England’s U20 head coach Ian Foster says he “understands” why some of Europe’s top clubs won’t allow their players to leave early to play in the youth World Cup but believes it’s a crying shame some of the brightest young stars will miss out on this “once-in-a-lifetime tournament”.
Chelsea’s Carney Chukwuemeka is the latest player to be unavailable for England – Frank Lampard has decided the 19-year-old won’t be released to fly to Argentina until after the Premier League season has ended – when England will have completed the group stages of the World Cup.
“It’s probably been the hardest squad I’ve had to name in all the time I’ve been here,” Foster has told Sky Sports News. “It’s a complex process seeing as the World Cup is outside the FIFA window, which doesn’t make life easy for selection. Conversations with clubs and with players (have been going on) for weeks now.
“The managers I’ve spoken to understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime tournament for these boys. The fact that it’s now in Argentina not Indonesia only adds to it, seeing as they are senior world champions. It’s just a fabulous football environment for our players to go and play in.”
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The England U20 squad flies out to Argentina on Tuesday night, without four of the 21 players Foster has selected. The EFL play-offs have added to his problems.
“We’ve had to compromise, and some tough decisions have had to be made,” Foster admitted. “The boys in the play offs – first and foremost, we are delighted the boys are there. They’ve earned the right after a long season, 46 games, they’re young lads.
“We’ve taken the decision to name them. One thing that has helped us is that Coventry and Middlesbrough play each other, so they can’t all three make the final.
“We will either get Aaron (Ramsey, Middlesbrough on loan from Aston Villa) or we will get Brooke (Norton-Cuffy at Coventry, on loan from Arsenal) and Callum (Doyle at Coventry, on loan from Manchester City) after the semi-finals.”
Another thing in England’s favour is the fact that 16 of the 24 teams go through to knockout stages. There would be huge disappointment if England were to fall at the group stages.
England won the U20 World Cup for the first time in 2017, with a squad that included Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dean Henderson, Fikayo Tomori, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dominic Solanke.
It’s a busy summer for England’s youth teams, with the U17 men’s and women’s teams involved in their first European Championships, and the men’s U21s also competing in the Euros.
“The U17s is the first tournament football you come across in the pathway and having worked with that age group in the past, it’s a really special age group,” Foster said. “I know the coaches, staff and players will really be looking forward to the challenge.
“Then you’ve got us, and the men’s U21s which is a wonderful tournament in Georgia and Romania. I know that Lee (Carsley) and the staff are really looking forward to it, after a longer and more gruelling qualifying campaign than we’ve had before, over two seasons.”
Foster was England’s U19 head coach when they won the Euros last summer, and he was also one of the coaches for that 2017 U20 success.
This time round, he’s confident, but wary.
“This is going to be a very challenging tournament for us. There are a lot of firsts for us as staff, as well as the players. But we expect that if we play our way, stick together and remain true to our values we can be competitive in this tournament.”
England U20 World Cup squad 2023
Goalkeepers: James Beadle (Brighton), Matthew Cox (Brentford), Teddy Sharman-Lowe (Chelsea)
Defenders: Callum Doyle (Coventry, on loan from Manchester City), Ronnie Edwards (Peterborough), Bashir Humphreys (Paderborn, on loan from Chelsea), Brooke Norton-Cuffy (Coventry, on loan from Arsenal), Daniel Oyegoke (Brentford), Jarell Quansah (Liverpool), Imari Samuels (Brighton)
Midfielders: Carney Chukwuemeka (Chelsea), Alfie Devine (Tottenham), Sam Edozie (Southampton), Darko Gyabi (Leeds), Aaron Ramsay (Middlesbrough, on loan from Aston Villa), Alex Scott (Bristol City), Harvey Vale (Chelsea)
Forwards: Liam Delap (Manchester City), Daniel Jebbison (Sheffield United), Mateo Joseph (Leeds), Dane Scarlett (Tottenham)