Teenage dreams: Are England’s Young Lions playing enough?

Date published: Thursday 6th September 2018 6:27

Mason Mount has played the most minutes of any English teenager in Europe’s top five leagues and the Championship.

Across England’s top two divisions and the top flights in Spain, Germany, Italy and France, only 20 English teenagers have played any league minutes whatsoever.

Five players have done so in the Premier League, while 12 have featured in the Championship. Jadon Sancho is ploughing a lonely Bundesliga furrow.

So it’s about time we ranked them, isn’t it? And then maybe ask ourselves why some couldn’t have been added to Gareth Southgate’s “fresh cycle”.

Again, these are based on league minutes in 2018/19 only:


Phil Foden (Manchester City) – 8 minutes
The canary down England’s mine
is already coughing and spluttering. Phil Foden is often held as the country’s brightest young light, but his 411 career first-team minutes would only put him fifth on this list overall.

Is he on the England radar? Firmly, but not only was the expected promotion to the senior side not forthcoming earlier this month, he is yet to even make the step up to U21 level. But he did only turn 18 in May, has scored in the finals of the U17 World Cup and U17 European Championships, and has pretty much all of the time on his side.


Robbie McKenzie (Hull) – 10 minutes
Attempted two passes as a late substitute in Hull’s win over Rotherham. Misplaced both.

Is he on the England radar? With stats like that, you’d hope so.


Ben Morris (Ipswich) – 11 minutes
Played just 11 minutes in a 2-2 draw with Blackburn before being loaned out to Forest Green in League Two, so perhaps Paul Hurst wasn’t impressed.

Is he on the England radar? Made his first U19 appearance in July, having twice for the U18s and ten times for the U17s.


Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund) – 24 minutes
If there are high hoped for Foden, there is an equally large burden resting atop Jadon Sancho’s shoulders. The 18-year-old is under pressure to prove that moving abroad is a viable alternative route to England recognition, with many others seeking solace in the Bundesliga. Having not even made a first-team bench in two years at Manchester City, the forward is being positively spoiled at Borussia Dortmund. Twelve appearances, four assists and one goal in the league in his first season has become two appearances and one assist before the international break. The door is at least ajar, as opposed to completely shut and blockaded.

Is he on the England radar? He is very firmly embedded in Paul Simpson’s Under-19 squad.


Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves) – 26 minutes
Their success is bankrolled by Chinese money and achieved through a Portuguese influx, but Morgan Gibbs-White is flying the solitary flag for Wolves’ English youth. Being an attacking midfielder with the ability to play as a left-winger makes life damn difficult in a squad littered with quality, proven competition, so 26 minutes in four games is arguably an over-achievement.

Is he on the England radar? Absolutely. The 18-year-old scored twice in England’s march to U17 World Cup glory last year, including once in the 5-2 final win over Spain. He will now be eager to make his first appearance for England U19 after his maiden call-up.


Ben Brereton (Blackburn) – 34 minutes
Nottingham Forest’s decision to spend well over £20m this summer did not come without consequences, the most obvious of which was to persuade one of their most promising young players that his future may not lie at the City Ground. Blackburn will surely make his loan move permanent for £7m in January, and 34 minutes on his debut suggests he will at least have more opportunities.

Is he on the England radar? With four goals in 13 U19 appearances, you’d hope so.


Declan Rice (West Ham) – 46 minutes
That he has not played since being substituted at half-time in the 4-0 opening defeat to Liverpool does reflect badly. But West Ham were only 1-0 down when he was taken off, and have looked abhorrent in central midfield ever since. Rice was made to watch from the bench against Arsenal and Wolves; surely he deserves another chance?

Is he on the England radar? Despite his status as an Ireland international, he’s certainly being discussed.


Marcus Tavernier (Middlesbrough) – 47 minutes
A combined nine starts across the Championship with Middlesbrough and League One with MK Dons last campaign is yet to be challenged so far this season. Tavernier’s 47 minutes have been stretched out over three appearances, with Tony Pulis not even finding room for the 19-year-old in his last two matchday squads.

Is he on the England radar? A similar story. Nine caps for the U19s, the eighth of which came in July and included his first goal, but no call-up this time around.


Dwight McNeil (Burnley) – 80 minutes
“It’s been a dream come true, it’s happened so fast,” said Dwight McNeil earlier this week, and he’s really not wrong. After making his debut as a last-minute substitute on the final day last season, the 18-year-old has been thrust into the first-team fold. He made his first start for the club against Olympiakos in the Europa League, then quickly followed that up with a decent showing against Manchester United.

Is he on the England radar? He might not have been before, what with his complete lack of England youth-team caps. But he will be now.


Max Aarons (Norwich) – 90 minutes
In June came his first professional contract. In August came two Carabao Cup starts, victories over Stevenage and Cardiff. In September came his professional debut, a solid display in an Old Farm draw with Ipswich. Not bad.

Is he on the England radar? He has just appeared in the background. A call-up to the England U19 squad marks his rapid rise.


Jamie Shackleton (Leeds) – 107 minutes
“Hopefully I can make that next step,” said 18-year-old Jamie Shackleton in July, fresh from a promising run of pre-season form. He clearly made an impression too, with Marcelo Bielsa handing him a debut as a substitute in central midfield in the win over Derby, then starting him as a right-back in the draw with Swansea. such versatility should prove useful.

Is he on the England radar? If so, they’re hiding it well. Shackleton has no England youth caps, and has not been publicly mentioned by Messrs Southgate, Boothroyd, Simpson, Dewsnip or Cooper.


Flynn Downes (Ipswich) – 107 minutes
After three starts in ten appearances for Ipswich from August to November, Flynn Downes furthered his footballing education by dropping down to Luton Town, starting seven of ten games in League Two, and losing just one. To his credit, he has returned to Portman Road a useful squad member.

Is he on the England radar? The midfielder has five Under-19 caps, the latest of which came in March. But he was not called up to any of the most recent squads.


Tom Edwards (Stoke) – 180 minutes
In six appearances for Stoke last season, Tom Edwards started at right-back in defeats by scorelines of 7-2, 5-1 and 5-0, losing also to Newcastle, drawing with Huddersfield and beating West Brom. This season brings two more starts: in a draw with Preston, and a defeat to Wigan. Poor bloke.

Is he on the England radar? Just about. He was called up to the England U19 squad in June 2017 and May 2018, but is yet to receive a cap at any level.


Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham) – 197 minutes
The boy doesn’t turn 19 until next May, and yet it still feels weird he isn’t starting every single game for Fulham. Not that Slavisa Jokanovic can be blamed: Sessegnon played the full 180 minutes of defeats to Crystal Palace and Tottenham, and just 17 minutes of the win over Burnley and draw with Brighton.

Is he on the England radar? Obviously. He’s in the U21 squad, and might be for a while.


Lukas Nmecha (Preston) – 304 minutes
Quite why Lukas Nmecha elected to play some actual football instead of spending a season cleaning Sergio Aguero’s boots and doing Gabriel Jesus’ laundry for him is beyond mere mortals like you or I. What kind of silly sod chooses to join a club where he can start four of the first five league matches?

Is he on the England radar? You’d hope so. If his 30 caps at youth level don’t serve as a reminder, winning goals in the semi-final and final of the 2017 U19 European Championship ought to do it. Although an U19 call-up in June has not been followed up with one in September.


Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) – 358 minutes
He really is the gold standard. Alexander-Arnold is the youngest Englishman to ever appear in a Champions League final, semi-final or quarter-final, has almost twice as many minutes as the next best English teenager in Europe’s top five leagues this season, and is a regular starter for a Premier League title candidate.

Is he on the England radar? Yes.


Lloyd Kelly (Bristol City) – 450 minutes
The Bristol City youth product made a handful of appearances across the defence last season, but this might be his breakthrough season. The Robins have not lost a game this season when the 19-year-old has started at left-back, drawing with Bolton and beating QPR, Swansea and Blackburn. Their only missteps came with him on the bench in the draw against Nottingham Forest, and in central defence for the defeat to Middlesbrough.

Is he on the England radar? Six caps for England U20s suggests as such. But can he take the step up as seamlessly as he has at club level?


Trevoh Chalobah (Ipswich) – 495 minutes
Ipswich might not have won a single match so far this season, but Trevoh Chalobah has certainly appeared in each of them. Read into that what you will, but the 19-year-old is finally getting minutes on loan two years after signing his first professional contract with Chelsea.

Is he on the England radar? Gareth Southgate considers Christmas in the Chalobah household as an England camp.


Reece James (Wigan) – 508 minutes
One of Chelsea’s fleet of loanees, Reece James signed a four-year contract at Stamford Bridge before finding a suitable temporary home in the Championship. Wigan offer regular football, sufficient competition, and probably phone chargers so he can keep up to date with Patrick Bamford and Ike Ugbo on WhatsApp.

Is he on the England radar? Yes, but he is fading somewhat. 2017 brought three U18, six U19 and one U20 cap; two U19 caps are all he has to offer so far in 2018.


Mason Mount (Derby) – 525 minutes
Southgate loves him, Frank Lampard plays him, and he even trained with the seniors before the World Cup. Mount scored eight goals and assisted nine for Vitesse in the Eredivisie last season. He is only improving in a brighter spotlight at Derby.

Is he on the England radar? “I can’t rule out players in the Championship now as our pool is getting smaller and smaller,” said Southgate last week. The Golden Player of the 2017 U19 European Championships is already swimming in the deep end.

Matt Stead


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