‘There is real shared happiness and pride for a lot of people in English football’
The FA’s technical director John McDermott discusses England’s UEFA Under-21 Championship win and assesses another busy summer for several Young Lions teams
John, an obvious place to start is with the weekend. How do you assess England’s Under-21 EURO win?
"The Under-21s’ success this summer has been exciting – although the last 90 seconds were probably more exciting than any of us would have wanted!
“The players and the staff were excellent. I was with them in the camp just before we went out to Georgia, and it was quite a tough training camp due to some of the boys being away with Manchester City and West Ham, and there were other boys who hadn't played since the beginning of May.
“So, just trying to get everyone synchronised [was a challenge]. We got beat by Japan and I thought Lee Carsley managed that really well.
“Lee gave them a couple of days off after Japan, flicked a switch and then the rest is history, I guess.
“We’ve got a really good group of staff who are led well by Lee. I've known Lee for a long time and I’ve been extremely impressed with him. But he'd be the first one to pay testament to the players, who were also excellent.
“A lot of the boys who started the first two games and the final will deservedly get the credit. But I think back to the game against Germany when we had several new starters and that was some performance to beat them 2-0, so I’d like to think the whole squad goes back home knowing they made a contribution to us winning the tournament in the end."
England MU21s win the Under-21 EURO
The Young Lions are European Under-21 champions after a dramatic match against Spain
And is it fair to say this is the latest example of how healthy England’s Player Pathway is at the moment?
"We need to take some comfort that we're doing the right things and that youth development in this country is in a good place, and not just at the FA.
“The work being done at St. George's Park by all our staff is fantastic. There's nothing like watching the game the other day and just feeling that pride when something like that happens.
“But it's also a reflection of the work that's being done across the academies. I've had so many messages from academy managers and youth coaches at clubs that feel so much happiness and pride in the lads they've worked with becoming European champions.
“Sometimes when you’re in senior football, you get the main buzz from winning three points. The short term is more of a priority for obvious reasons.
“But when you work in youth development, it takes longer. You work with someone for eight or nine years before they're actually playing for England or playing in the first team.
“So, it's been wonderful to get messages from people in the game, both at the FA and also at the clubs.
“There is real shared happiness and shared pride for a lot of people in English football.”
How important a role has St. George's Park played in the success that England have had in recent years?
"I worked at the FA before we had St. George's Park and have obviously worked here since we have it. Now we have a central venue where we can do our training camps and a hub where the players come and it feels like home.
"As in a lot of modem day training grounds, the grounds staff and operations people work tirelessly behind the scenes to get the feel just right and one of the benefits of SGP is sharing with coach educationalists and learners from the professional game, as well as the women’s game and para teams."
“The work that's being done there is fantastic and it feels like a training ground. That was something that Lee commented to the players. It felt like we were in a club.
“You've got all these young men from various clubs around the country so it can sometimes be quite hard to get a group feel. But I think St George's really helps with that, whether it’s when they first come in and they come down the drive nervously at the age of 15 or when they're up with the seniors.
“It’s definitely a huge boost to have a national centre and it's definitely a huge boost in helping us to become successful."
And how do you assess the rest of the summer for our England age-group teams?
“I guess I've had a bit of a busman's holiday really as I've been away from home since the middle of May.
“I went out to Hungary with the Under 17s and that is a group that has come a long way in the last two years.
“It's brilliant to see how they've developed and to qualify for this winter’s Under-17 World Cup in Indonesia, as that was one of the objectives.
“Obviously, to get pipped (in the quarter-final by finalists France courtesy of a late penalty) and not go all the way through to the final was disappointing but it's a young team and they've got some talented players, so I expect they'll do really well in Indonesia.
“Then, I went out to Argentina for the Under-20 World Cup. The Italy game was disappointing, and I guess we didn't get the rub of the green on that penalty at the end, unlike we did with the Under-21s, but that was some experience for the players.
“For them to play under the intensity of the crowds out there, it was tough. The game against Uruguay is one of the best and most competitive games of international youth football I've seen.
“We were all bitterly disappointed because we felt we didn't fulfil our potential in that one. But take pride in having won the Under-19 EURO last year.
“It was the first time since 1976 that an England team has been out to Argentina and it is a different and tough environment to play in.
“Even though we didn't bring the trophy home, there are definitely vast experiences that will have gone into the players' brains.
“From there I went to the training camp with the Under-21s before going away with the senior team to Malta and then to Manchester for the North Macedonia game. So it's given me the chance to see all of the different levels, from Under-17s to Under-20s and Under-21s up to the seniors. And there's an awful lot of good things going on.
“We've seen the incremental steps as well. The 21s is some achievement, but to go up to the seniors is another level. The Under-21s are playing with the England senior players at their club and they know what they've got to aspire to.
“But the confidence and the boost they'll get from winning the Under-21 EURO, I think it will only help them step up to that next level."
One recurring theme when you speak to players in all the teams is the real sense of togetherness and unity in the squads. You must be very proud of the culture which has been developed through the England teams?
"I think, whenever we talk about this, what's important is when the players leave us at the end of a camp, they want to come back.
“And it’s not through being too nice. There's a bond formed and they go and they suffer together, in tough games, winning and losing. You form a bond that you can only get, I guess, if you're going through hardship and you're going through difficult situations and you're spending time together. So it is something that we pride ourselves on.
“Again, I think that St. George's Park helps that, where the different age groups can discuss it. That's something that we do quite a lot, where the seniors will mix with the 21s, some of the 21s will play with the seniors, and the coaches are together.
“So, there's a swapping of stories and experiences, and it's not just the Under-17 group, but when the 17s are in and they see the seniors, it's great that they can watch them and aspire to be like that.
“I believe we have got a strong culture within the age groups, but also across it as well.
“There's a pride we try to embed in staff and players, to want to be picked for the next tournament. Over two-thirds of our players are dual nationalities – who can play for other countries – and it’s something that we're working on and I still think we can get better at.
“That's a major focus for the next three or four years. So how do we recruit the best talent but also how do we retain it as well when we're under competition from other nations who our players can play for."
Meet the England MU21 squad