Gareth Southgate has a squad packed with young talent but England’s U21 European Championship success is a reminder that there is a pool of high-class players just waiting for their time to shine for the senior side.
The first England team to win this tournament in 39 years did so without conceding a goal thanks to James Trafford’s dramatic penalty save that secured a 1-0 win over Spain in the final in Georgia. It was 11 goals without reply for Lee Carsley’s side in total.
It has long been said that England underestimated the psychological value of winning age-group tournaments but having had success at U17, U19 and U20 level in recent years, this completes the set – and perhaps makes glory for the senior side seem more achievable.
Many of those key figures for Carsley in Georgia could have a role to play in an England shirt for many years to come. And some of them might well receive a call-up from Southgate even before next season’s European Championship in Germany…
What an extraordinary tournament this was for James Trafford. Having not conceded a single goal, that record was threatened in stoppage-time but his heroics maintained the clean sheet and secured the trophy for his team. No wonder they raced to him at the whistle.
Trafford has been linked with a £15m move from Manchester City to Burnley that would offer him the chance to play Premier League football. There is competition for the England No 1 spot but, at 20, he is ahead of the game. A place in the squad is possible soon.
Perhaps England’s outstanding player throughout the final, it would have been so harsh on Levi Colwill if the penalty that he conceded had led to Spain equalising and denying England victory. The defender cleared everything else, his passing and positioning exceptional.
The Chelsea defender must be close to the senior squad already after his strong performances on loan at Brighton. The left-footed centre-back has all the qualities to be a regular for a top Premier League team and win many, many international caps.
Colwill’s centre-back partner and captain Taylor Harwood-Bellis was impressive too and appears ready for the next phase of his development. He was a cool figure in England’s unbreachable defence in front of the watching Southgate.
A title winner with Burnley last season, the Manchester City centre-back has had three seasons on loan in the Championship but it is the Premier League next for him. With potential openings in England’s defence, he could be closer than most to a call.
It was Anthony Gordon who scored the goal that won the quarter-final against Portugal and his driving runs were a feature of England’s play in the final, winning free-kicks and stretching the Spain defence. He is not a natural centre-forward but he did the job.
The 22-year-old winger has already made a £40m move to Newcastle and will be hoping for a taste of Champions League action before the year is through. If he can seize that opportunity, this will certainly not be his final appearance in an England shirt.
The final would not bend to his will and even featured a red card after he had been substituted but Morgan Gibbs-White’s creativity was vital for Carsley’s England. His ability to make things happen, just the imagination to try much of it, is a rare gift.
The Nottingham Forest man scored the opening goal of the semi-final and adds this trophy to his World Cup win at U17 level. Now 23, there have already been calls for his inclusion in Southgate’s squad. Gibbs-White’s time could well come before 2023 is through.
Another to score in that 3-0 semi-final win over Israel was Cole Palmer and he thought he had scored the only goal of the final until it was assigned to Curtis Jones, the Liverpool midfielder having deflected his free-kick into the net. No matter. Palmer was excellent.
He has not had the first-team action that many of his team-mates have enjoyed – that is the challenge at Manchester City. But 25 appearances for Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking side last season shows how much he is valued there. Palmer is going to be one to watch.
And a word for Jacob Ramsey, the Aston Villa midfielder who was England’s standout performer in helping the team to reach the final. He missed out against Spain through injury but the man whose goal against the Czech Republic got England going cannot be forgotten.
Ramsey is 22 and has already made 91 appearances in the Premier League. There will be the opportunity to play European football for the first time in his career this coming season and his continued development under Unai Emery should make senior recognition inevitable.