Whatever Happened to England’s Under 20 World Champions?

in Features

What were you doing on 11th June 2017? In years to come that may well be seen as the day that finally saw England’s footballing fortunes turn. Almost a year on from their shambolic exit from Euro 2016 and a bemused Roy Hodgson telling the assembled press he wasn’t sure why he was there, England’s St Georges Park project bore fruit as Lewis Cook lifted the Under 20 World Cup.

England’s youth squads went on to win three more trophies that year, including the Under 17 World Cup. Since then the debate has raged over the best way forward for England’s precocious talent and England’s senior side has enjoyed an upturn in fortunes under Gareth Southgate. But what of those trailblazers who triumphed in Suwon to become England’s first World Champions since 1966?

 Goalkeeper- Freddie Woodman

The tournament Golden Glove, Woodman, has endured a struggle to first team football at club level. Surprisingly, Woodman didn’t go on loan after the World Cup, instead he stayed in the Newcastle reserves before a brief spell with Aberdeen in January 2018. Woodman again failed to gain a loan move last season and seemed set for a frustrating career in the Newcastle’s reserves.

Things however took a turn for the better this summer with a loan move to Swansea under former England youth coach Steve Cooper. Woodman has earned rave reviews in South Wales as Swansea have forged an unexpected promotion push, and it seems the Premier League door is finally ajar for the 22-year-old stopper.

Right-back- Jonjoe Kenny

Kenny returned to Everton and made is way into the first team squad, his opportunities increased by the horrific injury suffered by Seamus Coleman. Kenny stayed in the Everton squad as the Toffees repeatedly hit the random manager generator making 29 Premier League appearances over 2 seasons.

However with Coleman blocking his path, Kenny sought a new challenge this summer and signed a season long loan deal with Schalke 04. Playing in Germany under the tutelage of David Wagner has been to Kenny’s liking, and he earned himself the Bundelisga ‘Rookie of the Month’ award for August. The defender has been an ever-present for Schalke and added his first league goal against Hertha Berlin. Now the question is does he stay with Schalke or return to Merseyside?

Left-back- Kyle Walker-Peters

Tottenham’s other Kyle Walker made a quick start to his post World Cup career by making his league debut on the opening weekend of the 2017-18 season and winning man of the match for his performance against Newcastle. However it would prove the first of just 3 Premier League appearances that season. He remained on the fringes last term but did provide a hat trick of assists in a 5-0 walloping of Bournemouth.

Despite having only 10 Premier League games under his belt, this looks like a key phase of Walker-Peters’ Tottenham career with Kieran Trippier being sold and both Serge Aurier and Danny Rose in poor form, opportunity looks about to knock.

Centreback- Fikayo Tomori

An impressive performer in Korea, the young defender returned to England for Chelsea to send him immediately on loan in the Championship with Hull, having spent the previous year on the fringes at Brighton. The following season saw a sharp upturn in Tomori’s fortunes with a loan to Derby under the management of Frank Lampard and Jody Morris. Tomori impressed at the heart of Derby’s defence as they made the playoffs but fell short of promotion. Tomori returned to Stamford Bridge with Lampard and Morris and has since established himself as a regular for Chelsea, earning his first senior England call last month.

Centreback- Jake Clarke-Salter

Another Chelsea graduate, Clarke-Salter conceded the controversial penalty that Woodman saved as the World Cup final hung in the balance. On returning to England, Clarke-Salter stayed in Chelsea’s reserves making just one EFL Cup appearance. Then in January he was sent out to help save Sunderland’s sinking Championship ship.

He made his debut in a 4-0 defeat at Cardiff, then got sent off against Middlesbrough and saw red again when he returned from suspension against Preston. With a relegation under his belt Clarke-Salter spent last season with Chelsea’s feeder club Vitesse Arnhem.

With the arrival of Lampard, Morris and a transfer ban at Chelsea, this always looked a sink or swim summer for Chelsea’s senior academy graduates, Clarke-Salter was loaned to Championship mid-table dwellers Birmingham. It now looks a case of when not if Clarke-Salter leaves Cheslea’s loan farm for a permanent deal in the EFL.

Midfield- Lewis Cook

The first English footballer to lift a World Cup since Bobby Moore, Captain Cook headed back to Bournemouth, having already made a big money transfer in 2016 from Leeds. Cook began to establish himself at the base of Bournemouth’s midfield, making 29 appearances in 2017-18 and made his England debut against Italy at Wembley that March. Cook was placed on standby by Southgate ahead of the 2018 World Cup, but no metatarsals broke and Cook had to settle for a summer leading England’s Under 20’s to victory at the Toulon Tournament.

Last season started well and a second cap seemed within Cook’s grasp until an ACL tear finished his season before Christmas. Having fought back from serious injury, Cook is trying to re-establish himself in Bournemouth’s first team. A lengthy career as a deep lying playmaker remains there for the taking for both club and country.

Midfield- Kieran Dowell

Dowell made a fast start in the World Cup, notching 2 assists against Argentina and a goal against hosts South Korea. The midfield playmaker was one of four Everton players to start the final, but hasn’t played a Premier League game for them since. He spent 2017-18 on loan with Nottingham Forest, then in January 2019 was loaned to Sheffield United where he played his part in the Blades promotion season. However he wasn’t invited back to Bramall Lane, instead Dowell has returned to the Championship with Derby where he’s struggled for a regular start.

Whilst Dowell has an impressive record at junior level with England his club career looks like following the Josh McEachran/ Herni Lansbury path of playing upper mid-table Championship football.

Midfeld- Joshua Onomah

Onamah looked to be on the brink of breaking through at Tottenham prior to the World Cup after making 31 all competition appearances over the two previous seasons. He spent the next season on a productive loan spell with Aston Villa, then a less impressive one with Sheffield Wednesday.

Onomah signed a permanent deal with Fulham as a sweetener in the Ryan Sessegnon transfer to Spurs. Onamah has faded badly and now needs to re-energise his career in West London.

Attack- Ademola Lookman

Having already made a £7.5million move from Charlton, Lookman went to the World Cup on the fringe of the Everton senior squad. However the summer saw Everton’s scattergun recruitment interrupt his progress and by January Sam Allardyce had sent him on loan to RB Leipzig. Like Jadon Sancho, Lookman proved a Bundesliga hit and in 11 games notched 7 starts, 5 goals and 4 assists.

Unsurprisingly Leipzig wanted to make the deal permanent, but Lookman stayed at Goodison Park. However the arrival of Richarlison saw him left on the bench. Although he did make 21 Premier League appearances last season (mostly as sub) he missed out on selection for the Euro Under 21s this summer and Leipzig revived their interest in him. This time a permanent switch and 5 year deal were agreed, but thus far Lookman has been waiting on the bench for his second chance with the German title chasers.

Attack- Dominic Solanke

The player of the tournament has been an enigma since returning home. Having already signed for Liverpool from Chelsea, Solanke arrived at Anfield the same summer Jurgen Klopp put together his new striking trinity of Salah-Firminio-Mane.

Unsurprisingly Solanke found himself on the bench but did make his senior England debut that November. All told Solanke made 21 Premier League appearances and finally bagged his first senior goal on the final day of the domestic season.

But in his second season the return of Divock Origi, revival of Daniel Sturridge and arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri saw Solanke pushed down the pecking order and he failed to make another appearance for Liverpool.

January saw Solanke move to Bournemouth for £19million. After a slow start Solanke has forced his way into the Bournemouth first team this season, however his finishing has again proved a major issue, so far missing 3 big chances and failing to score a single goal. Clearly a talented player, Solanke hasn’t managed to put it all together yet but if and when he does the door to the national team remains open.

Attack- Dominic Calvert-Lewin

The goalscoring hero in the final, Calvert-Lewin has made by far the most senior appearances from this young squad. Having started at Sheffield United, Calvert-Lewin moved to Everton in 2016 and despite early injury setbacks scored his first Premier League goal in March 2017. After the World Cup Calvert-Lewin continued his Everton progress and scored 16 goals over the next two seasons.

Having seen off Big Sam’s big signing Cenk Tosun, Calvert-Lewin is currently holding off Moise Kean for the Everton number nine role. So far he’s scored 5 goals this season and remains in serious contention to win his first cap this month.

And the bench: Callum Connolly, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Adam Armstrong, Erzi Konsa, Dean Henderson, Dael Fry, Harrison Chapman, Sheyi Ojo, Ovie Ejaria, Luke Southwood