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In 2015, Manchester City signed up Jadon Sancho from the Watford youth academy for an initial fee of £66,000. Two seasons later, on the deadline day (August 31) this year, one of most prodigious English football talent was shipped off to Borussia Dortmund for around £8 million.
In between, Sancho played for England U-16 and scored seven goals in 11 appearances; and also 14 goals from 17 matches for the England U-17s. He has already become one of the biggest rising stars in this U-17 World Cup with three goals and two assists. Sancho is yet to feature in Bundesliga this term but he strongly figures in Borussia Dortmund’s scheme of things and it suggests a promising future for the youngster in terms of top-flight game time.
Phil Foden of Manchester City might not be so lucky despite being described as “another level” by his club manager Pep Guardiola. The latter gave the 17-year-old game time during City’s pre-season and was ecstatic about his performance against Manchester United at Houston. But the reality is that Guardiola bought Bernardo Silva for £44 million during close season and it is delaying Foden’s Premier League debut.
Angel Gomes played as a substitute for five minutes in United’s final Premier League fixture against Crystal Palace last term as Jose Mourinho decided to rest some key first team players ahead of the Europa League final. Gomes hasn’t played for the first team this season yet.
Liverpool fans are now reportedly egging on Jurgen Klopp to hand Rhian Brewster a first team debut, especially after his stunning free-kick goal for England U-17 against Mexico in the ongoing World Cup. Time will tell if the youngster has impressed his club manager enough. And there are others like George McEachran, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Marc Guehi – so many of them – who have wowed the Kolkata fans with their football. These supremely talented youngsters will return to their respective clubs after the World Cup and will once again start playing for the U-18s, U-23s and reserves, missing out on top-flight game time.
A big gap exists between the age-group football and senior level in terms on physical presence, tactical nous and allround abilities. Also, in top tier, with stability at a premium in most clubs, managers are constantly looking over their shoulder. They prefer the tried and tested rather than taking risks with the home-growns. England have won the European Under-19 Championship and the U-20 World Cup this year. The U-17s are oozing quality in India. From that point of view, it’s unfortunate that the lack of serious game time at club level somewhat stalls their development.
England U-17 coach Steve Cooper agrees. At the same time, he says for players of this age group, playing World Cup matches in front of over 50,000 fans is a more enriching experience that will help them grow into their job. “I think so (about progress getting stalled at club level). I know I have said on a few occasions that this environment …50,000-plus crowd is unheard of in developing tournaments. Maybe, one off game with the host nation being involved but re-producing crowds like that is a fantastic opportunity for the players to experience what a top game looks like at the top flight, at senior level,” Cooper said.
“If these boys break into the first teams in the Premier League, they will be playing in front of capacity crowds every week, which is 25,000. The bigger clubs are expanding and you are looking at 60-70,000. So to get an experience like this is so beneficial as early as this in their career. The FIFA and the Indian FA have done a really good job in producing what is already a fantastic event and what we are so proud to be part of. We want to go as far as we can,” he added.
The head coach also spoke about the importance of grooming leaders. “We put a real big emphasis at St Georges Park on a lot of things. The way the team is playing, the way the teams train and how they behave. One of the real aspects we are looking at is leadership. I know that our senior team manager Gareth Southgate is a big believer in having more than one leader on the pitch. One person has to wear the armband. But part of our work is about developing players as leaders and we need the right characters to do that. (U-17 captain) Joel Latibeaudiere is a good example but so are few others.”
Uncertainty over Sancho
According to a report in The Sun, the Football Association (FA) is negotiating with the Borussia Dortmund management to allow Sancho to stay in India and play for the England U-17 in the knockouts. The Bundesliga club released the 17-year-old for the World Cup with a rider that he would return after the group stage.
Asked about this, Cooper said: “Jadon is available for the game tomorrow. Whether he plays or not remains to be seen. As past that day, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”