England U20 boss: Bridging gap between academies, senior teams hard
England's Under-20 World Cup-winning coach Paul Simpson believes this summer's success in age-group tournaments is proof academies are producing talent but the step to senior football remains a challenge.
As well as his side's glorious campaign in South Korea, England's U17 team lost on penalties to Spain in the final of the European Championship, the U21s made the semifinals of their European Championship, a mixed age-group team won the Toulon Tournament for a second straight year and the U19s will play Portugal in their European final on Saturday.
When asked if England has ever enjoyed so much youth success across a range of age groups, Simpson said: "The truth is there probably hasn't been, has there?
"What we've had in the past is some really good squads of players, but they haven't actually got the results that that level of players would have expected.
"This year they've produced performances that have earned results and I think we're kicking ourselves because we should be sitting here with another trophy after the ending to the 17s game [when Spain equalised in injury time to set up a shoot-out].''
The former Derby, Manchester City and Oxford winger was speaking to reporters at the launch of next season's Checkatrade Trophy, the competition for sides from League One, League Two and invited U21 teams from clubs with category-one academies.
The latter were included in the competition for the first time last season -- a controversial experiment which produced mixed results.
But the presence of Simpson and Everton U21 head coach David Unsworth at the launch in London on Wednesday was testament to the fact that many in game believe it is a useful tool for bridging the gap between youth and senior football.
"It certainly helps. I've no doubt about that,'' said Simpson, pointing that seven of his World Cup squad and six of the U19 squad played in the competition last season.
"I know there are sceptics about everything that goes on in football, but I think this gives the lads a chance to play senior football against really competitive men who want and need to win, playing in front of crowds, where it matters, and that's what we want.
"The thing people often say is that young players are protected in academies but when you send them out into the world of senior football it opens their eyes. That can be when they go out on loan or when they play in this competition.''
Unsworth, whose Everton academy provided five of Simpson's world-beaters and won the Premier League's U23 league last season, described the Checkatrade Trophy as a "brilliant, brilliant competition'' and a "fantastic opportunity'' to develop young talent.
He also said that one of the several tweaks the English Football League (EFL) has made to the tournament for the next two seasons - giving sides more flexibility on scheduling so that games can be played outside international breaks -- will enable him to pick stronger teams.
Last season, Everton went out after losing to Blackpool on penalties, but Unsworth said they effectively played an U19 team because of call-ups. This season he hopes to play a slightly older team and win the competition.
That would help boost the competition's profile, and justify the investment the Premier League have made in terms of prize money, but it would probably not help to sell the Checkatrade Trophy to fans of EFL clubs who preferred the days when this was their best chance of a Wembley cup final.
EFL boss Shaun Harvey said: "I would like two under-21 sides make the semifinals and then get beat.''