- England lifted U-20 World Cup and U-17 World Cup in 2017
- Paul Simpson and Steve Cooper guided the Young Lions to victory
- Only Brazil in 2003 had ever won both tournaments in same year
Before 2017, England had just one coach who had led their country to a global title. In more than 150 years of the FA, Sir Alf Ramsey – who famously lifted the FIFA World Cup™ on home soil in 1966 – was that much-heralded individual. However, in the space of four months, Ramsey was joined atop his lonely pedestal by U-20 coach Paul Simpson and Steve Cooper, the man in charge of the U-17 side.
England’s wins at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic and the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India were high points of a remarkable year for the Three Lions’ youth system, with the huge investment in the national football centre at St George’s Park seemingly bearing fruit.
The Young Lions’ amazing 2017
May: U-17 UEFA EURO finalists
June: U-20 Toulon Tournament winners
June: U-20 World Cup winners
June: U-21 UEFA EURO semi-finalists
July: U-19 UEFA EURO winners
October: U-17 World Cup winners
FIFA.com sat down with both coaches for an exclusive chat at the impressive facility to discuss what the tournament wins meant to them and how 2017 could shape England’s footballing future.
2017: A life-changing year?
Simpson: I’ve been through a real roller coaster of coaching experiences. My 12 months: I was out of work in the summer of 2016, I get invited to come in and observe a couple of the training camps, get asked if I want to be involved with England U-16s. Then I got a phone call to say: “Would you like to go and take the U-20s to the World Cup finals?”
To be involved with a group of players like that is something that will stay with me forever. I walk up the top of my stairs every day and see my World Cup winner’s medal and it just puts a smile on my face.
Cooper: To think that we, as a group of players and staff, have gone and won a World Cup and seen the reaction that it had back home really makes you proud, more than anything. It makes you feel a part of something special.
Keeping in touch with the World Cup winners
Simpson: I’d like to think that we’ve played a small part in each other’s lives that we’ll never lose, and there’ll always be contact as we go forward. We might bump into each other in ten or 15 years and we’ll always remember what we went through and I think that’s something that’s really valuable.
You get trophies, we know that, sometimes you get financial rewards when you’re involved in football, but those life experiences, those memories are much more valuable than anything else we’ve been through.
Cooper: Of course, there’ll be a connection with those boys forever. I think they know that myself and the staff will always be there for them. I personally think the world of the lads, and all the staff as well. I think between us there was a fantastic bond that will last forever and we’ll hopefully help them go through the journey as well.
Born in Stockport, just six miles from Manchester City’s then home Maine Road, joined City aged eight
October 2017: Wins U-17 World Cup, and tournament’s adidas Golden Ball
November 2017: Makes full City debut off the bench against Feyenoord
December 2017: Starts first game for City against Shakhtar Donetsk
Spent youth career at Chelsea, was on loan at Vitesse in Netherlands for 2015/16 season
June 2017: Wins U-20 World Cup, and tournament’s adidas Golden Ball
July 2017: Signs for Liverpool from Chelsea
November 2017: Makes full international debut in friendly against Brazil
The golden boys
Simpson: There are some of [the U-20 World Cup winners] who have definitely got the ability [to go to Russia 2018], there’s no doubt about that. Dom Solanke’s a great example. I thought that if you look through all of the games that we played in Korea, there were a lot of players who showed that they’ve got fantastic ability, they’ve got a great temperament, they’re resilient and deal with the challenges that international football throws at them.
Cooper: I was at the game when Phil [Foden] came on in the Champions League and made his debut [for Manchester City against Feyenoord]. I was pleased for City’s academy because I know how hard they’ve worked with him over the years. We shared some good times together with the England team and it was nice to see that, I sent him a message afterwards.
I think Phil’s a great example of a club and country working together. To hear Pep Guardiola speaking about the experience of a U-17 World Cup as he did gives you great hope that you can work together in building a player. There’s a long way to go for Phil. He’ll tell you that first, but so far, so good for him.
A senior World Cup win: 2018, 2022 or 2026?
Simpson: We don’t mind when it comes! Whether we can get to the end of the path that we’re all wanting remains to be seen, but there have certainly been a lot of good things done already to help us progress.
Cooper: All we can do is what we preach to the players and that’s control the controllables. That’s making sure that every event is run properly, every training session and game plan are good ones and we create the right environment for the players to grow. Who knows what the future holds, but we certainly believe in what we’re doing.