physios as well. We have done a lot of travel, conditioning with the players as well.”

The mutual interaction between England football and cricket is not new and happens at the senior level also. After being appointed England football manager, Roy Hodgson sought out then England cricket boss Andy Flower for consultation. The latter, who oversaw England’s rise to the No. 1 spot in the ICC Tests rankings, was presiding over a 3-0 Ashes-winning campaign at home in 2013. The England football team, on the other hand, had been serial World Cup underachievers.

“I met Andy Flower at a function and we agreed when his busy time with the Ashes in the summer was over and mine trying to qualify (for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals) the team was over, we would get together over a coffee and swap some stories. I’m very interested to hear how they approach things,” Hodgson had said. The veteran coach spoke about having a conversation with then British Lions (rugby) coach Warren Gatland as well. “It will be interesting to talk to the Lions people as well. They have long periods away from home because they go so far. I’m all ears. Any information we can get to improve our knowledge, the better it is. Although I do think that with the FA, we sit on a large body of knowledge,” Hodgson explained.

England’s 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign, however, ended with a whimper, when they finished last in their group behind Costa Rica and Uruguay. Two years later, Hodgson stepped down as England manager after being beaten by Iceland in the European Championship, but that’s a different story. Coming back to football and the England U-17 side, Westwood was a ‘ready reckoner’ for Cooper because of the former’s close proximity with Indian football. Westwood managed Bengaluru FC for three seasons before joining Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Atletico de Kolkata this term as their director of football. Former Manchester United winger Coppell guided Kerala Blasters to the ISL final last season. He would be in charge of Jamshedpur FC this year.

“We knew there were some obvious English connections (in Indian football). Ashley Westwood was a very good confidant. He did his Pro Licence at St. George’s Park and was a natural connection. He gave us a really good insight into what it looks like in India.

“I have had a great conversation with Steve Coppell too. Stephen Constantine has been a real help and I have been fascinated at some of the stories that he has had to tell. But there’s nothing like being here. That gives the real experience. But we have tried to take as much as we can with us,” said Cooper.

England aim to carry forward a good summer for their young teams that saw the U-20s clinch the World Cup. The U-17s start off with a match against Chile on Sunday.

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