FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Despite a plethora of stars, it’s all about the team for England, says coach Cooper
In this calendar year of 2017, England's youth teams are riding a cresting wave of success. With two trophies, runs to a final and a semi-final, England's age-group teams have been on a roll of late, and the run is set to continue next month when the Young Lions kick into action at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Having finished as the runner-up at the UEFA U-17 European Championship earlier this year to qualify for the World Cup in India, England will be doubly motivated to cross the line in a country where it enjoys a considerable following, owing much to the popularity of the English football leagues and their big football clubs.
That said, motivation to perform is one thing and showing up on a given day is another. England's senior team has often been seen to flounder at the biggest events, but the recent success spree of England's youth teams suggests that a plan is in place and is slowly but surely beginning to bear fruit.
Sportskeeda interviewed England U-17s' head coach Steve Cooper, who talks about his star-studded team, preparations and long-term plans ahead of next month's FIFA U-17 WorldCup. Here are the excerpts from the interview, starting with a big Indian connection.
Q. India's English head coach Stephen Constantine talked up the possibility providing inputs to your team ahead of the World Cup. How vital has Constantine been in your preparations?
A. He’s definitely going to help us, that’s for sure. There has been good communication with him over the last few months. He helped us in terms of contacts and preparation. From a football point of view, it’s also a great experience to talk with him since he is an experienced football man. The World Cup in India will be a life experience for the English kids so Stephen has been a good source of information and a resource for us and helping us for the World Cup.
Q. The likes of Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho are already making the step up to senior teams at club level. Is having such players in the team amount to an advantage for England at the World Cup?
A. Yes, the higher level they are playing, the better. The players are at a youth development stage and any step up to the senior level will only help on the international stage. It’s the all-round development that we are focusing on with the Academy program and the wider England setup. Those that have already had a taste of senior-level action have a good chance to establish and cement themselves at the senior level in the future.
Q. How confident are you about England's success at the U-17 World Cup? What is the minimum target you've set for your players at India 2017?
A. I believe in this group of players. It’s the same with all England teams, irrespective of age group. There is a holistic program put in place and we are very optimistic. Our plan is to be successful at any tournament and to also keep in mind the long term. What we do now will be what it looks like at the senior level. We are sticking to the plan and the bigger picture of how the senior team plays.
Q. Some of your players are already playing at big clubs so will the lack of motivation to impress the watching scouts be an issue for you? How have you prepared for any complacency that might creep in?
A. There is no complacency. It’s a privilege and honour to play for your country. All my players are proud to play for England. There is no lack of motivation and no complacency. The privilege to represent England at a World Cup is driving them on.
Q. England is up against Chile, Iraq and Mexico - arguably the strongest group. What brand of football can we expect from the England team at the U-17 World Cup against three very differently-styled teams in the group stage?
A. It’s a challenge to play in such a tough group but we will embrace it, not fear it. Our brand of football doesn’t change for different opponents. There is a long-term plan for the entire team, and our intention and style of play is something that any England team aims to play at any level. We won’t change just because it’s a tough group.
Q. Also, how confident are you of progressing past that strong group?
A. We want to be as successful as possible. But we first need to get ready for the first game, and at this moment, we won’t be looking past that.
Q. A lot has been written and talked about England's players and how they have been creating all the right noises. Quite a lot of your players will go on to play at the highest level for sure, but who do you think has the highest potential ceiling? I know singling out players at this stage is not the correct approach but who do you think is the standout player of the current bunch of England U-17 players?
A. Yes, there are good players throughout the squad. But, it’s about the team only for us. We have built a team culture and identity, and everyone has a big part to play on and off the pitch. This is the best way to approach the World Cup and also for our long-term ambitions.
Q. Finally, what is your opinion on India as the host nation?
A. We can’t wait to get out there. I’ve been fortunate to be out there to taste a sample of the culture, enthusiasm and goodwill of the Indian people to host a good World Cup and welcome England and other teams to the country. My first impression of India was of pride and privilege, and we’ll be embracing the culture of the country and Kolkata - ?where we’ll be based. We also hope to give a little bit back to the people of Kolkata. They are big fans of the Premier League but now it’s not about them looking outside since the World Cup is in India. We’ll try to embrace ourselves to Indian culture and give something back to the local population.
Q. This is the first time a global footballing event will be staged in India, does it signal India's entry into the elite level of football or is there still a long way to go?
A. India winning the bid to host the World Cup is a great achievement in itself. Big congratulations to all who were involved and worked hard, to the people of the country. As I said, from my first impression, I could only see excitement and goodwill from the people to host the World Cup.