There can be no argument that the rise in talent throughout the footballing pyramid has continued to increase year-on-year, which has been emphasised by the number of young players coming through the EFL to feature in the Premier League.
In fact, this summer transfer window alone has seen two of the Sky Bet Championship’s best assets fly the nest to chase their top-flight dreams, in the form of Eberechi Eze and Ollie Watkins who signed for Crystal Place and Aston Villa respectively following high-profile moves.
Who can forget the likes of Luke Matheson, who burst onto the scene at the age of 15 for Rochdale in 2018 before going on to secure a move to Wolverhampton Wanderers back in January? Or EFL Young Player of the Year, Jude Bellingham, who is now playing alongside some of the world’s best players at German giants Borussia Dortmund?
We know the impact that these type of players can have at club level, but a deeper look reveals just how much of an impact players playing in the EFL have had on the international stage for England.
Take the latest international squad for example. Manager Gareth Southgate has chosen to call up 30 individuals for the upcoming games against Wales, Belgium and Denmark respectively - but can you guess how many of those have either come through the League pyramid or played for an EFL club at one point in their career?
Twenty four. And one of those players included in that group is Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips.
After achieving promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2019/20 season, the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ was called up to the Three Lions squad for the first time in his career, despite having not played a game in the top tier of English football.
A huge amount of credit must go to the player, of course, but Phillips, like the rest of Leeds, will know that the tactics enforced by legendary manager Marcelo Bielsa is one of the main reasons why the Whites gained promotion. Not only that, he got the best out of one of their very own.
“He’s a player we’ve watched a lot in the last 12 months, in particular, with Leeds,” said Southgate reflecting on Phillips’ maiden call-up.
“They’ve had an outstanding way of playing and the position he plays is a position where we need competition for places. The way that he plays the role and the way he’s been coached in the role is clear to see.”
Since his appointment as Three Lions boss in 2016, Southgate been methodical in selecting his players - in turn handing no fewer than 36 different players their debuts across multiple different tournaments.
Out of those 36 players - only seven of them have not come through the footballing pyramid or played for an EFL club during their career.
And as many as 20 of the 23 chosen by Southgate to represent England at the World Cup in 2018 either came through an EFL club academy or made their debut in an EFL competition.
It’s evident, then, that the view for Southgate and the national team is very much long-term, with youth development at the heart of it all. And, with EFL Clubs doing a fine job of nurturing their cubs, it can only serve to help the Three Lions.
Fittingly, the parting message from the England manager from an exclusive chat with the EFL in 2019 ties the lot together – it’s time to celebrate successes, learn from disappointments and build for the future; sound advice for any aspiring player.
“I think we’ve shown that young players can come into the senior team and flourish,” he said proudly. “Winning at junior international level has historically been a good indicator that countries can have a good period; the quality coming through and the belief they have because of their experiences, it’s beyond where we’ve been for a few years.
“Our job now is to back that up. None of us were happy on the plane home from the World Cup in 2018, and that had to be the mentality. We have to make sure that’s just part of the journey for us, and not the end of it.”