The saying goes that you can’t win anything with kids, but as France held aloft the World Cup trophy they will have definitely been thinking the opposite. It is a sentiment England will share.
These two sides had the joint second youngest squads at this summer’s tournament yet finished first and fourth. The future is looking bright for both, with the belief being that their wealth of young talent can propel them to future successes.
Filling the midfield void
For the Three Lions, the task is an obvious one: Gareth Southgate has implemented the basis that they must now rest their future hopes upon. Yet while their time in Russia has been a success on and off the pitch, it did expose a flaw that needs addressing moving forward and that was the lack of a creative, dominant midfielder in the middle of the park.
If this current iteration lacks anything it is the kind of midfielder who can control a game as Luka Modric’s did in their semi-final defeat. As Jordan Henderson struggled, the Real Madrid man took over. England need that man and thoughts are turning to the future, particularly their successful youth groups, to find him.
The likes of Mason Mount and Phil Foden are two of several names touted as future English stars and the men who can fill this void. Ryan Sessegnon, Ademola Lookman and Jadon Sancho are three other names from England’s successful youth ranks for fans to get excited about.
They are likely to get their chance too, with Southgate having shown in Russia that if you are good enough, you are old enough. Age will be no barrier in this current setup. By the time that Euro 2020 rolls around and then the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022, these players will be in their early twenties and ready to shine.
First team football
If that is to happen, though, some of these talents have major decisions to make within the next few years, particularly when it comes to the football clubs they are playing for. No longer can they afford to stay at big clubs and hope for their chance to impress. First team football must become the most important thing to all them.
For too long now English talent has struggled to break through and secure the first team football they need for their development and there is a whole generation of footballers with wasted careers that prove this point.
This new group cannot afford for it to ruin theirs in the same way and will have to make brave decisions about their futures. If leaving England or dropping down divisions is what they need then so be it. Football must take priority over finances. If opportunities are not afforded by the success driven Premier League clubs then they must look elsewhere.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a prime example of the problem. He shone last season as a result of his loan move to Crystal Palace, shining for a team that was willing to give him regular football. Yet when he returns to Chelsea this summer he faces a fight to even get onto the bench. He has only started 27 league games in his entire career, an embarrassing number when compared with the fact that Dele Alli, who is the same age, has 161 to his name.
Alli has been fortunate to play for a manager and a club that is willing to give him his chance but Loftus-Cheek must also take a part of the blame. He should have left Stamford Bridge long ago, when it became clear they had no intention of handing him the playing time he needed.
Foden and Mount
This current generation of talent cannot afford to follow in his footsteps. If Phil Foden does not get game time at Manchester City, he must leave for somewhere where he will, despite the allure of Pep Guardiola. Mason Mount must do the same at Chelsea.
It appears this group have no intentions of allowing their careers to stagnate at this crucial age. Sancho set the tone by moving to the Bundesliga and has benefitted from it. Ademola Lookman followed in his footsteps by choosing a loan to RB Leipzig in January and flourished as a result.
Those two show that there is an understanding among these young players that the Premier League is not the be all and end all. One can only hope that the players in their age group and beyond have taken note.
If these players can get the game time they need and develop as expected, England’s future is a bright one.
But it is up to the players themselves to make the brave decisions and avoid the pitfalls that have seen their predecessor’s careers fall flat.