Young Lions played without any fear

International Friendly

Wembley Stadium







One thing for sure no-one watching England’s goal-less draw with Germany at Wembley needed to make a paper aeroplane to relieve the boredom.

FIFA have ticked off the FA for allowing it to happen at the last home game with Slovenia and, while it’s difficult to see what anyone could do to stop this sort of thing, short of hiring a squadron of air marshals, national team manager Gareth Southgate found a way.

He tore up the stodgy playing pattern which has dogged his first year in charge and sent out a pride of young lions determined to give the customers something to cheer. And they did.

In international terms, this was the least experienced side England had fielded since 1980 when they scraped a 2-1 win over Australia.

Russell Osman, later to become Bristol City’s manager, made his debut that night, so, too, did Terry Butcher, while Frank Lampard’s father, also Frank, was gaining his second cap and Glenn Hoddle, his third.

If Friday night’s youngsters turn out as well as that crop, England’s future will look far less gloomy than it has since they surrendered to Iceland in the 2016 Euros.

Here were young players performing without fear that one mistake would turn the crowd – and this, by the way, was a sell-out of more than 85,000 – against them.

Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek, on his debut, was the ‘Man of the Match’ but you have to ask what is he doing on loan at Crystal Palace when he should be in the first-team squad at Stamford Bridge.

While he is getting Premier League time at Palace, it ought to be with his his parent club.

So should Tammy Abraham, just 20 and yet another of the legion of promise sent out on loan by Chelsea to a Premier side; in this case, Swansea City.

Last season he was Bristol City’s top scorer with 23 goals in the Championship and so far he has hit four in ten for the Welsh club in the top League.


He didn’t catch the eye in the way that Loftus-Cheek did, but he still put in a spirited hour.

The big question Premier managers keep dodging is, with England so prominent at the younger age levels – world champions at 17 and 21 – why aren’t more of them appearing regularly every weekend?

The answer is that every club now is so driven by results that coaches shy away from taking a risk.

But the talent is out there and on a night this experimental side competed so well against Germany, our under-21s were also beating Ukraine, 2-0, in the European qualifiers in Kiev.

They have lost only three of their last 27 matches and, despite giving up several top players to the senior side, they went on to lead their group with 13 points and a positive goal ratio of ten to two. Holland are currently second with eight points.

Injuries forced Southgate into his big re-shuffle. Six of his original pick dropped out and Phil Jones joined them 25 minutes into Friday night’s game after a brave, face-on stop to a heavy shot. He had the pluck to start with a heavy support around his left thigh, but why did so many drop out?

Southgate has been working hard to keep clubs on side and accepting their assurances that players are not being withdrawn for the sort of knocks they would normally play through in the League.

You can’t blame clubs for wanting to protect their players but whatever happened to the old rule that anyone pulling out of an international would also have to miss his next club fixture?

The club v. country argument has been there for years. It has become more acute now with so many top clubs foreign-owned and coached by foreigners. Their natural loyalty is to their domestic needs rather than to England.

Harry Kane, who has been in tremendous form, was one of the six who dropped out. While not suggesting for a moment that he was anything other than match un-fit, his club, Tottenham Hotspur, presented a somewhat worrying case.

Kane, they said, would not be available either to line up against Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday night, but they were very hopeful that he would be fit for the Premier League at the weekend.

He was certainly missed on Friday. If he had been there, the goal-less draw could have become a narrow victory, for there were at least two chances he is expert at tucking away.

A young German side, six of them under 24, had the edge but they were open to the counter-attack.

On a good night for England, we were left to regret, though, the lack of a creative midfield to put pressure on them. But, as coaches love to say, look at the positives and there were some hopeful ones here – and it’s a long time since I last wrote that.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.