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FIFA U-17 World Cup: Kolkata turned out to be a very lucky venue for England

John Gregory, former England international and coach of Indian Super League (ISL) side Chennaiyin FC, reflects on the success of the England U-17 national football team in Kolkata.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 30, 2017 09:31 IST
John Gregory
John Gregory
FIFA U-17 World Cup,England U-17 national football team,John Gregory
England's Marc Guehi celebrates after scoring the third goal for his team during the FIFA U-17 World Cup final match between England and Spain in Kolkata, India. England won the final 5-2. (AP)

We have done the double! Two weeks ago I had said in this column that I hope England U-17s would emulate the England U-20s. So last night was a very proud moment as we became only the second country to win the world U-17 and U-20 title after Brazil in 2013.

I was quite nervous following the final here from Hua Hin in Thailand --- our pre-season base camp. I couldn’t believe to see us 2-0 down. Honestly, at half-time, I didn’t think it would be an anti-climax.

I believed we would put up a fight, but was pleasantly surprised by the way we not only fought back but also went on to win in emphatic fashion.

Some friends who attended the final told me that it was an exciting game but even more importantly for Indian football, the setting was fitting. More than 66,000 watched the final at the stadium in Kolkata.

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In the English Premier League you only have two venues where you get more people watching!

That shows how popular football has become in India and the Indian players and staff with Chennaiyin FC tell me that football in Kolkata has always been big.

For England in particular, Kolkata turned out to be a very lucky venue. Five of their six victories in the tournament came in Kolkata.

Steve Cooper and the boys should be very proud of themselves. Many of the boys already had good contracts at club level and they have only enhanced their reputation after this tournament.

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The English FA and the Premier League deserve a lot of credit for restructuring the youth system by implementing the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) back in 2011.

It is a long-term strategy designed to advance youth development in order to produce homegrown talent good enough to play at the very highest level.

The double success of the U-20s and U-17s is showing clear signs that the concept behind EPPP is starting to produce results.

To be frank, success at youth World Cups is never really rated highly but at the same time it is still a type of success and if it is achieved across age groups it only means that the people working behind it have a clear roadmap.

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I probably can’t dare to dream of the completion of the treble in 2018 in Russia. But I certainly want to be optimistic about the future of the two groups of players.

Next step is always the most difficult one i.e. to see how much game time these boys get in their clubs.

There has always been a big debate about lack of appearances for English players in the Premier League. Maybe the clubs will show a lot more belief in these two groups of youngsters and help them make a smooth transition into senior professional football.

(A former England international, John Gregory is the head coach of ISL club Chennaiyin FC)

First Published: Oct 30, 2017 09:31 IST