After such a brilliant World Cup in Russia, England have come back to an enthused set of supporters that welcomed them at Wembley in the first international break of the season back in September. Gareth Southgate has certainly hit the right notes with the fans and their run during the summer has helped massively in rebuilding the division caused by underwhelming performances.
There has been plenty of criticism over previous squad selections from managers, suggesting big-club bias was prevalent. The theory was that if you were playing regularly - even just coming on as a substitute - for a top six club in the Premier League, you were nailed-on to get the call-up, regardless of the form they were in. Players from lower down in the table never got a fair crack at the whip and were subsequently ignored.
Since Southgate has taken the post from Sam Allardyce in 2016, though, there has been a shift in selection policy. From the outdated approach previously said, to one that incorporates players even from the Championship, England’s second-tier domestic competition, there is a wider catch pool that is largely based on their current form.
Prior to taking the job with the Three Lions’ men’s squad, Southgate had three years of incredible experience with the U21s. There, he saw the rising stars of the game and begun to build relationships with those players - the likes of Jesse Lingard, Harry Kane, Joe Gomez and more - that are now regularly in his first-team squad.
It should not be underestimated witnessing first hand and having a key role in the young Lions’ development when taking charge of the senior squad. What has worked so well for other nations is having a clear pathway to the men’s team and employing a manager that has known those players coming through for a number of years; which is why Southgate was the perfect appointment, even if he was relatively inexperienced at the highest level.
In England’s most recent call-up, two players certainly stand out from the crowd: Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Chelsea’s Mason Mount, currently on-loan at Frank Lampard’s Derby County.
Sancho, who was with Manchester City until Dortmund snapped him up in August 2017, has been fast tracked from the U19s straight into the first-team. Having only featured nine times for the youth team, Sancho’s rise has been meteoric and his call-up deserved.
For many then 17-year-olds, a move abroad to Germany would be daunting. A foreign country, playing in a different league that has a completely different brand of football that they are used to, speaking a different language, away from friends and family; it would be very easy to become overwhelmed with the proposition. However, Sancho fronted it head on and realised Dortmund were a club that had a long-standing history of promoting youth and they have done just that in the way they have developed him in the past 12 months.
In this season, after impressing towards the back end of the previous year, Sancho has recorded nine assists and scored once in 10 appearances. A frightening tally for the left winger, that only gets better when you realise the Englishman has only started three of those games. Most of his appearances come from the bench, acting as an impeccable impact player for manager Lucien Favre
What is inspiring to others his age will be the fact that Sancho looks unfazed by anything. Even in his England press conference, which in itself is a testament of how he handles himself in front of the English media, he mentioned his own style of football.
“I believe in myself in one-on-one situations. I used to look at Ronaldinho, growing up, on YouTube. I just liked how he used to carry his team sometimes… and obviously he used to try things that no one else would try.
“I would say I'm a bit tricky, direct and just confident,” Sancho said.
That belief is certainly going to carry him a long way and he is bound to have a long future ahead of him. While there are quality players in front of him for his position, with the way that he is playing, Sancho will be rivalling those in order to lock down his position in Southgate’s team.
Sancho’s compatriot and now international teammate, Mount, is another who has impressed this season so far. Playing in the Championship, the Englishman has delivered, on average, a staggering 2.3 key passes per game, only falling short to Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood in the league statistics.
Having played abroad with Vitesse Arnhem during the 2017-18 season, Mount understood that he must be playing men’s football at a higher level in order to develop into a player that is competing for a place in Maurizio Sarri’s first-team. And there was no better club than Derby under the guidance of former Chelsea midfielder Lampard.
Playing as the number 10 in Derby’s 4-2-3-1 system, Mount can dictate play in between the lines and get in among the goals. He has already found the back of the net on five occasions so far this season, and also delivered an unbelievable performance against Manchester United, at Old Trafford, in the Carabao Cup.
England have been crying out for a natural playmaker for years now. Ross Barkley was thought to have risen to the task, but injuries have curtailed his development slightly, although he is now finding his feet once more with Chelsea and has been included in this latest Three Lions squad.
However, Mount, who is only 19-years-old, has all the makings to become England’s number 10 and dictate play moving forward. In Russia, there were times when Southgate’s midfielders looked lost with what to do next. There was not a player in the heart of the team who could drive with the ball at his feet, waltzing past defenders and delivering the crucial pass at the right time; but there is high hopes that Mount can fill that void.
It’s important to remember that both Sancho and Mount are still developing and easing into their young and burgeoning careers. They will already put pressure on themselves, as well the coaching staff doing similar, so fans should sit back and take in these two youngsters’ debuts for England and think of what is yet to come.