International Under-20 tournament: The lessons from young England’s return to Toulon

James Scowcroft reports on the international Under-20 tournament where Brazil and France left Southgate’s side in the shade

1 The Tournament of stars

“The tournament of future stars” is the nickname of the famous Toulon event which has been going for 40 years, not surprisingly as more than 1,600 of the young players who have featured there have gone to play for their countries.

The Toulon tournament has witnessed some great young talent, from Cafu, Jean-Pierre Papin and Alan Shearer through to David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. The list is virtually endless. It gives Under-20s the experience of going away for two weeks and a taste of tournament football.

2 A scouting heaven

With the array of talent on show it is no shock that the Toulon tournament is a magnet for scouts and agents. Scout 7, a Birmingham-based company, co-ordinated 260 scouts from all over the world at the event.

A package is put together that details for registered scouts each country’s squad, every player’s age, the experience they have so far, which club they are with and when their contract expires. The way scouts work these days is changing from the naked eye to a computer database.

3 The hosts France

France were one of the outstanding teams, even though Brazil overpowered them  5-2 in Sunday’s final, the hosts showing a wealth of talent over the course of the tournament.

Adrien Rabiot, Wesley Saïd, Mouhamadou-Naby Sarr and Lenny Nangis all shone for Les Bleus. Rabiot, the star of the team, broke into the Paris Saint-Germain side in 2012 at the age of 17 and has already featured in the Champions League. Expect to hear plenty about the central midfielder in the near future, while some of the others could find their way into the Premier League soon.

4 The winners Brazil

It is easy to appreciate why Brazil have had success at senior level, seeing how much their side wanted to win in Toulon. While you could admire their technical ability, it was also apparent how aggressive Brazil were, which is not a bad thing if it’s channelled in the right way.

I was lucky enough to watch Brazil train and was mystified to see 18 players in a ridiculously small area playing a game. However, I was told it was something Brazil teams do a lot as it tests them technically in tight spaces, something they then use to good effect in proper games in and around the opposition’s penalty area.

Players who stood out were the right-back Gilberto and right-winger Leandro, while the star in the team was defender Marquinhos, who is on the verge of a £30m move to Barcelona from PSG.

5 England

It was a disappointing tournament for England, who finished fourth, as they were looking to build on the recent Under-17s win in the European Championship. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Chelsea midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah were the two players who really impressed after coach Gareth Southgate made the decision for England to enter the tournament for the first time since 2005.

There were many learning experiences for the young England players: how strict the referees are; the play-acting of some of the opposition; playing in warm-weather conditions; and the demands of games every two or three days.

Things are improving under Southgate. Players are encouraged to play out from the back – there is no longer a rush to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, while keeping possession is key. The Football Association is trying very hard to lay down a footballing philosophy from the Under-16s all the way through to the senior side. It will take time and will not happen overnight. On the evidence in Toulon –and I know England were missing several key players – they are still some way behind.


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