It would be fair to say that England’s FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 campaign started off with minimal hype created by the media back home.
Maybe it was experience, after years of seeing England teams swaggering into big-ticket tournaments as one of the favourites and seeing the same team’s campaign end with a whimper. Or maybe it was that U-17 teams do not figure too high on the priority of the British press — an understandable sentiment given that the U-17 team has never even made it to the semi-final of a World Cup before this edition. In fact, 2017 saw an England team playing at the U-17 World Cup for only the fourth time.
The Sun was one of the rare newspapers to do a profile of the England team before it left for India. The article noted that the U-17 World Cup had acted as a stepping stone for players like Neymar, Ronaldinho, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and that England’s current generation could also make their presence felt on the world stage in India.
The article went on to name Phil Foden, Angel Gomes and Jadon Sancho as the three England players to watch out for. Notably, the tournament’s top scorer, Rhian Brewster, did not feature in the list.
Most of the news agencies restricted coverage to only news reports during the group stage.
After the England team made it out of the group stages with a 100 percent record, Sancho was recalled to Germany by his team Borussia Dortmund. The Daily Mail used the opportunity to run a feature profiling the rest of the England squad. Interestingly, the piece called Sancho as “without question the most high-profile member of the England squad.”
The British press warmed up to the Young Lions’ performances as the tournament wore on, with the win over pre-tournament favourites Brazil in the semi-finals spurring British media outlets like The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian to put out a player-by-player guide — ideally published by websites before a tournament begins in case of senior England teams.
After the semi-final win, The Daily Mail speculated that England’s victory over Brazil may have been plotted using a Subbuteo table and a set of miniature players. The article also mentioned how the tiny figurines on the table had been painted in Brazil and England colours.
The BBC even ran a profile on Brewster by interviewing the striker’s father Ian and Dan Seymour, a former coach Shield football academy, where the young Brewster took his first steps on the football pitch.
The Guardian also ran a piece detailing the team's ethnic diversity.
When the team won the title, sports pages in England were dominated by how the English players had come back from 2-0 down to prevail 5-2 over Spain in the final, a team which had beaten them in the European Championships earlier this year.
Media outlets like the BBC used the occasion to examine if the result was proof that fortunes of England were on the up.
The BBC carried a feature on six things you did not know about the team where they mentioned how midfielder Gomes’ father too had won the title and goalkeeper Curtis Anderson had let in 23 goals on his debut.
The World Cup triumph led to former England striker Alan Shearer to pay tribute to the England team’s confidence and character in his column for The Sun. “World Champions sounds great, no matter what level you are at. Wish I could have been one myself,” Shearer wrote before adding: “But it was the sheer joy with which this group played their football that really stood out for me. Too often at senior level pulling on the England shirt seems to bring with it a great burden.”
Shearer ended the column by exhorting Premier League managers to be braver and give the youngsters more first team opportunities, a sentiment that found resonance in most English media.
During the tournament, the British tabloids filled reams of column inches focusing on rumours of which European club was chasing whose signature at the U-17 World Cup (English players, already playing at the youth academies of Premier League clubs, did not feature too heavily in this section while Brazilian footballers like Lincoln and Paulinho were clearly favourites).
With the U-17 World Cup title in the bag, the focus back in England has understandable shifted to what’s next for these youngsters.
In his column for The Daily Telegraph, former England footballer Jamie Carragher wrote: “But having watched the youngsters excel on the international stage over the last few months, there will be greater demand to ensure these players are given a chance at the highest level.”
Expectedly, a lot of print space was given to Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s quotes on fast-tracking players from the winning U-17 team into the Blues’ first team. The Sun and The Evening Standard were among media outlets who carried the Italian manager’s quotes on players proving that they deserve a place in the first XI.
The England team which played in the final featured four Chelsea players — Callum Hudson-Odoi, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo and George McEachran — while Conor Gallagher came on as a substitute. Notably, the top scorer at the tournament, Brewster, had left Chelsea for Liverpool two years back citing better playing opportunities.
Updated Date: Nov 01, 2017 17:34:55 IST