GARETH SOUTHGATE shows none of the fear of giving young players a chance to impress at the highest level.
Fear? He revels in testing his judgment and, perhaps accidentally, that of club managers who don’t altogether trust theirs.
Getty – Contributor4 Gareth Southgate is putting his faith in young talent like Jadon Sancho
The England coach is moving ahead of the times in picking boys to do men’s jobs and no doubt there will be occasions when it doesn’t work all that well.
But when it does, as on Monday in Seville, what a thrilling evening for the millions who are being converted by the courage of his convictions.
And while the first half’s three-goal assault on the Spanish — previously unbeaten at home in 15 years — was a joy, the discipline with which the whole team mostly withstood a potentially crushing rebound struck a pure note, too.
Southgate was ice cool as a centre-back and must have learned about helping novices when he played alongside Gareth Barry, only 17 at the time, in a Villa back three completed by the peerless Irishman Paul McGrath.
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Reuters4 Nathaniel Chalobah got game time as England won in Spain
Getty – Contributor4 Phil Foden is struggling for game time at Manchester City
England has no tradition of masses of Under-25s in the international team, let alone an average age of 23 against Spain.
Southgate even managed to bring that down slightly in Seville by bringing on Nathaniel Chalobah and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the latter just 20.
They are only the most recent to join this kids’ revolution, inspired by Southgate when he ran the international youth sections.
So because Jadon Sancho was familiar with England’s patterns of play, the coach could also be confident in the 18-year-old’s bewitching speed when he sent him on for a debut in Croatia.
Sancho had the self-confidence to leave Manchester City for the Bundesliga alone and unsupported. A number of impatient teenagers are bound to follow.
Because there are no club youth competitions that can replicate the crowds, the pressure, the physical tests and the skills of the Premier League, it is becoming increasingly difficult to blood all but the most exceptional players — and the conundrum is that the better the team the harder it gets.
It’s why Phil Foden at Man City and Ruben Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea have had so little match time and why players are loaned out in their dozens.
Reuters4 After Declan Rice's rise, there are more young players pushing through at West Ham
So clubs, desperate to engage the best of talent both here and across the world, have academies that cost millions and staffs responsible for education, health and welfare besides coaching. At West Ham, we spend about £4million a season on what is known as the Academy of Football because of the numbers of stars it has produced.
Today, such is the competition, the numbers are not as high.
We have one home-nurtured player who has broken through, Declan Rice, but there are a number in the pipeline.
No Premier League club that I know of has a profit motive behind running an academy.
Yes, a few do make money but the costs are huge. Chelsea pay hefty subsidies to most clubs who borrow from their 40-strong bank of players available for loan.
It just seems a shame that the England manager has to establish a lad’s name before his club do.