When the FA announced their ‘England DNA’ blueprint for elite player development back in December 2014 many scoffed at the idea.
It was derided by some as a cheap marketing ploy to try to re-engage a fanbase that felt apathy towards the national team after a disappointing World Cup in Brazil.
Yet less than four years later and the Three Lions’ future appears bright. Reaching the World Cup semi-final in Russia helped but it is the manner with which Gareth Southgate has led the side in 2018 that has really captured the imagination of supporters.
There is an emphasis on integrating exciting young talents into the senior set-up while rewarding those who are playing regular first-team football for unfashionable club sides.
Caps are no longer given just for being a squad player at a top six side. They have to be earned.
Southgate isn’t a man to change approach on a whim. Young players, no matter their age, who prove themselves will continue to be given a chance in the England side.
And we have identified six players who in 2019 could establish themselves in the Three Lions’ squad.
It’s easy to forget, given what he has already achieved, that the Fulham full-back turned winger is only 18 years old.
He is coming up fast on making 100 senior appearances for the Cottagers and was a key man as the club clinched promotion to the Premier League last season.
Bigger sides were interested in the summer, with Tottenham Hotspur supposedly leading the race. But Sessegnon opted to remain at Craven Cottage and play regular first-team football.
So far this term he has featured in every one of Fulham’s top flight games and while he hasn’t hit the same heights he reached in the Championship, he is adapting slowly to the step up in quality.
“Truly I believe it will be soon that he will be part of the English national team,” Fulham manager Slaviša Jokanović said last month. “I’ve never spoken to [Gareth] Southgate about him but I spoke to people from the FA before the World Cup.
“Some people think he’s a winger and some think he’s a full-back. He can play perfectly in both positions. His numbers are fantastic as we check how many metres he is running in high intensity. You can be impressed with his physical performance.
“It’s weird we are talking about an 18-year-old player. I try to talk about this when you are talking about men. He’s a kid with a body like a man. His limit is high.”
Since he starred on Manchester City’s tour of the U.S. in the summer of 2017, Foden has been seen as English football’s next star. Playing a key role in the Under-17s World Cup win last year on furthered that belief.
A graceful midfielder who can weave past opponents or split a defence with a single pass, it’s little wonder he has been dubbed by City fans the ‘Stockport Iniesta’.
Such a comparison is, of course, hugely premature. But it gives you a snapshot of how stylistically Foden plays the game.
“I’m happy with that but come on, Iniesta is on a different planet!” the 18-year-old told reporters after he was asked about the comparison. “For them to call me that is massive, it means a lot.”
While many players of his ability would’ve been sent out on loan to play regular senior football, Pep Guardiola has opted to keep Foden around his first-team squad.
With the likes of David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to compete with it’s not a huge surprise that the teenager isn’t a regular starter at the Etihad –– he has only made 15 appearances in all competitions since the start of last season.
An increase in game-time will be required if he’s to break into the England squad, but it is only a matter of time until he is given his chance on the international stage.
He joined Hoffenheim on loan at the end August and has since admitted wunderkind manager Julian Nagelsmann played a big role in convincing him to, temporarily, move to Germany.
“Julian’s a great manager and he’s got belief in young players so it’s a good place for me to go and play. He’s very young, only 31 and I think it’s important to go to a team and a coach who believes in you, so he was the main reason because he is willing to play us.
“It was hard to leave my boyhood club Arsenal, it’s still my dream to play for Arsenal, but I know I have to put that on hold and go and play abroad to get some experience in Germany.”
Nelson hasn’t yet started a game for Hoffenheim but it is only a matter of time given the impact he has made in his cameo appearances.
He received his first call-up to the England Under-21s this month and made an instant impact, scoring with a backheel.
Ohhh Reiss Nelson!
The absolute audacity 😳
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 11, 2018
If he is able to establish himself in the Hoffenheim starting XI then it won’t be too long until he is called-up to the senior side by Southgate.
Another star of England Under-17s World Cup win, Hudson-Odoi has every attribute needed to become a top class winger.
Quick, powerful, skilful and composed in front of goal the 17-year-old just needs the opportunity to showcase his talent on a regular basis. Unfortunately he may have to move away from Chelsea to get it.
The teenager starred for the Blues during pre-season – his performance against Arsenal in Dublin the stand-out – and was then included in the starting XI in the Community Shield against Manchester City at Wembley.
Hudson-Odoi was arguably the Blues biggest threat that day and Maurizio Sarri was impressed. “He will be a very, very strong player,” the Italian said. “He will stay with us for all the season.”
However, it’s likely Chelsea will want him to sign a new contract first as his current deal expires in 2020 and a loan spell could firmly put Hudson-Odoi in the shop window.
But if his future is resolved and he is playing regular first-team football then it won’t be too long until the youngster is in the senior England set-up.
The oldest player on this list, Lookman turns 21 years old later this month and should be on the cusp of the England senior set-up.
But his lack of game-time at Everton this term is undoubtedly harming his development. Under Marco Silva he has played just 106 minutes of football, an hour of which came in the Carabao Cup against Southampton.
It’s a far cry from the second half of last season, during which Lookman starred for RB Leipzig after joining the Bundesliga club on loan in January.
It was a switch which the former Charlton Athletic youngster pushed for, and one which drew bizarre criticism from then Toffees boss Sam Allardyce.
“He was adamant that he wanted to go to Germany,” Allardyce said. “It is his choice but Oliver [Burke] has been there and could not wait to get away.
“We tried to persuade him not to go because I think it is a big challenge for his development with not being able to speak the language. We wanted him to go out on loan to play first team football every week – there were better opportunities for that – but he was stubborn and got what he wanted. I hope he proves us all wrong.”
The 20-year-old did just that. He scored a stunning solo winner on his Leipzig debut and went on to net five times and claim four assists in just eleven matches.
Clearly the talent is there and, like many on this list, he needs the opportunity.
Lookman has impressed for the Under-21s and if he managed to get regular game time in 2019 then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the senior side next year.
While the other five names on this list are likely to be known by the majority of Premier League aficionados, Barnes is the left-field selection.
The Leicester City midfielder has made five substitute appearances for the Foxes, with his debut coming in the Champions League in a 5-0 defeat to Porto back in December 2016.
Like many young English talents he’s gained his first-team experience out on loan and it’s his spell with West Bromwich Albion this season which has seen Barnes elevate his game to new heights.
In his 14 games with the Baggies, who were relegated from the Premier League lasts season, the 20-year-old has struck five goals and claimed a further three assists.
It is form which has led to reports that Leicester are considering bringing him back to the King Power Stadium in January and integrating him into their first-team squad.
If that were to happen, and Barnes was to feature regularly for the Foxes, then he could follow in club-mate James Maddison’s footsteps by breaking into the senior set-up.
And West Brom manager Darren Moore certainly believes the youngster has the attributes needed to pay for the Three Lions.
“He’s got the right ingredients. There’s aspects of his game he still needs to develop and still needs to work on – and he is.
“He gets the highlights with all the goals he’s scoring and he’s a talented individual. If he keeps on the road that he’s on now, I don’t see why he can’t be a full international and play lots of games for his country.”