Football News

Where are they now? The XI from Aidy Boothroyd’s first England U21 game

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:58, 18 April 2021 | Updated: 11:48, 20 April 2021

Aidy Boothroyd has stepped down as manager of England U21 after almost five years in charge of the Young Lions.

England were knocked out of the 2021 European U21 Championships at the group stage, finishing bottom of their group behind Portugal, Croatia and Switzerland thanks to a late goal conceded in their final game.

Boothroyd’s contract was up this summer but the decision was made to end it early, with the 50-year-old saying: “It’s been the greatest privilege to represent the FA and lead England teams into high-profile tournaments.

“While we didn’t finish in the way we wanted, I’m very proud to have been able to work so closely with players who I know will go on to have remarkable international careers and to have experienced some very special moments with them over the years.”

Boothroyd took the job in 2016 upon stepping up from U20s level to replace Gareth Southgate, who had taken charge of the senior team following Sam Allardyce’s departure. His first job was to finish the 2017 U21 Euros qualification campaign, with two games left in the group. His first match in charge was against Kazakhstan on October 6, a 1-0 win with a team full of talent.

So how have the 13 players Boothroyd used in Kazakhstan fared over the past four-and-a-half years?

Goalkeeper: Freddie Woodman

Age: 24
Club: Swansea City (on loan from Newcastle United)
Senior England caps: 0

Freddie Woodman made his England U21 debut in Boothroyd’s first game in charge, keeping a clean sheet in Kazakhstan, but the goalkeeper hasn’t enjoyed the explosive growth many would have hoped. He would represent England U21 just five more times before falling out of the age bracket, spending a lot of his time with the Young Lions as deputy to the likes of Dean Henderson and Angus Gunn. Woodman did, however, win the U20 World Cup in 2017 after his U21 debut.

At club level, Woodman is currently on his sixth loan spell away from Newcastle, spending his second consecutive season in the Championship with Swansea.

Right-back: Mason Holgate

Age: 24
Club: Everton
Senior England caps: 0

Like Woodman, Mason Holgate’s U21 debut came against Kazakhstan at right-back, his first position before making a switch to central defence in the past few years. Unfortunately, Holgate also followed Woodman in only playing six times for the U21s before outgrowing the group, but he did feature in all four of England’s games at the European U21 Championships in 2017 as they reached the semi-finals under Boothroyd. There were rumours of Holgate switching allegiance to the Jamaican national team and applying for a passport, but he was not called up for the most recent international break.

Holgate has been an important part of Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton side this season, starting at right-back, centre-back, and even in midfield, and looks to be a long-term fixture for the Toffees.

Centre-back: Calum Chambers

Age: 26
Club: Arsenal
Senior England caps: 3

Calum Chambers was one of the more experienced U21 players from Boothroyd’s opening game, having already played 15 games prior after breaking through at Southampton and then joining Arsenal. But that’s far from the weirdest thing about his international career. Chambers actually made his England senior debut before his U21 one, featuring in three games in 2014 as the Three Lions started their qualification for Euro 2016. He hasn’t featured since, however.

Injury problems have seriously hampered Chambers’ career so far for club and country, but he is starting to enjoy a run in the Arsenal team.

Centre-back: Rob Holding

Age: 25
Club: Arsenal
Senior England caps: 0

Rob Holding wasn’t part of the Young Lions team for too long, making just five appearances in total with the game against Kazakhstan being his third. Holding was an unused substitute at the 2017 U21 Euros but is still awaiting a first senior call-up.

Like his Arsenal teammate, Holding has seriously suffered from injuries but looks to have finally broken his bad luck streak, being one of Mikel Arteta’s starting centre-backs this season.


Left-back: Brendan Galloway

Age: 25
Club: Luton Town
Senior England caps: 0

Back to another player who received their debut in Boothroyd’s first game, Brendan Galloway’s England U21 career so very short, lasting just three matches. He was previously called up for the Young Lions under Southgate but didn’t play and has been unable to kick on due to his struggles at club level.

Galloway left Everton in 2019, joining Championship side Luton Town, where he has barely played due to injury.

Defensive midfielder: Nathaniel Chalobah

Age: 26
Club: Watford
Senior England caps: 1

One of the real big stars of this team, Nathaniel Chalobah made his U21 debut way back in 2012 as a 17-year-old and, no matter the manager, was ever-present for the Young Lions. Under Boothroyd specifically he played nine times (taking his overall total to 40, the second-most U21s caps earned by an England player) before ageing out after the 2017 U21 Euros. The now-26-year-old has so far made just one appearance for the England senior team.

Chalobah is one of the biggest ‘what could have been’ players in England and it really isn’t his fault. The midfielder got lost in the loan system at Chelsea, even going as far as Napoli where he was roommates with Jorginho under Maurizio Sarri. After leaving permanently for Watford after impressing, he has been plagued by injury problems. Though he does look to have moved on from that now.

Central midfielder: James Ward-Prowse

Age: 26
Club: Southampton
Senior England caps: 6

James Ward-Prowse was another regular for England U21s, playing 31 times in total following his debut in 2013. The midfielder was captain under Boothroyd and one of the most talented players in the squad, making his senior debut just before the 2017 U21 Euros. But he had to wait two years for his next game and another year or so to finally be a regular for England, and in contention for Euro 2020.

The midfielder has performed at a consistently high level for Southampton for years and is now genuinely considered a contender to Lionel Messi for the title of European football’s best free-kick specialist. He’s scored four of them in the Premier League this season, the most across Europe’s top five leagues. No wonder Pep Guardiola once called him “the best free-kick taker I have seen in my life.” Saints teammate Theo Walcott even labelled him ‘better than Beckham’ at free-kicks.

Central midfielder: Lewis Baker

Age: 25
Club: Trabzonspor (on loan from Chelsea)
Senior England caps: 0

Lewis Baker was another one of England’s talented group, a goalscoring midfielder, but like too many others he hasn’t been able to translate that to senior level. The 25-year-old made 17 appearances in total for the U21s, scoring eight goals including one at the 2017 U21 Euros.

Baker is currently on his eighth loan spell away from Chelsea and has been the victim of a few bad moves for various reasons.

Attacking midfielder: Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Age: 25
Club: Fulham (on loan from Chelsea)
Senior England caps: 10

Before Ward-Prowse, Ruben Loftus-Cheek would have been considered the only success of this U21 XI in terms of making the step up to senior level. Loftus-Cheek was another goalscoring midfielder, scoring seven in 17 games for England U21s but he missed out on the 2017 U21 Euros through a back injury. The midfielder has earned 10 caps for England so far and was part of the Three Lions squad at the 2018 World Cup, starting two of their group games.

But, yet again: injuries. Loftus-Cheek was breaking into Chelsea’s team at the end of the 2018/19 season and one of their best players until suffering a serious ankle injury in a friendly from which he hasn’t fully recovered, either in terms of ability or confidence-wise.

Striker: Demarai Gray

Age: 24
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Senior England caps: 0

Demarai Gray was the goalscoring hero against Kazakhstan, opening the scoring inside six minutes, his first of eight goals for England U21s. One of the younger members of this squad, Gray remained with U21s until 2019, and has been called up for the senior squad but didn’t get onto the pitch. Like Holgate, Gray is eligible for Jamaica and a switch has been rumoured but nothing has happened yet.

A bright young talent, Gray didn’t show his abilities consistently enough for Leicester and eventually fell down the pecking order before moving to Bayer Leverkusen in January. He has started just four league games in Germany so far.

Striker: Nathan Redmond

Age: 27
Club: Southampton
Senior England caps: 1

Nathan Redmond was the veteran of this U21 group, having made his debut in 2013 as a 19-year-old, and going until the end of the 2017 U21 Euros. The forward played 38 games in total for the Young Lions, with only Chalobah and James Milner managing more appearances, while he is one of just five players to break into double digits for goals (scoring 10). However, all that youth experience has yielded just one cap for Redmond in England’s senior team, a friendly match against Germany in 2017 (has been called up since without playing, however).

Redmond remains a reliable option at club level for Southampton, though he has had to split his appearances this season between starts and cameos.

Substitutes

Duncan Watmore

Age: 27
Club: Middlesbrough
Senior England caps: 0

Duncan Watmore was on his way out of the U21 set-up when Boothroyd took over and made his final appearance just three games later. He ended with 13 appearances, three goals and later became a unusual figure of interest in football media by earning a first-class Economics degree and saving three elderly holidaymakers after a boat crash in Barbados.

However, injury problems hampered his progress and club level and, as a result, his senior career. He is now in the Championship at Middlesbrough after ending a seven-year association with Sunderland.

Tammy Abraham

Age: 23
Club: Chelsea
Senior England caps: 6

Tammy Abraham came on for his England U21 debut in the 1-0 win over Kazakhstan, the start of what would be a very good career for the Young Lions. In 26 appearances he scored nine goals and is among the top 10 scorers for England U21s, and made his senior debut in 2017. Six caps have followed, with one goal, but Abraham has struggled for call ups with the talent ahead of him both for England and at club level.

Abraham is Chelsea’s top scorer across all competitions this season despite being out of favour, behind the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Olivier Giroud.

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