The boys who would be KING

The secrets of England’s World Cup dreamers by the mentors who know them best

Reporting by Joe Bernstein, Tom Collomosse, Robert Dineen, Richard Gibson, Adrian Kajumba and James Sharpe



dmg media (UK)

World Cup 2022

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD Sheila Rimmer, teacher at St Matthew’s Primary School, Liverpool OUR outdoor area was concrete and I can still picture Trent dribbling, doing turns, always with a ball. He and his friend stood out even at four. I told the parents they should try to get them into a team. Liverpool used to invite six children to have coaching for half a term. Trent got one of these ‘golden tickets’ in year one, that’s when they first saw him play and he’s been signed up ever since. He was a confident boy. Football was his main passion but he was also academically bright and got on with his classmates. His mum was big on the PTA and would do anything for the school. She supported him too, taking him to the academy several nights a week. On the card the children signed at the end of Year One, Trent wrote ‘Miss Rimmer, the first goal I score at Anfield is for you’. It was unbelievable to see it [Boxing Day 2017 v Swansea]. It was a miserable day and I was actually thinking I couldn’t be bothered going to the match, and my Dad said: ‘No, that lad is going to score for you today.’ I remember being in the Kop crying. Watching what he has won and doing a tour of the city, it’s amazing to think this boy was in my class. After he’d played a couple of first-team games, there was a knock on my door at home. I was sat watching telly, and it was Trent’s mum, Diane. She said: ‘Miss Rimmer, Trent wants you to have one of his first Liverpool shirts.’ It had Alexander on the back [he later switched to Alexander-Arnold] with the 66, and he’d signed it. His mum is down to earth and keeps in touch. Watching Trent in the Liverpool kit was the best feeling, but to see him play for his country as well is fantastic. JORDAN PICKFORD Nicky Law, ex-manager of non-League Alfreton I KNEW the Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill and he trusted us with his 18-yearold goalkeeper on loan to help his development. Jordan commuted from the North-East three times a week because we couldn’t afford to pay for digs. He didn’t have any airs and graces, he wasn’t one of these Premier League academy types who would turn up with a fancy washbag and fast car. Sunderland sent him because they knew he would be tested. In academy football, you don’t get a big centre-forward trying to put the goalie in the back of the net or smashing him with an elbow. Even then, I’d never seen a goalkeeper kick a ball that well. I’d worked with internationals like Boaz Myhill and Aidan Davison but Jordan was miles ahead, even as a teenager. We played Newport in terrible wind and rain. Their manager, Justin Edinburgh, told me his goalie, Lenny Pidgeley, was the best kicker he’d seen. Jordan caught one, pushed the back four out and drop-kicked into a headwind right to their six-yard box. Justin turned to me and mouthed ‘J **** C ***** ’. He was such a grounded lad and had the right character. He once had a sore knee and the sports science department at Sunderland wanted him to go back there to rest. But Jordan went on at them to allow him to play, which shows something about his strength of personality at a young age. On the pitch, he made everything look easy. After Jordan’s final game against Forest Green, I told the chairman, ‘You aren’t going to see that boy again unless you are watching on the telly!’ RAHEEM STERLING Steve Gallen, former QPR youth coach RAHEEM had the talent coaches see once in a lifetime, if they’re lucky. I first watched him against Wycombe under-12s. Wycombe would score, Raheem would score, Wycombe would score, Raheem would score. It was ridiculous. I think Wycombe ended up winning 5-4 against our one-man team. I’d just been watching Raheem Park Rangers. He was totally running the show. He had athleticism and brightness and hated losing. Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs all knew about Raheem as he developed but their attitude was: ‘Too small, too much baggage.’ He needed support and guidance. I wanted him to stay at QPR and persuaded the reserves to give him his debut at 15 so he’d feel fast-tracked. But at one meeting, after training, Raheem said: ‘Steve, I have to go.’ He was genuinely upset and I thought, ‘I can’t do that to a kid’. So we reluctantly agreed to listen to offers and Liverpool came in. I can see it was the right thing for him to leave, as much for a change in environment off the pitch. We can all talk about his tough upbringing but he was the one living it. HARRY MAGUIRE Scott Sellars, his under-12s coach at Sheffield United I HAD a family connection with the Maguires, I’d played with his dad Alan in junior football and my son was in Harry’s team at United. Harry played midfield at the time, we felt he’d end up as a centre-back but being in the middle of the park helped his development, he learned how to drive forward with the ball. I’d been a professional player and always looked at the youngster’s character. They all had talent at the academy but you wanted to see if they could deal with pressure and bounce back from adversity. Harry had those qualities even then. He was a smashing lad. MARCUS RASHFORD David Horrocks, coach at Fletcher Moss Rangers MARCUS was scouted by Manchester City as well as United and trained at their academy, which was near his house. United were so worried about losing him they asked me to drive him over one Sunday morning so they could make their pitch. United’s advantage was a programme set up at all levels by Rene Meulensteen to develop individual skills. It suited Marcus because he was allowed to have the ball and express himself rather than pass-pass-pass. I was at Fletcher Moss on the day we were allowed to start coaching again after Covid and the news came through about Marcus’s campaign allowing kids to continue free meals into the holidays. A lot of our children were on free school meals so it was a big help to them. When I saw Marcus play last season, something wasn’t right, whether it was injury or something going on in the background. But he’s shown great concentration and hunger this season to get on the plane for the World Cup. DECLAN RICE Tony Carr, ex-West Ham academy manager WHAT I like about Declan is he always looked you in the eye. If the coaches said something, he’d hold his gaze and show he understood. He came to us from Chelsea at 14. Our head of scouting Dave Hunt said they’d let two players go that we should have a look at. It was quickly evident he could pass and move, and was available to receive the ball. We liked him, took him and the rest is history. His attitude was first class. Some players might get carried away travelling with the first team, but Declan didn’t. He stayed grounded because he comes from a sensible family but it’s probably still surprised us how quickly he’s achieved. He keeps getting better and better. Even though West Ham have struggled this season, his standards haven’t dropped. Even a week from the World Cup, he was giving his all, driving the team. KALVIN PHILLIPS Sonny Sweeney, Leeds scout who spotted him at 13 I WAS at a gala and this lad’s passing was smashing. Both short and long, he was very good for a young boy. I spoke to his coach at Wortley, got his details and then talked to his mum that night. People often ask whether I was surprised he hadn’t been picked up by anyone at that stage and the answer is no because you do miss the occasional one. When he was at the Leeds academy, he got a lot of stick early on with people saying that he couldn’t run. I always tell a story related to that. I played in the European Cup for Cork Hibernians against Borussia Monchengladbach in 1971 and they had a guy who couldn’t run. His name was Gunter Netzer. I couldn’t get anywhere near him in 90 minutes. He might not have been able to get up and down the pitch but he was moving all the time. Kalvin has similar qualities and has always been a great user of the ball. Marcelo Bielsa was a great influence and the one who sorted Kalvin out because he assessed where his strengths were. He’s always been better facing the ball, so he can get it down and pass it whereas before he had been playing too far up the field as a midfielder, which meant he often had his back to the game. KYLE WALKER Ron Reid, former Sheffield United academy manager WHEN I first came across Kyle, he was a titch, playing as a forward. Sharpish, with good technique and ability but he was never going to be a striker. But during his under-15 season, we were playing Forest away and we were getting tanked down the right, so at half-time the coach made the change, asking the team who could fill in there. Kyle volunteered and the rest is history. But it wasn’t until he was 18 that I really knew. Kyle was disillusioned — he wasn’t in the first team and too old to play in the under-18s. I asked if he could play as one of two overaged players in our academy team. I played him at centre-half in his first game and the score at the end was Kyle Walker 0 Aston Villa 0. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand. He was head and shoulders above everyone else. Later that 2008-09 season, with two Championship matches to go, he made the best league debut I’ve ever seen. We played Swansea at Bramall Lane and he looked like he’d been doing it for years at that level. We lost the play-off final to Burnley soon after, and he went off to Tottenham for a relatively cheap price, being the makeweight in a double deal which also included Kyle Naughton. JACK GREALISH John McGinty, under-13s Gaelic football coach HE played for a club called John Mitchels in Solihull and his best moment came when an Irish team, Castleblayney, came over and we demolished them. Jack held on to the ball brilliantly and was the most fouled player, just like he is now in the Premier League. In one tournament, he took that many whacks that he couldn’t play in the final. He was quick, clever – and a nice lad to go with it. We couldn’t get him to play for us every time because he was on Aston Villa’s books, but when he could get there, it lifted everyone to have that talent in the team. If you can retain the ball or see someone making a run, that’s what it’s all about. I can see the same qualities when he plays now. With other players of that age, instructions would sometimes go in one ear and out the other, but Jack would always listen and understand. You never had to do too much shouting at him. MASON MOUNT Kevin Neil, his coach at Boarhunt Rovers & United Services AT six, he’d turn up an hour before his session and just kick the ball, left and right foot, on his own. And he’d stay for an hour-and-half after. I coached him until he was eight and even at that age, he was hellbent on training. When I talked to his group of kids together, he was always at the front and never moved his eyes away. He just listened, wanted to learn. You could tell he wanted it so badly, even at that age. I never knew him mess around in the two years he was with us and I believe he’s still like that today. Even at Chelsea he is in the training ground at 8am and doesn’t go home until 4pm. He and the family deserve the success because going through academies requires a lot of commitment. I tell everyone, if you want to be a footballer, the one person to look at is Mason Mount. He is such a level-headed kid and a role model. Impeccable. He had to sacrifice things like going to school parties with mates. Training to be a footballer was his life. ERIC DIER Peter Taylor, former England under-20s coach IT WAS a tough choice to pick the centre-halves at the FIFA tournament in 2013. At that time, Eric was a bit more mobile and a bit more of a footballer than Harry Maguire, so he got the nod, with Jamal Lascelles. You could say it was a wrong decision to leave Harry out because what he’s gone on to achieve, World Cup semi-finalist and Manchester United captain, is phenomenal. Eric fitted in with the other lads absolutely fine even though he wouldn’t have known a lot of them. His dad was a big influence and he was on the phone to him a lot. KIERAN TRIPPIER Sean Dyche, his manager at Burnley I HAD a standard line at Burnley: ‘I don’t do favourites, except Tripps’. It was delivered deadpan and made the lads laugh. The truth is we did respect and value Kieran hugely. He’d just turned 22 when I joined. The talent wasn’t hard to find but the sharp side of professionalism needed altering. He got his body fat down and strength up. He took in all the information and realised what could be achieved. He deserves a huge amount of credit. He looked sharper and fitter from our first full pre-season and rampaged through the Championship. I think he got 13 assists when we were promoted. He went on to adjust to a possibly even harder regime at Tottenham and took the massive leap to Atletico Madrid which further developed him on and off the pitch. He was a cheeky chappie but he didn’t step out of line. Tripps has proved he’s a top professional. It will continue to pay him back. BUKAYO SAKA Mark Harvey, his PE teacher at Greenford High, London THE Bukayo Saka you see doing every interview with a smile on his face and carrying himself so well, he’s always been like that, I promise you. As an 11-year-old in Year Seven, he was the calming factor in the class. For the majority of kids, PE was their favourite lesson of the week and some of them were hyper. He was always calm and respectful and had a really nice relationship with everyone. Every lesson I go into now, someone mentions his name. My message is continue to do what you’re doing — you’re literally the talk of the school! JAMES MADDISON Rich Stevens, former Coventry academy manager THERE was something different about James. The way he could change direction, his agility, courage and confidence. Everywhere you went, everyone knew about him. I remember a boy who was physically unrecognisable to the man you see now. The one thing in your mind was what his body was going to become. He was a late developer but that helped him. He learned how to use his body, how to use the ball, how to take contact and get away from it, twist and turn and spin. It gave him an edge. Even when he was younger, you couldn’t get him off the training ground. He loved taking free-kicks. Ten balls down on the edge of the area, whipping them into the corners. It doesn’t surprise you when he scores them any more. JOHN STONES Mark Burton, former head of coaching at Barnsley academy WE PLAYED him in midfield occasionally, not thinking that he was going to be a midfielder, but that if he wanted to step in there, we could see what he was like. Check out his 360-degree vision. Could he see round corners? When he was in there, was he comfortable? It was good exposure for him. He was a good footballer, so you could have put him up front at agegroup level and he would have done all right. I predominantly saw him as a centre-half who could step into midfield and join in with the play. So we gave him the licence to do that. To do Cruyff turns and stepovers in his own box. Did he make mistakes? Yes. Is that what youth football is all about? To make mistakes that you learn from and get better? Of course it is. Now he has the best manager in the world in Pep Guardiola and he appreciates him for what he is. JORDAN HENDERSON Kevin Ball, former academy coach at Sunderland I WATCHED Jordan at 17 in a youth team game and turned round to tell [fitness coach] Scott Pearce: ‘He’ll play for England one day’. When Scott asked me why, I said it was because he had an unbelievable drive to succeed. I never told Jordan I’d predicted that, but later found out Scott had! Jordan went on to Liverpool and to captain his country. I met up with him before the 2014 World Cup when I was in Miami visiting a friend while England were there before heading to Brazil. I went to the team hotel to have a cup of tea with Jordan. I wanted to see what he was like with me; if it was the same Jordan, with that same humility, and it was. LUKE SHAW James Bunce, former Southampton youth coach LUKE’S ability to rebound from criticism is exceptional. Despite some open, sometimes horrible, personal attacks, he has always rebounded. I met Luke when he was 12 and worked with him until he joined Manchester United. He was always willing to learn. He’d spend hours in the manager’s office with Mauricio Pochettino. I’ve laughed with Luke about what people say about his body. We banned them from having sugary breakfasts and when he got called up to England under-20s, he sent me a picture of some Coco Pops with the caption: ‘See, England know how to look after you!’ It is an unfair assessment of him. You don’t play in one of the most physically demanding leagues in the world if there is a problem with your body.