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England kids turning up the heat… Young Lions are hungry for glory at the Under 21 European Championship and here’s how they plan to get it
England’s young footballers have spent the last couple of years gathering trophies around the world, but one prize has remained beyond them.
The Under 21 European Championship carries great prestige but England have had a habit of falling short in this tournament. They have not won it since 1984 but hopes are high that the talented group Aidy Boothroyd has taken to Italy will reverse the trend.
They begin with a tough assignment against France in Cesena but the planning for this campaign has been meticulous. Here Sportsmail provides the inside track on how Boothroyd and his players are planning to conquer Europe.
Aidy Boothroyd is hoping to guide England to glory at the 2019 European U21 Championship
This 23-man squad is familiar with success, with many of them graduating from teams that won the Under 20 World Cup, the Under 17 World Cup and Under 19 Euros in 2017. The stories they share from those triumphs have made them collectively hungry to be successful again.
They spoke about this when the players and management went out to bond over a meal at a restaurant called The Swan, close to St George’s Park last Monday.
England are using the training facilities of AC Sammaurese, a club in Serie D, and the walls of the changing rooms have been adorned with inspiring messages from Gareth Southgate, Raheem Sterling and others who know what it means to play for England.
‘It is a genius thing to do in terms of psychology, motivation and making the players feel at home,’ said Boothroyd. ‘I love the training ground, especially the old Rocky Balboa-style gym with its punch-bag. It is the sort of place that lets the players know they are here to work.’
England are among the favourites to win the title and they begin their challenge against France
The temperatures here on the Adriatic coast are stifling, so before and after each training session England’s players go on the scales to see how their weight is affected. They are being urged to load up on carbohydrates to balance the work they are doing.
‘I was about 74 kilos (11st 9lb) on the dot and I had gone down to 73.4, so I lost quite a bit,’ said the Arsenal forward Reiss Nelson.
‘It’s been a massive change from England. It’s really hard to train in. When we went to 11 v 11s and the small-sided games I really started to feel the fatigue.’
After each session, they are given protein shakes and many of the squad sleep straight after eating, though naps are limited to 40 minutes as anything more disrupts the night-time pattern.
Heat is clearly going to be an issue during games, although most will kick-off at 9pm local time, so to get attuned to the conditions, the FA’s sport science department had unconventional advice for the players.
‘We were told to take hot baths each day and go in the sauna as it would be good preparation,’ said Nelson. ‘Normally you are told to adapt when you get out here — train hard and then it will get easier — but the hot bath method was the first time I’d tried that. It has helped the boys a lot.’
Reiss Nelson pictured during an England recovery session after a tough training workout
The opening assignment against France on Tuesday is as tough as it gets, not least as they have Moussa Dembele and Houssem Aouar, the Lyon midfielder admired by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.
England, however, are undaunted and Ezri Konsa, the Brentford defender, could be a secret weapon to unsettle France. He speaks French fluently and used to converse in that language with his team-mates Julian Janvier and Yohan Barbet to confuse Championship strikers.
‘I’ll understand so I’ll be telling all the lads what they’re saying,’ Konsa said with a smile.
‘It’s good to play France as it’s the biggest game of the tournament and we have to grasp it. We have many good players in this team. We should go out and prove ourselves.’
Brentford defender Ezri Konsa (left) could be a secret weapon to unsettle France on Tuesday