In an exclusive Sky Sports interview ahead of England’s opener against France at the European U21 Championships, manager Aidy Boothroyd offers a glimpse inside the camp and outlines his tournament objectives to Sky Sports’ Adam Smith…
The European U21 Championships is finally here…
This is the most exciting part of the U21 job for me. We’ve had the winters, we’ve watched the players, we’ve been to the clubs, we’ve had the meetings, we’ve done the preparation, we’ve been to the hotels, the training grounds and the grounds.
We’ve found out all the stuff we needed to know to get ready for the tournament and now it’s time for the football. This is what it’s all about. Training, preparing and then playing in the tournament.
It’s the best part of the job. The football has always got to be the best thing. Sometimes we don’t get enough of the football and we’ll go out and watch games but yearn for that Saturday feeling. But at the tournaments there’s no better feeling. It’s brilliant.
I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully we can go two better than what we did last time and get a good result.
Talk us through the mood in the camp
It’s really good. The players have worked really hard. We’ve been in four days and off three for the last month, depending on when the players finished their season and the season they had.
We’ve been doing a lot of work in the gym and a lot of tactical work out on the pitch so we’re almost there now. The mood is excited but we just need some games at the end of all this training.
Are England favourites?
It’s a massive compliment considering the teams that are in the tournament. All the big hitters are here and there are other teams here you look at and think, if they’ve got to the tournament they’ve got to be very good. It’s nice to be thought of as a favourite rather than a team that aren’t going to do very well. There’s a massive difference.
Lessons learned from 2017?
Yes, experience first of all because some players going into the tournament didn’t realise how big it was. With the coverage the tournament gets it’s a bit of a shop window for some and they can show their managers, or potential managers, what they are all about.
Overall, we are really pleased with the squad we’ve got and we think we’ve got enough experience of some of the other bigger tournaments, but this will be slightly different and slightly bigger.
Experience on your side?
The squad is young but experienced. Quite a few of the players are getting a bit part in the Premier League and we’ve got lads who’ve played 40 to 50 games in the Championship.
On the other hand, there are lads playing abroad like Reiss Nelson and Jake Clarke-Salter. It’s a squad that’s got good balance, there’s quite a bit of guile in there, there’s speed, there’s power in there and some really good defenders. It’s just a case of now putting it all together.
Eligible player absentees…
It’s a strange job the U21 job because you’re expected to produce players for the senior side and you’re expected to win. It’s a bit of a paradox but the number one priority is to get players through to the senior team. The senior team is the most important.
The U21s and all the development teams are all there to make sure that we push players through, get them through the pathway and as prepared as we can for senior football at international level. That’s the plan.
Is it frustrating? Not really because of the pleasure of seeing the lads perform so well in the senior team. All the coaches in the pathway feel like we’ve done our bit to contribute to helping the seniors.
Goalkeepers: Angus Gunn (Southampton), Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United)
Defenders:Jake Clarke-Salter (Chelsea), Jay Dasilva (Chelsea), Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), Jonjoe Kenny (Everton), Ezri Konsa (Brentford), Fikayo Tomori (Derby County, loan from Chelsea), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
Midfielders: Harvey Barnes (Leicester City), Hamza Choudhury (Leicester City), Kieran Dowell (Everton), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolverhampton Wanderers), James Maddison (Leicester City), Mason Mount (Derby County, loan from Chelsea), Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)
Forwards: Tammy Abraham (Aston Villa, loan from Chelsea), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Demarai Gray (Leicester City), Reiss Nelson (Arsenal), Dominic Solanke (AFC Bournemouth)
Talk us through your opponents…
All of us looked at the teams and we agree, they are all very strong teams. However, if you’re going to be the best you have to beat the best. Looking at all the games there are some potential banana skins in there. France are one of the favourites because of the athleticism and power they have in their team.
The Croatians are always strong. They are a very together group, who will maybe look to play a bit deeper and catch us on the counter-attack. We’ve played the Romanians already. We had a good game against them. We managed to win but it was a really tight game. They are a really good team that connects from back to front and they will be difficult to beat.
All three teams are also very good on set plays so it’s a big task ahead of us, but we’ve got the players to win. It’s now about getting us into team, making sure we handle the occasion and getting the results we want.
England’s Group C fixtures Date Opposition Venue Kick-off time How to watch June 18 France Stadio Dino Manuzzi, Cesena 8pm Sky Sports Football (7.30pm) June 21 Romania Stadio Dino Manuzzi, Cesena 5.30pm Sky Sports Football (5pm) June 24 Croatia San Marino Stadium, Serravalle 8pm Sky Sports Football and Main Event (7.30pm) What will the players do between games?
What we’ve said and what we’ve done in previous tournaments is work on trust with the players. We don’t keep them cooped up in a hotel because it’s not a prison. They have to rest, they have to be young people and they have to go out.
When we are playing or training then that’s hard and it’s important. But it’s important that they rest well and that can mean going out and having a coffee or having a walk around where we are staying. The important thing is that they get that down time so that they can be physically and mentally refreshed.
The curfews are there but we’ve never had any player break a curfew because they know if they go against the rules they’ve made then the privileges stop. Overall, it’s when we are working, we’re working hard but we also make sure we rest well.
Will Morgan Gibbs-White excite?
Initially with Morgan, we’ve been out to see him quite a few times. He’s played a few games for Wolves, who are a really good team. He’ll have certainly learned a lot being surrounded by so many good players and a terrific manager in Nuno Espirito Santo.
Initially he wasn’t in the squad but unfortunately for Tom Davies he got himself injured so in comes Morgan. We look at the squad now and it looks very strong. The quality of the squad is shown by the boys that haven’t got in it.
A big summer for English football…
I share an office with Gareth Southgate. I think one of the key strengths of the whole group of coaches is that we work very closely together. Through the pathway we know who’s coming through and I guess one of the reasons we have those relationships is that we can see the younger players and the way that they are progressing,
Gareth has given them an opportunity and it’s easier for me to pick younger players now because they know if they do well they’ll get an opportunity.
I don’t work particularly closely with [England Women’s manager] Phil Neville but obviously we see each other, and when we bump into each other I ask how he’s getting on, his preparation and our preparation.
Subbuteo acting as assistant?
We do [use it], we’ve been doing it for about three or four years now. We felt it was sometimes easier rather than showing the players graphics on a TV all the time. We got them on an old-fashioned football pitch and moved figures around so we can help coach, help them learn and help them develop as players.
The players seem to enjoy it. They’ve picked up on it and it’s always best to have a mixture of moving them around, getting the graphic and going out and doing it on the pitch.
Can you keep focus on football and not transfers?
We had it before the last tournament because we had Jordan Pickford going to Everton. We try and be as helpful as we can, whether it’s a selling club or a buying club. Thankfully, up to now, and I’m sure it will be the same going forward, the clubs have been very respectful of international football, our tournament and what we’re doing. We’ll find a way to make happen whatever needs to happen.
One of the big pluses of international football in England now is the relationships we have with our clubs. It’s really important that we work together for the benefit of the player.
Can the U21s continue England’s recent success?
It’s got to be our aim because one swallow doesn’t make a summer. We can’t just get the trophies that we’ve got and think that’s it now, we’ve arrived. The really important thing for us now is to make sure that we keep winning after winning and that’s difficult with new squads.
However, we’ve got some very talented players through the pathway, from U15s to the U21s and into the senior side. There’s enough there to keep the conveyor belt going for a little while yet and the system is set up in a way that we want to make sure we leave more of a legacy than just being a one hit wonder.
How to follow England in Italy and San Marino
All of England’s games at the Euro U21 Championship will be shown live on Sky Sports Football.
If you can’t watch live, then you can also follow the action with our live blogs on www.skysports.com and the Sky Sports app, with in-game clips and highlights throughout the matches.
All the ways to watch the tournament…
Every game during the UEFA European U21 Championship will be shown live on Sky Sports.