Youth Teams
Youth Teams

As England U17s begin the Euro Finals, Steve Cooper takes us through the preparations

England U17s are in Ireland for this year’s UEFA U17 EURO Finals during May, after coming through March’s elite qualifying round. Head coach Steve Cooper takes us through the preparations and what it means for the Young Lions to be getting their first taste of life at a competitive international tournament…

Friday 03 May 2019
England U17s head coach Steve Cooper and his squad are in Ireland for the 2019 U17 EURO Finals

To get to this stage of the U17 EURO is a really good thing for the players and their parents, so they should all be really proud. 

We first met up at St. George’s Park on Sunday and we did a day there, which was inclusive of bringing all of the parents in for a bit of a send-off dinner, which was nice.

This U17s tournament is always a bit of a milestone for the players. It’s a bit like the FA Youth Cup in club football and it’s something the boys always look forward to, because it’s the first official tournament for their country.

There’s a lot to be learned just from the qualification stages, and we were really proud when we qualified for this event because we had a really tough elite round draw in Denmark.

The squad have prepared well this week and we're all ready to go

We had to play three games on an artificial pitch against three really good teams, in Denmark, Switzerland and Croatia. We had to work hard to qualify, and when the dust settles on a qualification, you realise that the lads have learnt a lot and gone through experiences they’ve never had before.

After Sunday, it was down to business and our football preparation with some sessions at St. George’s Park and the prep's been good.

Gareth came in and joined us for a couple of hours and gave us some messages of support and shirt presentations.

That’s great, because there’s a genuine and authentic interest from Gareth in what we’re doing. He wants to be as much a part of it as he can, when his own job allows him to, because he’s obviously very busy himself with his own preparations.

He’s constantly in contact through messaging and SGP has been brilliant for that, as we all work from the same space. He knows what’s going on because he wants to know and the same goes for Steve Holland and Aidy Boothroyd.

Gareth has a real interest in how we do and always tries to make time to be involved

There’s a joined up approach from top to bottom and we’ve got to make sure we maximise that for the long term.

Since we landed in Dublin on Monday night, it’s been business as usual in terms of how we normally prepare for events.

We’re focused on the group stage for now, which is three games over six days and that’s pretty normal for these competitions.

This is my seventh experience of being involved in the staff for either a Euro Finals or World Cup and you do get a decent feel for what’s right and what’s needed.

But every group is different and every team and event is different, so it’s about getting the balance right with the preparation and the schedule.

We know what has worked for us previously, but we also have to think about what will work for each specific squad and how it works within the England DNA.

So it’s a real balancing act with those three areas and we do a lot of planning at SGP in advance so that when we get here, we’re well set up and the scheduling should take care of itself.

Of course, there’s always one or two things you have to adapt to and change, but normally we’re pretty well prepared to make those amends and things can run smoothly.

Just because we’ve won a few tournaments at development level in recent years doesn’t mean we’re going to win all of them.

It’s important for the players to know that whatever happens this week, it’s all a good learning experience and opportunity and ideally, we want them to experience everything.

The experiences that the players will get from being involved in the Euros can only help them in the future

If they get to the latter stages of tournaments, whatever happens, it can only help them if they do get to the senior team as they’ll have plenty of experience they can fall back on.

I look at the bigger picture first and one thing we have done in the last five years is re-vamp the games programme across all of our development teams so that every game we play, we want it to be the toughest game possible.

We want to be playing the best in the world because ultimately, that’s what it will take to win at senior level in the future. We’ve come out of things like the Victory Shield and we play fewer friendlies, so we enter tournaments to give them that experience because ultimately, that’s what international football is about, entering tournaments and competing.

So I’m excited by the group stage draw here. France and Holland are historically very strong at youth level and we know that Sweden have always proved very difficult opponents for England at many levels.

If you look at it in the short term, the draw couldn’t be any tougher. But actually, I just look at it as a brilliant opportunity to test the players and the staff to put their work into action on, at this level, the toughest stage possible.

We’re really excited about it and ready to go for it.

You can watch England's opening game with France on Friday evening live on both the official UEFA YouTube channel or via the BBC iPlayer.

By Steve Cooper England U17s head coach in Dublin, Republic of Ireland