Statistical Analysis

England’s U17 players rarely make it to the senior team

Fri, 10 November 2017, 11:05

When Phil Foden slotted home England’s final goal in an incredible 5-2 victory over Spain two weeks ago, he helped the Three Lions do what they’d never done before – win the Under 17 World Cup.

Manchester City youngster Foden was England’s star, netting twice in the final, and being awarded the Golden Ball for best player at the tournament.

That victory has had pundits dreaming of a bright future for a senior side that is hardly setting the world alight.

England will go into next summer’s World Cup as one of the outsiders to lift the famous trophy, having consistently underwhelmed over the last few decades of tournament football.

While Russia 2018 might be too soon for the U17 World Cup winners, will their achievements translate into success in 2022, or 2026?

Well, disappointingly, the omens aren’t good.

While England’s golden crop of youngsters may have conquered the world at youth level, history suggests these players rarely make it to senior international level.

Of all the U17 World Cup winning sides since 2000, just 18.18% of players get one cap for their full side – meaning the vast majority of Steve Cooper’s victorious squad won’t ever get to pull on the Three Lions shirt.

On average, the eight winners this century have only yielded a return of 3.75 full internationals from their 21-man squads – a figure inflated by Mexico’s 11 from their 2005 winning crop.

Even if players do make it to the big stage, they fail to make that much of an impact. Across the 165 players to pick up U17 World Cup winning medals, they average just 3.38 full caps per player – showing the talents of many burn bright at a young age, before fizzling out.

One example is that of Florent Sinama-Pongolle – man of the tournament as France won the U17 tournament in 2001.

Sinama-Pongolle seemed destined for greatness after picking up the Golden Ball in Trinidad & Tobago, scoring nine times in six games as Les Bleus lifted the trophy.

A move to Liverpool followed, but the forward was never able to recreate his glories at youth level, lasting just two years at Anfield before being released.

Since then, his journeyman career has seen him take in teams in Portugal, Russia and the USA, while the now 33-year-old currently plies his trade for Chainat Hornbill in Thailand, having scored just 59 times in 346 career matches.

He did, however, manage a full international cap – against Tunisia in 2008, which is more than any of his U17 squad-mates can say.

His one appearance for France was the only cap picked up by any member of that World Cup winning side.

When it comes to other Golden Ball winners, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Cesc Fabregas (2003 winner) and Toni Kroos (2009) have translated their U17 success to senior level, and won the full World Cup in 2010, and 2014 respectively.

Carlos Vela has also enjoyed a successful senior international career, picking up 62 caps – and at the age of 28, is still well placed to add plenty to that figure.

At the other end of the spectrum, Anderson’s heroics for Brazil in 2007 helped him gain a move to Manchester United, where he stayed for seven years. However, despite making his senior international debut at the age of 19, he was only selected a further seven times, and made the most recent of his eight caps in 2008.

Golden Ball winners average 30.22 caps at senior level – and England fans will certainly hope Foden is more Fabregas than Sinama-Pongolle.

More bad news, however, for England fans, is the lack of tournament success for the eight winning nations themselves, with none of them picking up the senior World Cup in the intervening few years.

That wait since 1966 might continue a little longer yet.

Even more dispiritingly is the lack of a pathway from youth level to the Three Lions senior team.

When looking at the 253 players selected for the 16 U17 tournaments England have qualified for since 2000 (European Championships are played every summer at that level), just 18 have gone on to receive a full international cap – a measly 7.11%.

The most successful by far is Wayne Rooney, recently retired from England duty, who is the nation’s record goalscorer – but beyond him, there isn’t much to write home about.

While James Milner and Theo Walcott have enjoyed decent international careers, and Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Danny Rose are important parts of the current squad, there’s a lot more players who fail to make it than do.

The 440 caps produced by those 253 U17 players works out at 1.74 per player – a very poor return indeed.

In fact, to produce just 18 full internationals from those 16 U17 squads works out at just 1.13 players from each tournament – meaning most, if not all, of the U17 World Cup winning cohort will fail to make the grade.

The goal for the FA must be to ensure this talent doesn’t slip through the cracks, and there are signs this is beginning to change.

Joe Gomez, who was part of the England side that won the U17 European Championships in 2014, has been called into the full squad for the first time this week, and is in line to pick up his first cap against Germany on Friday.

With the U20 side also winning the World Cup this summer, and success for teams at U21 and U19 level, the future for England looks bright – but the Three Lions might have to buck the trend of other U17 sides if that will translate into senior success.

Statistical Analysis discovers hidden trends and values in major gambling events by deciphering both contemporary stats and historical data. We derive our probabilities from history, not just betting odds, so you don't have to.


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