THE future is bright for English football — you only have to look at the number of excellent young players coming out of your academies to realise that.
Sure, there is sadness and frustration at losing the Euro 2020 final to Italy.
England’s crestfallen players show their unity as Jadon Sancho reflects on his shootout woeCredit: Getty
New Roma boss Jose Mourinho says England should be proud of their Euro 2020 achievements and have more top youngsters coming throughCredit: Getty
But if I compare the academies at Premier League clubs now to how they were when I first arrived in England in 2004, then the improvement is vast.
I hope leading Premier League managers don’t just think of their own clubs but also the national team and that they give these young English guys more chances.
I know he’s still very young, just 17, and the next World Cup is probably too early, but Tottenham have a striker who, if everything goes well, is going to be phenomenal.
That kid, Dane Scarlett, probably won’t be ready for Qatar next year — although you never know — but for the next Euros in 2024, he is an example of one who can emerge.
I know there are many more like him at Manchester United and Chelsea and other clubs, because the work they are doing in producing technically-gifted players in English academies is miles better now.
England are not in a bad place at all. You can look at the players’ ages from this summer’s squad and there isn’t one player who you can say won’t be at the next World Cup because of his age.
I would even say that more than 50 per cent of this team will have the opportunity to play two or three Euros and two or three World Cups.
The situation at Manchester United will be interesting from an England point of view.
STERLING HAD STRONG PENALTY SHOUT
ENGLAND could have had a penalty to go 2-0 up when Raheem Sterling was challenged by Leonardo Bonucci early in the second half of the final.
For me, it was more of a penalty than the one awarded when Sterling went down in extra-time in the semi-final.
If that one hadn’t been given against Denmark, and all the pressure that arrived after that, then it possibly would have been a penalty in the final — and at 2-0 we would be speaking about a completely different story.
As it happened, Italy dominated the ball in the second half and England defended in a low block for too long.
As a coach, it’s hard for me to believe that the English coaching staff told the players ‘stay in a low block, don’t leave the low block, we don’t need to counter-attack, we don’t need the ball, just defend for 45 minutes and we are going to be champions’.
People said similar things about Tottenham in some matches last season but it wasn’t true.
Italy just kept the ball, passed the ball, hid the ball, took off their striker and played with an extra midfielder.
Then England conceded from a corner, where they had been so dominant during the tournament.
Jadon Sancho has gone to United, Marcus Rashford is also there and Mason Greenwood is a good example of a player who wasn’t in this squad but can be in Qatar, when he will be much more mature and has a good possibility of being selected.
Three young England players in one club, three with potential to play in the national team.
Which one will have an amazing season but which one could be hidden, not starting many matches because of the coach’s decision? Greenwood has the talent to be there.
You look at Phil Foden, Greenwood, Sancho, Rashford, Jack Grealish and James Maddison — English clubs are developing an incredible number of players with this kind of profile.
Then there is Jude Bellingham. He didn’t play as much as I expected at the Euros because England were never having to chase a match — they were only behind for eight minutes in the whole tournament.
Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice always started and in the last few games Jordan Henderson came on, but Bellingham is there when you need more than that. He’s one step ahead in terms of quality, in risk-taking and goalscoring potential.
Tottenham striker Dane Scarlett, 17, could be ready for Euro 2024, says MourinhoCredit: Getty
Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice might well be the natural midfield partnership for England in qualification gamesCredit: The Sun
If you want two positional players keeping it simple that’s Rice and Phillips. Bellingham is more than that.
I think the future will be Bellingham and Rice in qualification matches, where the level of opposition is completely different and you can develop different styles of play.
In the next 16 months, Bellingham will have many more matches in the Bundesliga and Champions League with Borussia Dortmund so he will be stronger, faster and more mature. He’s an incredible player, who is at a different level.
Bukayo Saka is another one. Don’t worry about the penalty miss — I don’t want to analyse penalties because I’m a specialist in failure at shootouts myself — but this is another guy who is only going to get better.
He is a multi-functional player and only Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta knows where he will develop, but I like him as a left-footer playing wide right.
I started that with Arjen Robben and Damien Duff at Chelsea and playing with inverted wingers is something I have always liked, so I want to see Saka cutting inside and making triangles with the striker.
There are always other choices — Arsenal also have Nicolas Pepe and Willian — because Premier League clubs have such strong squads, but I hope Saka plays there.
There is so much to be hopeful about for England.
Another 16 months of knowledge and experience for Gareth Southgate and his players and you could be singing It’s Coming Home in Qatar next year.
Finally, I’d like to thank you all for reading over the past five weeks. I hope you have enjoyed these columns as much as I have enjoyed producing them.
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