Football Features

What happened next? England’s first-ever U-20 World Cup-winning side from 2017

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:55, 6 October 2022

England and world champions uttered in the same sentence when relating to football conjures memories of 1966, that was until the summer of 2017.

The last few years have seen the Three Lions become a powerhouse regarding youth football, or to be more precise, being successful in various Uefa-sanctioned competitions.

It wouldn’t be long before they would triumph on the world stage. Paul Simpson, at the helm of England’s U-20 side, was cautiously optimistic heading into the World Cup being staged in South Korea.

And for good reason, his charges would not lose a single game heading into the final against Venezuela, whom they’d brush aside 1-0 to end a 51-year wait to win a global tournament trophy.

Those who featured became household names overnight, in the process shining the spotlight once again on the relationship between developing homegrown stars and English football’s top division (the Premier League).

That being said, what has been the fate of those 13 players Simpson used in the Suwon final?

GK: Freddie Woodman

Age: 25
Club: Preston North End
Senior caps: 0

A graduate of Newcastle United’s youth system, whom he joined from boyhood club Crystal Palace, the south Londoner featured in all but one of England’s seven U-20 World Cup matches, keeping four clean sheets in the process which ultimately earned him the competition’s Golden Glove award.

Unable to establish himself in the Magpies’ starting XI, Woodman made just nine first-team appearances and spent spells on loan at Hartlepool, Crawley, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Swansea and Bournemouth before finally leaving Newcastle in the summer. Woodman is now a regular in goal for Preston North End and has kept nine clean sheets in 12 Championship games so far this season for perhaps one of the most remarkable teams in England. After 12 matches, Preston have conceded just four goals but have also scored only four.

RB: Jonjoe Kenny

Age: 25
Club: Hertha Berlin
Senior caps: 0

One of a number of Evertonians in England’s championship-winning squad, the Liverpudlian truly broke through at Goodison Park during the 2017/18 campaign but struggled to supplant Seamus Coleman at right-back. During the 2019/20 season he was on loan at Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04, and following another loan spell at Celtic, moved to Germany permanently in the summer with Hertha Berlin.

CB: Fikayo Tomori

Age: 24
Club: AC Milan
Senior caps: 3

A product of Chelsea’s esteemed academy, the native of Calgary – who lifted back-to-back Uefa Youth League titles in 2015 and 2016 – enjoyed a loan spell at Championship side Hull City in the 2017/18 season while he played a key role in Derby County reaching the 2018/19 play-off final under Frank Lampard. He later thrived back at Chelsea under the very same manager, but he soon fell out of favour and was sent on loan to AC Milan. Last summer that loan move was made permanent and Tomori proved a pivotal part of Milan’s Serie A title-winning side. He still can’t get into Gareth Southgate’s England team somehow.

CB: Jake Clarke-Salter

Age: 25
Club: QPR
Senior caps: 0

Tomori’s former club-mate and yet another Chelsea academy graduate who spent the 2017/18 season playing Championship football, though Clarke-Salter’s loan spell at Sunderland was one to forget as he suffered the ignominy of relegation. In 2018/19, he impressed on loan at Vitesse but couldn’t break out of the loan cycle at Chelsea with further spells at Birmingham and Coventry before joining QPR permanently in the summer.

LB: Kyle Walker-Peters

Age: 25
Club: Southampton
Senior caps: 2

First team appearances were few and far between for Kyle Walker-Peters at Tottenham, even in the face of the likes of Kieran Trippier losing form and departing for Atletico Madrid. He did, however, register three assists during a 5–0 home win against Bournemouth, becoming the youngest player, aged 21 years and 257 days, to provide three assists in a Premier League game since Jermaine Pennant (aged 20 years and 227 days).

He later completed a permanent switch to Southampton after spending time at St Mary’s on loan, and has become one of the more underrated full-backs in the Premier League – earning links with a move back to Tottenham in the summer. Walker-Peters also made his England senior debut off the back of his form earlier this year.

CM: Lewis Cook

Age: 25
Club: Bournemouth
Senior caps: 1

Lewis Cook has kicked on since his 2017 success, where he became the first England captain to lift a world trophy since Bobby Moore, earning his first senior England cap against Italy in March 2018 as well as being close to making Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup, but he was ultimately named as one of the five players on standby.

Cook was in and out of the Bournemouth starting XI across 2019/20 as the Cherries dropped out of the Premier League after five years, but remained with them and eventually helped Scott Parker’s side seal their return to the top flight.

CM: Josh Onomah

Age: 25
Club: Fulham
Senior caps: 0

Limited opportunities in north London saw Onomah, another product of Spurs reputable academy system, join Aston Villa on a season-long loan where he played over 1,860 minutes of league football including a brief cameo in their Championship play-off final defeat against Fulham. He also spent the 2018/19 season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.

He moved to Fulham in the 2019 summer transfer window as part of the deal which saw Ryan Sessegnon relocate to Tottenham. After helping Fulham get back into the Premier League in 2019/20, Onomah has struggled for consistent game time at Craven Cottage and he’s yet to feature this season.

RM: Kieran Dowell

Age: 24
Club: Norwich City
Senior caps: 0

Dowell, another born and bred at Everton, initially broke through at Goodison Park during the 2015/16 season – playing 72 minutes across two Premier League matches – but rarely featured after that, instead enjoying loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, with whom he won promotion from the Championship. In 2019/20 he was on loan with Wigan Athletic, but eventually signed permanent terms with Norwich City, playing 61 times for the Canaries across two years.

CF: Dominic Solanke

Age: 25
Club: Bournemouth
Senior caps: 1

Ever-present during England’s incredible run, missing only 28 minutes of action, the former Chelsea academy graduate registered four goals including a brace in their semi-final win over Italy. His performances earned him a move to Liverpool, where Solanke played a squad role under Jurgen Klopp, leading to Southgate handing over a first senior international cap against Brazil at Wembley Stadium in November 2017. Solanke eventually moved to Bournemouth for £19m but struggled in the top flight before eventually finding his feet in the Championship. Across two campaigns, Solanke scored 44 goals in 86 Championship matches to help the Cherries back into the Premier League this season.

LM: Ademola Lookman

Age: 24
Club: Atalanta
Senior caps: 4 for Nigeria

Tipped for big things as he came through at Charlton Athletic, the Londoner joined Everton in early 2017 and seemed to establish himself under then-manager Ronald Koeman. However, limited opportunities following his departure saw him join RB Leipzig on a six-month loan where he shone brightly, having registered five goals and four assists across 11 outings for the Bundesliga outfit.

Lookman once again struggled for minutes under Marco Silva and ultimately re-joined Leipzig on a permanent basis. But more struggles came and loan spells at Fulham and Leicester followed before Lookman permanent joined Atalanta in the summer. The 24-year-old also has a new country, switching allegiances to Nigeria, for whom he has featured four times.

ST: Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Age: 25
Club: Everton
Senior caps: 11

Lookman’s teammate at Goodison Park has been a mainstay since arriving from Sheffield United in August 2016. The Yorkshireman, who scored the winning goal against Venezuela, excelled last season, first when Duncan Ferguson took over as caretaker Everton manager following Silva’s sacking, then as Carlo Ancelotti moved into the Goodison dugout.

Calvert-Lewin thrived under Ancelotti and scored 16 goals in 33 games in the 2020/21 Premier League season, form which saw him called up for Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad, playing 18 minutes and getting a runners-up medal. Since then, however, Calvert-Lewin has struggled with injuries, yet to feature this season.


Sheyi Ojo

Age: 25
Club: Cardiff City
Senior caps: 0

Ojo joined Liverpool’s academy from MK Dons in 2011 but made just 13 appearances for the Reds’ first team across his 11-year stay. Most of his time linked to the Anfield club was spent out loan and Ojo finally left Liverpool for Cardiff in the summer, having spent the 2020/21 campaign on loan in Wales.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Age: 25
Club: Southampton (on loan from Arsenal)
Senior caps: 5

One of the very last Arsenal youngsters to be handed their first-team debut under Arsene Wenger the Goodmayes-born multifunctional footballer grabbed his opportunity by the scruff of the neck, having made 15 league appearances during the 2017/18 season. Maitland-Niles later became an integral part of Mikel Arteta’s side and received five England caps for his showings in north London. But he eventually fell out of favour and, after spending the second half of last season on loan at Roma, Maitland-Niles is now with Southampton for the 2022/23 campaign.