England’s youth teams flourished in 2017, winning the under-17 and under-20 World Cups, as well as the under-19 European Championship. But could any of these young Lions be set for a place in the squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia this summer?
Many teenagers have made an England World Cup squad before, but for every Michael Owen, there was also a Theo Walcott. That said, no less than three teenage players made the squad in 2014: Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling. But who could be a surprise youthful inclusion for Russia? Below we’ll have a look at four potential candidates.
Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund
One of the most controversial moments of the summer transfer window involved a 17-year-old winger who had never played at senior level. Jadon Sancho was at the centre of that story, opting to leave Manchester City in order to move to Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund after he refused to pen a new deal at the Etihad due to concerns about his playing time.
Sancho was promptly awarded with the number seven shirt at Dortmund, which had just been vacated following Ousmane Dembélé’s record move to Barcelona.
A first-team debut wasn’t immediately forthcoming to Sancho, until he was recalled from international duty following some outstanding displays at the under-17 World Cup and subsequently came off the bench against Eintracht Frankfurt, and latterly Bayern Munich, to become Dortmund’s first-ever English player.
Indeed, as noted by Oddschecker, a flurry of bets saw odds on Jadon Sancho making England’s World Cup squad shorten following his Bundesliga debut, with some bookmakers having him as short as 10/1 at one point.
Sancho is a tremendously skilful winger, with a bag of tricks at his disposal. That X-factor may well be the thing that could send him to the World Cup. But he definitely needs more game time first.
Tom Davies – Everton
Everton’s young star broke on to the first team scene at Goodison Park towards the end of the 2015/16, and was named the man of the match in his first start for the club – a 3-0 final day win over Norwich.
He then played a part in every game after New Year in 2016/17 – which included a stunning goal against Manchester City – chopping the ball between Yaya Toure and Gael Clichy on a mazy run, before passing the ball on, seeing it returned, and finishing the move with a sumptuous chip over Claudio Bravo – the third goal in a shock 4-0 win for Everton.
Davies is already an established member of the Everton squad, although has struggled for a consistent run of form and starts in Everton’s struggling side so far this term.
Nonetheless, the Liverpool-born 19-year-old is an incredibly composed performer, with an excellent one-touch game. Davies is also very positive with his passes – creating many chances and providing more than his share of assists. Another strong aspect of his game is his work rate, with the youngster loving to press his opponents and put in tough challenges.
Davies is currently a key component of the England under-21’s setup, having featured – and even captained the side – at multiple age groups.
A good run of form for Everton would surely earn him a call-up in the near future, especially when the likes of Harry Winks and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – both of whom have less first-team experience than the 19-year-old – have already had impressive look-ins.
Central midfield is certainly a weak area for England, so could Davies be seen as a viable solution by Gareth Southgate?
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
An attacking full-back with a mean right foot, Trent Alexander-Arnold, made his first-team debut at Liverpool early in the 2016/17 season, and is now a regular part of the squad – seeing more and more action as the season goes on.
Still just 19, Alexander-Arnold, has even found the net in two Champions League ties – the first of which was an excellent free-kick in a crucial qualifier away at Hoffenheim.
However, he faces strong competition from Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and teammate, Nathaniel Clyne, for England’s right-back berth – although the latter is out with a long-term injury. Nevertheless, Alexander-Arnold must also compete with another young star from Anfield, Joe Gomez – who also made his England debut recently – for a place in the squad at both club and international level.
The 2018 World Cup is likely to come a little too soon for Alexander-Arnold, but he is definitely one for the future.
Phil Foden – Manchester City
There is much excitement over 17-year-old Phil Foden, even though the Manchester City midfielder has yet to make a senior appearance.
Foden burst onto the scene during the under-17 World Cup in October, winning player of the tournament as England were crowned champions.
The trouble is, breaking into Manchester City’s first team is no mean feat. That said, Foden has been training with the first team this season, with Pep Guardiola also ruling out a loan move: “He’s not going to move this season. No loan in January. We feel we need him. Maybe he’s going to play.”
There are concerns at Manchester City that Foden may “do a Jadon Sancho” in the hunt for first-team football, with Celtic reportedly interested.
While his talent is unquestionable, Foden needs significant game time in order to have a chance of making England’s 2018 World Cup – but will he get that chance at City?