How Howard Wilkinson set English football on course for its golden summer

Under-17s World Cup glory just the latest reward for reforms introduced 20 years ago by the last homegrown manager to win the league

It was a drastic decision that, if you had only listened to the cynics at the time, was doomed to failure. Yet a little more than 20 years after the Football Association’s then technical director Howard Wilkinson proposed that responsibility for the national under-15 and under-16 teams be taken away from the English Schools FA as part of his ambitious Charter for Quality, Saturday’s events at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata should have provided the final confirmation that the last English manager to win the league was on to something.

The thrilling 5-2 victory against Spain in the Under-17 World Cup final provided the perfect ending to an unprecedented year of success for the FA’s age-group teams. Since Steve Cooper’s side were beaten by the same opponents on penalties in the final of the European Championship back in May, England have also been crowned world champions at under-20 level and won the European under-19 title in ruthless fashion, not to mention the triumph at the prestigious Toulon tournament for the second year in a row. “It’s fantastic evidence that we have got the best youth developers in the world in this country and they are developing the best players in the world,” says Wilkinson. “But it’s not a transformation – this has been a long progression that started with the introduction of academies and the building St George’s Park. Once that was in place, it’s all been about the benefit of having a plan and sticking to it.”

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