England U17 coach John Peacock says their run to today's European Championship final is proof the nation's development programme is on track.
England reached the semi-final of this competition in 2003 and 2004 and eventually made it to the Final in 2007. James Milner, Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon were part of the squad in 2003 while Wayne Rooney starred for the U17s a year earlier in Denmark and all four players have been included in Fabio Capello’s initial 30-man squad for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.
Fellow finalists Spain, though, have consistently produced title-winning sides at U16 and U17 level and their senior team, the reigning European champions, now bears the fruits of those successes with Iker Casillas (1997), Pepe Reina (1999) and Fernando Torres (2001) among the current World Cup squad to have lifted this trophy over the years. Their focus on youth development is now paying dividends.
“We’ve just published ‘The Future Game’ document in England,” Peacock told the FA.com, “which is highlighting the point about the need to play possession football, to have players that are very comfortable in possession of the ball and [who can] play out from the back and through the thirds. We’ve tried to encourage that over the last few years [and] I think we’re getting better at it. The Academies are beginning to develop players now who can play at the highest level.
“But, ultimately, what we’re trying to achieve is players that can go on and become senior international football players and that will be exactly the same for Ginés [Meléndez, the Spain Head Coach]. We think we are achieving that. The Spanish team have done that over the years. We have great respect for the Spanish in terms of what they’ve achieved in youth football over the last seven, nine, ten years. I think they’ve been the benchmark for youth football.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts in Finals and semi-finals on many occasions. One thing that’s eluded us is this [U17] trophy. Hopefully, we’ll be successful this time, but we know we’ve got a very tough team to face tomorrow.”