Coming at around the same time that Greg Dyke was announcing his plans for English football which included the proposed introduction of B teams, one would have expected the Under 17s participation in the European Championship of the age category to receive greater publicity. Instead it went by largely un-noticed until they reached the final (which they won) at which point everyone suddenly got excited.
That England eventually won (and on penalties!) did little to diminish enthusiasm and rightly so because the team was made up of a number of genuinely talented individuals. Whether it was the best team or not is debatable – the technique of the Portuguese, where every player on the pitch looked an exquisite passer of the ball, was extremely impressive - yet they won when it mattered which is a great lesson to learn at that age.
And that is what these tournaments are for: learning. Playing against in a different climate against teams who adopt different approaches to the game provide them with challenges that they don’t normally come across, meaning that they have to come up with new solutions in order to win. These games will serve as the building blocks on which they can build their careers, and the experience will be stored for future reference. For sure, they will have less fear of penalty kicks, given the confidence with which they dispatched them.
Inevitably, this point got lost once they won with the effort going instead on identifying which player could be billed as the most talented of this generation.
The truth is that it is very difficult to predict what will happen to any of these players. They are too young and their bodies have too much development to go through to be able to discern what will happen of them.
For proof of this one only has to look at the list of top scorers from previous editions. Going through the five editions held between 2005 and 2009 (i.e. players who today are aged between 21 and 26) the only one that you could probably count as a genuine star of the game is Toni Kroos. Others like Victor Moses and Luc Castignos have had fairly respectable careers so far and could push on to reach another level.
The majority, however, have descended into anonymity. Players like Lennart Thy, Yannis Tafer, Manuel Fischer, Tomas Necid and Tevfik Kose have ended up playing in lower divisions or minor leagues. Not that there is any disgrace in that, anything but, yet it is a far cry from what their early success hinted could lie in store for them.
For a lot of players, those age category tournaments end up being the highlight of their career, something from which there are two lessons to take. The first is one that is often mentioned which is that at those ages it is more important that players learn rather than winning. But, and this is the second lesson, if they do win it is important that they be allowed to enjoy the experience because it might, literally, be the only one shot of glory they ever get.
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