Former England Youth Stars Could Lead Team to World Cup Success

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Jadon Sancho (Wikipedia)

Last year when France swept to victory in the World Cup it was often pointed out that their success was due to squad members who were descendants of natives of the old French empire.

This often descended into territory that was both ugly and humorous. Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show,” joked that Africa had really won the World Cup, because more than half of the squad were black and many of them were second-generation Africans. This sparked an angry response from Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, who said the black players were French, no matter where their parents were born.

“By calling them an African team it seems you are denying their French-ness. This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims that whiteness is the only definition of being French,” said Araud.

However, on a darker note, former Croatian manager Igor Stimac said the final was an unfair matchup since France got to choose from people from all over the world, while Croatia had a much smaller pool of players. (I guess he forgot about Eduardo, who was born in Brazil, but played for Croatia.)

“We face the Republic of France and the continent of Africa, 1 billion vs 4 million,” said Stimac in a Facebook post, which was deleted.

But France’s success at integrating talented players from a multiracial background could be an example for England. And you only need to look to the England squad that won the 2017 U-17 World Cup as an example. I followed the team’s success and eventually watched the final. I was stunned at the fluidity of their passing and movement. They literally didn’t play like an England team. It looked more like a Brazilian lineup.

More than half of the players in the England World Cup winning squad were black or of mixed race. Many of them are descendants of former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.

But it’s not just that background that could lead to success in the 2022 World Cup. Many of the players have benefitted from a relationship between the German and the British football associations. After British coaches saw the success of the German 2014 World Cup winning squad, they decided to collaborate on a coaching partnership. (France also has a phenomenal youth coaching system that has produced gems such as Thierry Henry.)

In addition, since many EPL teams load up their first teams with expensive international-level talent, English youngsters have to look abroad for playing time. While World Cup winner Phil Foden has managed to force his way into the fringes of the Manchester City squad, few of his teammates have had the same luck.

After success in the World Cup, Manchester City youth player Jordan Sancho, whose parents are from Trinidad and Tabago, opted for Germany. Now he stars for league leaders Borussia Dortmund. He’s already notched five Champions League goals. Sancho has never played a senior game in England.

There is currently a huge battle over the future of Chelsea starlet Callum Hudson-Odoi, whose father was a former Ghanaian international. German giants Bayern Munich have wooed him with a 35 million pound ($45M) offer, but Chelsea is fighting to hang onto his talent.

It’s a tough decision. If he leaves, he gets to play for a top-level team that regularly features in the Champions League. He’ll also probably be guaranteed a starting position. But if he stays at Chelsea, how many chances will he get in a star-studded team?

I don’t think playing in Germany is a bad thing for English players. They get regular playing time and learn a different style of football. This can only make them more rounded. Another advantage of playing abroad, is those leagues are less physically demanding than the EPL. So players don’t come into the World Cup exhausted or carrying an injury, which has frequently been a problem for England.

But whatever happens, the future looks bright for the England team. Coach Gareth Southgate shocked the world when he took a largely unfancied squad to the World Cup semifinals. He also made the country believe in England again. They even managed to win a penalty shoot out! With this newfound belief and a squad of talented and well-rounded young players, they could go all the way in 2022.

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Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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