London (AFP) – Once England’s hangover subsides after their heartbreaking Euro 2020 final defeat against Italy, Gareth Southgate’s side can look forward to a bright future thanks to a prescient plan put in place by the Football Association.
Denied a first major title for 55 years after an agonising penalty shoot-out at Wembley on Sunday, England need not go back to the drawing board to find a solution to their trophy drought.
The Three Lions are well placed to contend for silverware for years to come thanks to a root-and-branch reform of English football implemented eight years ago.
The cultural overhaul of how young English talent should be developed was prioritised by Greg Dyke when the former television executive took charge as FA chairman in 2013.
Dyke arrived at a troubled time, when England had not gone beyond a World Cup quarter-final since 1990 and were still waiting for a first European Championship final appearance.
Describing English football as “a tanker that needs turning”, Dyke warned the country would not seriously compete on the world stage without changes in the domestic game.
He laid down long-term goals as he challenged England to reach the Euro 2020 semi-finals and win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Three years after reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, Southgate’s men continued to surpass Dyke’s expectations at Euro 2020 with their run to a first major final since the 1966 World Cup, which they won.
That Southgate can chose from young stars including Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho is due to Dyke’s determination to end the “frightening” reduction in the number of English players in the Premier League.
Crucially, the Elite Player Performance Plan was launched in 2012.
It was a collaboration between the FA, the Premier League and the Football League, aimed at improving the standard of home-grown players after the famous Lilleshall centre of excellence was scrapped in 1999.
Premier League clubs including Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United reaped the rewards as their youth academy graduates forced their way into their first teams.
– ‘Unite the game’ –
Four of the current England squad — Foden, Saka, Marcus Rashford and Declan Rice — played their youth football exclusively under the Elite Player plan
Dyke left the FA in 2016 but the governing body’s mission statement remains the same under current chief executive Mark Bullingham.
The FA’s 2020–2024 strategy laid out its vision to “unite the game, inspire the nation”, while making a major tournament triumph its primary objective.
Former England striker Alan Shearer knows from bitter experience how muddled management and organisational flaws undermined past generations.
Shearer, who finished as top-scorer at Euro 96, said: “You’ve got to give the FA some credit for the plan they had.
“This hasn’t just happened in the last two or three years. It’s been building towards this.
“We’ve got a magnificent training complex and we’ve got a smart, intelligent manager who understands what it takes to play for your country.”
It has been a journey 10 years in the making for Southgate, who was hired as the FA’s head of elite development in 2011 and also worked as England Under-21 coach before taking over as the national team boss in 2016.
The empathetic 50-year-old has found a way to unite the new wave of talent behind the England cause after past generations were ripped apart by club-centric rivalries.
From ice-cream van visits, to swimming pool sessions on inflatable swans and a private gig by pop star Ed Sheeran, Southgate made England’s St George’s Park base an upbeat environment during the Euros.
“We know that a lot of players are still very inexperienced in terms of international football and have delivered at an incredibly high level. I’ve still got huge belief in them,” Southgate said after England’s defeat by Italy.
With England’s talent pool deeper than ever, Southgate’s team will resume their trophy mission at the World Cup perfectly positioned to complete Dyke’s vision.
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