Gareth Southgate will take a leaf out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book when it comes to helping the development of England teenagers Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
After reaching the World Cup semi-finals and this summer’s inaugural UEFA Nations League Finals, the Three Lions got 2019 off on the right foot by beating the Czech Republic 5-0 in Friday’s Euro 2020 qualifier.
Borussia Dortmund winger Sancho provided the opener and dazzled with some of his footwork at Wembley, where fellow Under-17 World-Cup winner Hudson-Odoi and newly-eligible Declan Rice came on for their debuts.
The latter dominated the pre-match agenda but afterwards talk revolved around the attackers as 18-year-olds Sancho and Hudson-Odoi slotted in impressively.
“Absolutely we’ve got competition for places and I think with attacking players anyway they mature very young, and they can go in very young,” Southgate said ahead of Monday’s Group A clash in Montenegro.
“So it’s not an issue to play them, and really we’ve found another player that we really liked (in Hudson-Odoi), but we weren’t certain that he’d be able to adapt to this level, and we’re a bit fortunate in finding him, in that we probably wouldn’t have done that in this camp.
“We’d have given him a bit longer in the Under-21s. But already he’s proved in (this) environment that he can more than cope.”
Southgate has shown time and again that he has no qualms about giving youngsters a chance, yet there is a balance to be struck in terms of getting the best out of them.
Formerly the Football Association’s head of elite development and England Under-21s boss, he pointed to the way ex-Manchester United manager Ferguson got the best out of the likes of Ryan Giggs.
“I think that comes into everything: how much we expose them to the public, how much we put them into commercial situations,” Southgate said of their responsibility to young players.
“We’ve got to be thinking about all of that all of the time because it’s very easy for them to enjoy these moments, and they’ve got to enjoy these moments, but equally, there’s a good balance.
“I always think of Sir Alex with Ryan and how he did that so well. They had sustained success because of that.
“So, although they’re not our player on a day-to-day basis, I think we’ve got a responsibility to do that as much as we can, because also we’re putting them onto another level and we’ve got to make sure we get the balance right for the club, but most importantly for the player.”
Ensuring players are used at the correct time and exposed to the right role models is important, with Friday’s goalscorers Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling certainly fulfilling that criteria.
“To have such a top striker who has such humility and such a low ego has a huge impression on the whole group, because at the moment he is the star player,” Southgate said of skipper Kane.
“You wouldn’t know it from the way he conducts himself, you wouldn’t know it from his application to training.
“All you would say is that you can see why he is and the way he is disciplined with his food and the way he is disciplined with his preparation and his focus.
“But, equally, that’s the same for Raheem, you see his focus to training, his preparation for those things, so for young players coming in it’s an easy equation: if I do the things those two do, there’s a good chance that I’ll get the performances that they are putting in.”
Those two will help the next generation, with youngsters in all walks of life having more belief in themselves thanks in part to bosses being less “draconian”.
Southgate finds young people rarely “baulk at anything” as a result, with their confidence and creativity complemented by an open-mindedness epitomised by Sancho’s move to Dortmund.
Hudson-Odoi was keen to join him in the Bundesliga when Bayern Munich came knocking in January and questions remain over his Chelsea future.
“If you look at the number of appearances, he has actually been on the field quite a lot,” Southgate, unaware of his contractual situation, said.
“And I know from when we were talking with the club earlier in the season how much faith Maurizio (Sarri) has in him.
“He’s got some outstanding players just in front of him. He’s slowly getting more and more game time, and they’ve still got the Europa League as well.
“So, I think he’s maturing well. There doesn’t need to be a rush for him. I think we’ve seen that with Marcus (Rashford) and his development.
“He’s getting first-team football and that’s important, so for us, I think his progress is good, and, given that Chelsea could have a restriction on signing people, then his opportunities, if he continues with the level, will come.”
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