Gareth Southgate has been making all the right moves as England manager, from leading the team to a surprising World Cup semifinal appearance, to qualifying for the inaugural Nations League final tournament (beating out Spain and Croatia to get there), to giving youth and skill and talent a chance. England used to be boring and dour and staid; now they are fast, fun, and exciting.
Southgate’s faith in the next generation isn’t surprising, given his prior involvement in The FA’s elite player development programmes as well as his three years in charge of the England U21 team, but it’s especially refreshing from a Chelsea perspective. We’ve been trying to bridge the gap from youth football to senior football for well over a decade in the Abramovich Era, largely unsuccessfully. Andreas Christensen recently became the first academy graduate since John Terry to make 50 starts for the club. With any luck, Ruben Loftus-Cheek will get there eventually, too (he has over 50 appearances, but most of those have been from the bench). In an ideal world, Callum Hudson-Odoi will get there, too.
On Friday night, for the last 20 minutes of a 5-0 romp over the Czech Republic, both Hudson-Odoi and fellow 18-year-old Jadon Sancho were running around out there on the pitch for Southgate — something not seen in over 138 years! — and while the circumstances certainly played a big part (injuries, scoreline, opposition, etc.), the excitement and the promise was palpable.
If only Sarri were more like Southgate, right?
That said, the England boss has actually backed Sarri’s handling of the situation at Chelsea. Southgate may have more faith in Hudson-Odoi than Sarri, but there isn’t just one right track in player development.
“If you look at the number of appearances, he has actually been on the field quite a lot. 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.”
Southgate, like Sarri, is also keenly aware of the various pressures that come with increased responsibilities, and not just in terms of the football itself — especially in these modern times. But the man who made over 400 Premier League appearances in his playing career is looking to none other than the greatest Premier League manager of all time for an example on how to best handle things. Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for, among many other things, being able to regularly bring through talented (and sometimes even not so talented) youngsters from the United youth setup.
“I think that comes into everything: how much we expose them to the public, how much we put them into commercial situations. 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 [Giggs] and how he did that so well. They had sustained success because of that. So, although they’re not our players 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.”
As far as Hudson-Odoi goes however, Southgate has full confidence that the youngster can handle whatever he or anyone else throws at him. England take on Montenegro on Monday.
“We’ve got competition for places and I think with attacking players anyway they mature very young, and they can go in very young. 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 U21s. But already he’s proved in this environment that he can more than cope.”
-Gareth Southgate; source: Sky
So say we all!