- England will face Chile, Iraq and Mexico at India 2017
- England won U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic
- U-19 and U-21 sides also successful this year
A phone rings in an office, situated in the leafy surroundings of the countryside close to Burton-upon-Trent, England. The FA’s technical director Dan Ashworth picks up the handset, holds a brief conversation with somebody 4,500 miles away, and gets to work.
Ashworth’s call is from Steve Cooper, England’s U-17 coach, moments after the Official Draw for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 concludes in Mumbai. Arrangements now begin in earnest to make sure Cooper, his team and the players who will make the final squad for the October tournament, are as prepared as possible.
This is all part of the masterplan, initiated at England’s National Football Centre, St George’s Park, a £105m facility which is home to the country’s 24 national teams. Opened in 2012, it is beginning to bear fruit. The U-20 side were crowned world champions in Korea Republic in June, the U-19s won the UEFA European U-19 Championship, with the U-21 side reaching the semi-finals of their continental finals.
The U-17 squad will compete in India after getting to the final of their European championship, defeated on penalties by Spain in May. Their coach, Cooper, is hoping to carry the momentum on the global stage from the U-20's win earlier this year.
“It’s an inspiration and a motivation to everybody connected with English football,” Cooper told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “That’s not just the national teams, because it’s great recognition for the clubs and academies in England that they’re doing a really good job in producing the players. We hope it’s the start of things to come.”
— England (@England) July 15, 2017
How much of this is down to the building blocks put in place in Burton-upon-Trent?
“I think 'plan' is the important word,” Cooper said. “St George’s Park has been a massive help of course because it just brings everybody together,” Cooper said. “There’s strong leadership from Dan Ashworth, Matt Crocker (FA Head of Development Team Coaching) and Gareth Southgate (England manager), which is running through all the teams. Nobody is sitting there thinking that we’ve cracked it because we’re beginning to show a bit of success at tournaments. If anything it’s a motivation to do even better.”
Southgate is a product of the coaching set-up throughout England’s youth teams, having taken charge of the U-21 side for three years up until his appointment to the top job last year.
“Of course things are a bit different because he’s now senior manager but a lot of things are still the same with Gareth,” Cooper said. “He’s very much part of lots of the projects that are ongoing. You’ve only got to look at any successful organisation both in and out of football and, if there’s a line running from top to bottom, you have a chance of reaching targets.”
Despite the recent success of the youth sides, Cooper is keen to manage expectations for his side out in India.
"You always work with two minds with young players,” Cooper said. “One is: why not be as successful as you can here and now? But the way you work has to be with a close eye on what it will look like in the future as well. We like to think that the work being done is preparing for the next year so the players can continue their journey in a consistent way."
Tightly contested group
The draw for India 2017 has landed England in a tough-looking Group F, along with 2015 hosts Chile, Asian champions Iraq and two-time U-17 World Cup winners Mexico.
“It’s a strong group, as you’d expect with it being a World Cup,” Cooper said. “You look at the groups and they’re all on a similar level in that you get tough games. We’ve heard some really good things about Kolkata (where England will play all three group games), so we’re really looking forward to going there, I hear there’s a lot of enthusiasm for football, so we’ll enjoy being there.”
India’s fervour for the beautiful game certainly left its impression on Cooper, even during a short stay for the Official Draw.
“Everybody that we’ve dealt with so far is very excited and proud to be hosting a first FIFA event in India,” Cooper said. “You can really feel that. I guess the overriding emotion at the moment is one of excitement.”
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) July 7, 2017