FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: New-age England team eye title glory with future success in mind

Tactically aware. Creative. Socially responsible. Can adopt varied playing styles and formations. Athletic. Comfortable on the ball.

When the Football Association unveiled its ambitious ‘England DNA’ manifesto — a playing and coaching philosophy for all England national teams across age groups — back in December 2014, these were some of the attributes they hoped future and current players who donned the England jersey would possess. The modern England footballer, as envisaged by the 11-page document, was branded as a “thoughtful footballing RoboCop” by The Guardian.

England players celebrate a goal against Spain in the final of the UEFA U-17 Championship. Image courtesy: UEFA

England players celebrate a goal against Spain in the final of the UEFA U-17 Championship. Image courtesy: UEFA

The first result of that philosophy was already witnessed when England clinched the U-20 World Cup in June this year — their maiden title at this level. But since one swallow does not a summer make, England FA and the media have been cautious in branding the England DNA philosophy as a runaway success.

Come October, the U-17 team can provide irrefutable evidence that the philosophy is bearing fruit. After all, nothing epitomises England's woes at FIFA competitions quite like the U-17 World Cup. The Englishmen, considered heavyweights of the sport at any age group, have qualified for the competition just three times. Even more astoundingly, their debut at the event came only in 2007, 22 years after the event started. In keeping with tradition, on two of those occasions, they have been sent packing by Germany.

At the U-17 World Cup, their path will be tougher than usual. England have been drawn in an unenvious group cohabited by CONCACAF champions Mexico, Asian champions Iraq, and Chile, who finished second in the South American U-17 Championships.

But England have a well-drilled outfit which showed their caliber by finishing second in the UEFA U-17 Championship. They could well have been European champions had they not conceded a late goal against Spain in the final, which forced the final into a penalty shootout, where Spain triumphed.

“It's a World Cup so you're not going to get any easy games — be it coming up against a talented team, a physical team or an athletic team or be it the culture, the environment or the weather. Just the World Cup experience is one of those events that are so important because they throw up a variety of challenges and demands and it will be great to see how our players react,” England U-17 coach Steve Cooper told Firstpost in an interview ahead of the draw last Friday.

Just like all England teams since December 2014, the U-17 team revolves around one word: philosophy. And there is no escaping that at the heart of the philosophy is one motive: to win the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

“From an international career point of view, the U-17 World Cup is an invaluable experience whatever is the outcome of the tournament. There's only a maximum of three World Cups you can play in (at U-17, U-20 and senior national team level) and to do that then you have to be a very successful player. Coming to India and experiencing a FIFA event is something that doesn't come around very often.

“You also have to take into account that it's a life experience as well. These are still young players, still very much learning about themselves and who they really are. So to come to a different part of the world like India, hopefully, they can create some memories that will serve us well in the future, both on and off the pitch. At The Football Association, we're all tasked with creating an England team ready to win the World Cup in 2022 so this experience will be an important part of that development," England U-17 coach Steve Cooper told Firstpost in an interview ahead of the draw last Friday.

“All of our players have been in the England system for a few years now. They very much understand the way we work and what our long-term goals are. They have quite a lot of experience so far and have played in UEFA competitions as well as travelling outside of Europe, particularly in the U-16 year when they played against teams from South America. So they are an experienced group and fully up to speed with what we are trying to do with England teams," Cooper added.

“My footballing philosophy is the same as all of our national coaches and that is the England DNA. It's about ultimately a possession-based game but with a purpose, a purpose that will serve us right for any given tournament or game. We want a consistent playing style for years to come so one of the most important parts is that we look similar to every other England team because with that consistency that's how we'll reach the goals and objectives that we set ourselves.”

So what’s more important? The team winning in any way or following England’s footballing philosophy?

“They go hand-in-hand, it’s not my footballing philosophy as it's what all England teams are trying to do and I fully believe in that. (It’s) Easier said than done as sometimes it's difficult to play well and win, particularly when you come to a tournament like a World Cup. But that's always the aim and ambition for the teams. For me, one goes with the other and we're playing in a way that will help us perform and win games here and now, but also, and more importantly, long term,” said Cooper, who coached various age group teams at Liverpool before taking up the England role.

So, what can people expect from England at the U-17 World Cup?

“A team that are privileged and proud to be representing their country in a World Cup. Off the back of that, hopefully you will see good characters that will play an exciting brand of football that replicates how we want our teams to perform and behave,” Cooper said.

Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 15:31 PM

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