AITOR KARANKA has praised the youth development system that helped turn Callum Cooke and Dael Fry into European champions, and claimed the future of England’s senior team is in good hands.
Cooke and Fry, who are both members of Middlesbrough’s academy, were part of the England under-17 squad that won the European Championships in Malta on Wednesday, beating Holland 4-1 in a penalty shoot-out in the final.
The success proved that English football remains capable of producing talented youngsters, even if it is increasingly difficult for those promising young players to force their way into the first team of a leading Premier League side.
Prior to being an assistant manager at Real Madrid, Karanka was involved with a number of youth teams in Spain’s national set up, and he has paid particular attention to the English model of developing players since moving to the North-East last autumn.
Contrary to popular perception, he does not believe there is a crisis in youth development in this country, and feels successes such as this week’s will inevitably translate into future success at a more senior level.
The last England under-17s team to win the European Championships, in 2010, contained Ross Barkley, who will be part of Roy Hodgson’s squad at the World Cup this summer, and Jack Butland, who has also won a senior international cap, and Karanka expects the likes of Cooke and Fry to be challenging for full honours in the not-too-distant future.
“I think the youth categories and youth systems in England are working well,” said the Middlesbrough head coach. “I think you are seeing better technical players now, and that is a good thing.
“We have seen at this club how the under-17 and under-21 level is working, and that is important. In my experience, when you work well in the youth category, that is how you have success in the national team.
“In Spain, the first XI that played in the first European Championship final in 2008, all the players in the first XI had won something in the youth categories.
“There are some very good young players in England, and in the future, I think England will have a very good (senior) squad.”
Cooke, who is from Peterlee, came off the bench to score one of England’s penalties in the final, having previously scored two goals against Holland as he made his England under-17 debut in March.
The teenage midfielder was a key member of Boro’s development side last season, and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Ben Gibson and Luke Williams, who have used England’s under-17s side as a stepping stone to Middlesbrough’s first team.
“We (Cooke and Fry) look up to players like Luke and Ben and see what they have done, and that gives us something to aim at,” said Cooke. “They are great role models for us.
“They came through the Middlesbrough academy like us, they played in this tournament, and look at where they both are now.
“Luke went on to play in the Under-20 World Cup last year, and Ben is probably making his England Under-21 debut this week, and they are both playing regular first-team football in the Championship.
“That is fantastic. They are both top players, and when you see how they have graduated up the levels, it inspires you to work hard and keep learning. That is where we want to be. We both want to follow in their footsteps and get into the first team.”