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England U21 coach Aidy Boothroyd: Players just need Premier League chance

LONDON -- England under-21s face Scotland at Middlesbrough on Friday, 118 days after the majority of Aidy Boothroyd's squad won the U20 World Cup in South Korea.

Ten of the 11 players who started the 1-0 victory against Venezuela in Suwon - including goal scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin -- are in contention to face the Scots, but four months after achieving World Cup glory, the U20s have amassed just 14 Premier League appearances between them this season.

Everton forward Calvert-Lewin accounts for half of those, but with England producing talent good enough to rule the world at junior level, will they ever be given the chance to prove their worth in a Premier League crammed with expensive foreign imports?

ESPN FC met with England U21 coach Boothroyd at St George's Park to discuss the way forward for the country's brightest young prospects.

Q: Are you disappointed by the lack of Premier League opportunities for the U20 World Cup winners? Or was it inevitable that they would find chances hard to come by?

A: It would always be better if there were more appearances. We say this for every tournament, but in this year's U21 tournament, the big stand-out for us at the FA was the fact that the Spanish squad collectively had 21,000 more minutes than us, in terms of top flight minutes, and it was 14,000 more for the Germans.

We had the likes of Nathan Redmond, Jordan Pickford, James Ward-Prowse who had played regularly for their clubs, but when you compare ourselves to Spain, Germany, Italy, France and Portugal, we were miles behind.

But it was such a good summer that we have been able to bring up the question now -- are English players good enough? Yes, they are. They are the best in the world at U20, in the top four in the U21s, the U17s are top two and the U18s and U19s won their tournaments, so the fact is that the players are there.

We are now beholden to the clubs, and also the players to push themselves forward, to ensure that they get the chance they need.

Q: Is it a frustration that other major nations appear to have a pathway at club level for their youngsters? France, for instance, have seen Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele move for huge fees to top clubs after being given the chance to shine.

A: The best players will always break through because the cream does rise to the top, but there seem to be more youngsters given the chance for that to happen with the French. Mbappe played against us in the France team that we beat at U19s level a couple of years ago in Germany, but you can be as good as you want, you still need that opportunity to show what you're all about.

Our lads have proved they can do it and they just need the opportunity to show they can do it in the Premier League. It's a difficult one, though, because I've been there as a manager [with Watford] and you have to question when you can trust the youngsters do it. Some can. But some can't.

Q: Is Manchester United's Marcus Rashford an example of what can happen when a young, homegrown player is given a first-team chance?

A: It's amazing, when you think that this is a player who has scored on every single debut he has had for the first-team. You never know about people until you test them, but you always need the opportunity and that little break of luck.

I've always said that the best youth policy must have great recruitment, great coaching and a manager at the top who will play them. If you have that, you're onto a winner.

Q: Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the one player from the U20s who has been given regular football by his club this season. How do you view his progress?

A: If you think about Dominic's rise, a year ago he was playing for Sheffield United and then went on loan to Northampton. He came with us with the U20s, played against Brazil and the next minute, he earned himself a £1 million move to Everton and he has kicked on since then.

He has scored in a [U20] World Cup final and it has been amazing few months for him, but he wouldn't be able to do that if he hadn't had the opportunity.

Everton have given him that. Tom Davies has broken through too; Jonjoe Kenny is on the periphery, waiting to bang the door down; Ademola Lookman has gone in and done really well too. The more they play, the more game-time and experience they get, the better.

Everton seem to be a club that will give youth a chance, give it a go. They just passed 1,000 consecutive games with an Everton graduate in their squad and I think that's brilliant and a great pat on the back for their Academy.

Q: The likes of Spain, Italy and Germany pick their best players for junior tournaments, but the example of Rashford missing out on the European U21 Championships this summer suggests English football still focuses solely on the seniors?

A: It's important to take each individual differently. Marcus had only played one game in the U21s, but he had moved on and was more of a senior player than an U21 player. So while the Spanish and Italians brought players down from the seniors, the Germans actually pushed theirs up and won the Confederations Cup.

Like the French, you look at the Germans and think where is the talent coming from? It goes back to the fact that they are getting opportunities to play. They are playing football regularly and you can't beat that.

Q: Chelsea and Manchester City have contested the last three FA Youth Cup finals -- Chelsea have reached six successive finals -- but neither club seems prepared to give their young players a first-team chance. How can that change?

A: It's a lot harder at those clubs to make the breakthrough, there's no doubt about that, but if you look at Chelsea and the players they have brought through, the talent is getting a chance.

Tammy Abraham is playing in the Premier League on loan at Swansea, Nathaniel Chalobah has moved to Watford and has done really well. The lads have maybe realised that they have to go out to go back again.

Romelu Lukaku is a good example of that. He had to leave Chelsea to go to a lesser level, with West Brom and then Everton, before getting his move to Manchester United. But unless you get the opportunity you'll never be able to break through.

The biggest clubs have the most money and best players, but if you only have that option, you can't see the wood for the trees at times. There might be one kid in there that can make a difference, though.

A few years ago, when Arsenal began to bring a lot of foreign players in, the outstanding performer for them in the first-team was Ashley Cole, who came through the system. He was the best they had and was always going to come through, but in the end, he needed somebody to give him the chance to play.

Q: The current senior squad includes the likes of Pickford, Harry Maguire, Harry Winks and Rashford, so does that show that the talent is emerging?

A: I share an office with [senior manager] Gareth [Southgate] and it's more joined up than it ever has been. The players know they have more of an opportunity than ever before. We have a limited crop of players to use because of the pathway in the Premier League, but we have to get those numbers creeping up, so Gareth has more decisions to make when he comes to pick his squad.