Football: Joachim's joyful look at the future: Caskey and Co raise home hopes

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The Independent Online
GIVEN that it is now almost impossible to tell one football season from another, the most surprising point about the European Under-18 Championship was the number of people who wanted to watch it. It is barely two months since the leavings of 1992-93 were swept away, scarcely two weeks before the retitled Premier League starts all over again, yet not even Graham Taylor's American misadventure appears to have diminished the public appetite.

The turn-out for Sunday's final in Nottingham caught out organisers and spectators alike, causing the kick-off to be delayed twice as well as the unscheduled opening of the City Ground's Trent End terrace. By the time England and Turkey were cleared to start the match, 25 minutes late, more than 23,000 were inside the stadium.

Here was proof that the game can capture the imagination yet, embodied in a group of young men untouched by cynicism, innocent of the grubby world of agents and signing-on fees, driven only by the enthusiasm of youth to show off their evolving skills. And at the end of it a trophy, a timely reassurance that sometimes England teams do win.

For the last week or so, the names of Robbie Fowler, Darren Caskey, Kevin Gallen and Sol Campbell have echoed beyond football's inner community. Suddenly they are perceived as the future we have craved since 1966. But how many will grow up to complete the journey?

Some of their number surely must. Fowler is already reckoned to be the best finisher at Anfield, his idol, Ian Rush, included; five goals in the tournament, a hat-trick against Spain, must raise the prospect of his playing alongside Rush before long. Caskey, seen as mature beyond his years by Tottenham, operated from his deep midfield position with a steadiness of temperament that ultimately was decisive on Sunday when he put away the only goal from the penalty spot.

Gallen, who scored 64 goals in Queens Park Rangers colours last season, looks bound to add plenty more. Campbell, on the other hand, will probably stop just as many. As tall and powerful an 18-year-old as you are likely to see, he was the rock of the English defence. He and Chris Day, a confident and agile goalkeeper, may well provide the solid backbone of a future Tottenham line-up.

None of these, though, stirs the imagination in quite the same way as the little forward, Julian Joachim, who has already been given his head by Leicester City. A goal of stunning quality in a televised FA Cup tie at Barnsley last season, and another against Portsmouth in the play-offs, signalled mouthwatering possibilities for a boy originally recruited on YTS terms. This tournament did nothing to suggest his talent has been overestimated.

His second goal against the Netherlands, volleyed in after he had flicked the ball over a defender's head, had the stamp of a player not only blessed with wonderful touch but with total self-belief. And that after he had already taken the breath away with a goal-creating diagonal pass of which Hoddle or Giles might have been proud.

In the absence of a holidaying Taylor, Lawrie McMenemy represented England's senior management at the final on Sunday. Joachim, Campbell and Caskey will be too old to play at this level before the end of the year, as will the Manchester United midfielder, Paul Scholes, and a Leeds trio of Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler and Noel Whelan. Ted Powell, the Under-18 manager, will have recommended all of them for the next level, the Under-21 side.

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