It’s been quite a year for England’s youth international squads, including two World Cup titles (U20, U17), two Euro finals (U19s winning, U17s losing), and yet another title at the annual Toulon Tournament. That latest of these successes was the U17 World Cup over the weekend, where England came from two (2!) goals down in the final against a similarly highly talented Spain squad to win 5-2. It was England’s first title at this level, just as the U20 World Cup earlier this summer was the first at that level. Given the involvement of several Chelsea Academy players in all of these teams, Conte was asked to comment as well.
“Congratulations to the team, to win the World Cup with the Under-17s means they are working very well.
“I think football in England is growing in an incredible way because it is not the only result for the young players. The Under-19s won, the Under-20s won and the Under-21s also played a really good European Championship. It means football in England is growing and improving a lot.
“I am sure in the future the England national team, the first team, will be difficult to beat. I want to say this because I was a coach of the Italian national team and when you have this movement behind, you can have a great possibility to have a strong team for the next World Cup and for the competitions for the national team.”
The talent present among the English youth these days is undeniable, as the new generations reap the rewards of improved coaching over the years and the creation of excellent new academies like Chelsea’s or Manchester City’s (joining all the old talent factories and big club academies). Chelsea players have been front and center for most of these successes as well and that was no different for the U17s, with Marc Guehi, George McEachran, Jon Panzo, and Callum Hudson-Odoi all starting Saturday’s final (Conor Gallagher made an appearance off the bench as well), and Hudson-Odoi delivering no less than three assists in a scintillating second-half performance. The 16-year-old, one of the youngest players at the tournament has already caught the eye of Conte at Chelsea training, too.
“And I am very happy for our five [England Under-17 players]. Sometimes Hudson-Odoi came to train with us [the Chelsea first team squad], and I am very happy for our Academy because it means our Academy is working very well.”
Of course, asking Conte to comment on such matters is a bit disingenuous, since his answers are always likely going to be along the lines of being willing to give players chances ... as long as they earned them, or some such ... but here he is anyway, talking up Ethan Ampadu (and others like him) as the futures of Chelsea. Unless of course they don’t turn out exactly as expected because who can really tell with absolute certainty at 17, especially given the winding road of coaching changes, loan spells, the pressures of modern top level football, and all the other pitfalls of youth development...
“My first appearance in Serie A was when I was only 16 years old. I think I am the best person to give this type of possibility if I see that a young player deserves it. And my experience at Juventus with Paul Pogba, he was only 18 years old and then after one month he played from the start. I want to give this possibility but you have to deserve it. Amapdu for example is a player who is only 17 years old but he deserves to stay with us and develop and be the future of Chelsea.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Wherever Conte may be in 4-5 years, perhaps we will check back in on the progress of the likes of Ampadu, Hudson-Odoi, and all the other youngsters.