England's Young Lions must translate youth success into Premier League
It has been a marvelous summer for England's Young Lions, from being winners at the Under-20 World Cup, U19 European Championships and Toulon Tournament (for U20 players), as well being runners-up in the U17 Euros and the semifinals of its U21 equivalent.
For St George's Park, the Staffordshire site that hosts the English Football Association's national football centre, that flush of success has been vindication for a much-criticised project that finally opened in 2012 after 11 years of delays.
England have enjoyed success at youth level that used to cause envious glances at their Spanish, French and German counterparts. But can those youngsters become Premier League and England senior stars?
Opportunities strictly limited
When Nathaniel Chalobah took to the field for England's U21 Euro semifinal against Germany, he was making his 40th appearance at that level and his 97th for his country through the age groups. England manager Gareth Southgate, previously Chalobah's coach at U21 level, has made little secret of his admiration for the central midfielder, viewed as a possible answer to the senior team's lack of anchormen. But he could not pick him due to a lack of first-team opportunities at Chelsea last season.
At 22, Chalobah might already be a seasoned club professional. Instead, he departed Chelsea this summer for Watford, having made just 15 appearances for them. Only when loaned to Watford back in the 2012-13 season, when he made 34 Championship starts, has Chalobah been a first-choice selection. The serial loanee has spent time at Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading and Napoli.
Among his peers, Chalobah was not alone in finding top-flight opportunities limited. Of England's 23 players who travelled to Poland last month, only three -- Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Swansea's Alfie Mawson and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse -- were first-choice Premier League players for their parent club, while Calum Chambers played a full season at Middlesbrough on loan from Arsenal.
Taking the back route
Major clubs are breeding talent, but not necessarily to serve their own first team.
In stepping "down" to Watford, Chalobah takes a similar path to that chosen by Michael Keane three years ago. Unable to force his way into Louis van Gaal's defence, Keane reluctantly moved from Manchester United to Burnley in pursuit of first-team football. Three years and a £30 million move later, he is among several new faces at ambitious Everton, and also in Southgate's squad.
This week, a Press Association study found United graduates racked up more than twice as many top-flight minutes played as the next best academy, At Tottenham, but beyond Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, those numbers were bolstered by players flying the nest, like Keane, his Burnley and England teammate Tom Heaton, and Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross.
Chelsea's serial success in winning the last four FA Youth Cups has translated into a sum total of zero first-team regulars, instead creating a revenue stream of players sold on, like the £5.5m Watford paid for Chalobah and the £20m received from Bournemouth for Nathan Ake.
A similar story is developing at Manchester City, set to cash in Kelechi Iheanacho to Leicester. A secondary market is developing for youth talent, and it can provide a path back toward the top for those players rejected by England's biggest clubs.
Players need managers' trust
Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham are proving there remains a place at the top of the Premier League for young English talent. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier were all bedrocks of Spurs' successive seasons of challenging for the title. A team with a young English core left Manchester City and Manchester United in its wake.
Pochettino showed faith in raw talent. Each of that trio has been forced to grow up in public, but all have lived up to their manager's faith. Pochettino showed a similar approach to youngsters at Southampton -- and chooses to go against what has become normal practice among managers -- to look for an instant fix of proven, foreign talent in search of delivering instant results.
Even younger players Harry Winks and Josh Onomah receive Pochettino's patronage, while the wisdom of allowing English talent to flower can be shown by Kyle Walker's sale to Manchester City for a deal worth £53m. Homegrown players to fill FA and UEFA quotas have become valuable commodities.
English players should travel more
Previously, English football attempted to copy the French, Spanish and German models. Each country has been hugely successful in exporting players across Europe, while English players, at least since the Premier League era began, resolutely stay home.
Meanwhile, being transcontinental in outlook has served those national teams well, with Antoine Griezmann developing at Real Sociedad as Hector Bellerin has done at Arsenal; Toni Kroos is now a key man at Real Madrid after being sold by Bayern Munich.
Perhaps what Premier League clubs need in order to start trusting English talent is for its credibility to be increased elsewhere, so that clubs reconsider the talent they may have.
A couple of transfers this summer could be the germ of a trend. West Ham youngster Reece Oxford has gone on loan to Borussia Monchengladbach for the season, while Sampdoria have shown interest in Jack Wilshere.
Those who do choose to travel will broaden their horizons, and the benefits of different experiences can only be a positive influence on the England team.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.