By Jake Entwiste (@JakeEntwistle)
In a summer of unprecedented success, it was these Young Lions that still managed to stand above the rest. The priority now must be to ensure their talent is not lost.
2017 saw England enjoy the most successful summer in their history at youth level.
Maiden U20 World Cup and U19 Euro triumphs were accompanied by the retention of their Toulon Tournament crown, U17 Euro runners-up and a place in the U21 Euro semi-finals for the first time since 2009.
No side was beaten in 90 minutes. It was only the cruel mistress that is a penalty shootout saw the defeated sides fall.
It almost seems unfair therefore to single out individuals in what was clearly a fantastic few months for all involved. Yet, I felt the need to focus on the one player from each age group that really stood out amongst their peers.
The U17s were the most scintillating iteration of the Young Lions this summer and there was one player who epitomised that above all others. Similarly, the performances of one particular U20 ever-present embodied everything so impressive about the history-makers in South Korea.
As for the side that tore apart all challengers in Toulon, a specific individual seemed to be operating on his own plane of brilliance. Whilst the same can be said for the U19s, in which a unique talent took it upon himself to carry England to victory.
And finally, the European U21 Championships saw the emergence of a future leader for the national team; fitting in a summer which has seen a wave of optimism and excitement for England’s future develop.
Every England youth international this summer is deserving of praise. But for these five it is absolutely necessary.
European U17 Championship Special Mention
Age: 17 years old
Club: Manchester City
Jadon Sancho was the standout star in a tournament that was blessed with exceptional talent.
His dribbling made him a constant danger, whilst he proved deadly in the final third. He scored five goals and recorded five assists, a sensational contribution that reflected his key involvement in every attack and each passage of play that made England look threatening.
Given the platform to shine by his teammates, his synergy with England's attacking players was hypnotic. A particular understanding with Callum Hudson-Odoi was especially eye-catching. Both lightening quick on the counter and constantly swapping passes at high speeds between themselves, the England wingers formed an impressive and formidable duo that proved capable of unlocking any defence.
At 17, it may be too early for Sancho to force his way into a Manchester City team that becomes more talented (and more expensive) with each passing day. However, his current club would be foolish waiting too long to blood him.
Kylian Mbappé and even their very own Gabriel Jesus have shown that age can mean almost nothing. Jadon Sancho will be turning heads at the top-level soon. Whether he's sporting a sleek sky-blue kit remains to be seen.
European U19 Championship Special Mention
Age: 18 years old
Position: Centre-attacking Midfield
Not only was Chelsea's Young Player of the Year the best England player at the U19 Euros, he was the best player full-stop.
As the primary creator in an England side that relied on a more traditional formation built around width and pace, Mount was the perfect No.10 to tie everything together. Composure oozed from every inch of his body, whilst almost every touch was clinical and threatening. His excellent eye for a pass was equalled only by his ability to execute it.
Burdened with such creative responsibility, Mount stood up to the challenge and excelled in a free role that saw him carve out multiple opportunities for his teammates and break open the tightest of defences. He lead the assist charts with four, but created countless chances that were unfortunately spurned.
Almost comically, his parent club is Chelsea meaning his chances of breaking into their first team seem even slimmer than Sancho's. But just like his younger compatriot, this summer has provided Mason Mount with the opportunity to showcase his talent and what he can offer, all he could was deliver. He certainly did.
Toulon Tournament Special Mention
Age: 19 years old
Position: Attacking midfield
Club: Leicester City
England's first title of the summer was their successful defence as Toulon Tournament champions and Harvey Barnes played a major role in it.
Deployed as one of the supporting players behind a central striker in a 3-4-3 formation, Barnes' goalscoring prowess and intelligent passing was on full display.
For fans of seemingly trivial parts of the game, seeing the #8 plastered on the back of his shirt was poetic. There is something beautiful about seeing a player wearing that number making a decisive impact or scoring vital goals. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard probably have something to do with it from a generational perspective.
Scoring two goals in the semi-final against the old enemy and assisting David Brooks — close to being named as the Special Mentioned himself — in the final, Barnes' displays in France were punctuated by providing real moments of class at the most important of times.
Given his relatively successful loan spell at MK Dons and impressive performances for Leicester in the PL2, the Toulon Tournament was a magnificent end to a promising season. Barnes has done nothing if not help his burgeoning reputation as on of many young English talents to keep an eye on.
U20 World Cup Special Mention
Age: 20 years old
Despite being the first inclusion of a non-attacking player on paper, Kenny's inclusion in this article is as much to do with his offensive qualities as a right-back as it is to do with the defensive side.
Whilst the likes of Lewis Cook, Ademola Lookman and Dominic Solanke ahead of him gained plaudits for their decisive displays, Jonjoe Kenny was arguably the best performer of them all.
Omnipresent on the pitch, his seemingly infinite stamina allowed him to be the focal point out wide in attack and a trusty force in defence. With Kieran Dowell ahead of him preferring to drift inside, Kenny's attacking responsibility was to provide width, an outlet on the touchline. But he proved to me so much more than an extra option.
One of two players to play every single minute of every game in England's triumph, his marauding runs down the right also bore fruit in the shape of two assists. Kenny was not just consistent in Korea, he was consistently brilliant and a major part of the U20's success should be attributed to him.
Everton have already given opportunities to his fellow U20 champions Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jonjoe Kenny is almost certain to be the next Young Lion to be given full Premier League exposure.
Seamus Coleman is out injured for the foreseeable future after a horrendous leg break, whilst Mason Holgate sadly showed his limitations as a right-back. This U20 World Cup winner should be Ronald Koeman's right-back for the start of next season.
European U21 Championship Special Mention
Age: 23 years old
Despite being on the cusp of Scouted ineligibility, the drawn-out process of the Under-21 European Championships and the divisive set of rules that go with it were in fact a blessing this summer.
Alfie Mawson proved himself to be a titanic defender, but 'hulking' has become the word of choice when describing him. Dominant in the air, aggressive in the tackle and in his approach, the Swansea' centre-back shone the brightest for Aidy Boothroyd's side.
The tactics used by England U21s were perhaps favourable to their defence having the spotlight bearing down on them: at times camping deep in their own half out of possession whilst inviting pressure by keeping the ball at the back when on the ball.
In neither circumstance did Mawson look uncomfortable.
Some loose touches created a few heart-in-mouth moments, but Mawson's displays were commanding. And despite his intimidating physical presence, his ability to defend was matched by a and composure with the ball at his feet.
Just as the aforementioned Jadon Sancho's talent was augmented by the players around him, so too was Alfie Mawson aided by his partner Calum Chambers.
The centre-back partnership itself was the greatest positive from the summer tournament, and although Chambers played his role, Alfie Mawson was clearly the most dominant and impressive player in the squad.
Swansea will be hoping to avoid dicing with relegation for a second successive season and Paul Clement looks to be building an exciting-enough side to achieve it. He'll also be desperate for Alfie Mawson to play a major role in it.
Given how outstanding these players were, finding the formula for translating success at youth level into trophies for the senior side has become more crucial than ever.
Whether exposure to first team football helps them fulfil their vast potential, or serial loan deals stunt their growth, their clubs will now play a major role in dictating the future. This makes mimicking the likes of Spain and Germany imperative.
Time and again England have failed to get the best out of each generation of Young Lions. Few are handpicked and thrusted straight into the first team whilst their teammates fall by the wayside. Spain and Germany’s success is built on the foundation of developing a national team, not simply players for it.
With so much recent success at youth level, it seems England finally have the opportunity, and the pool of talent available, to undertake such a project.
The chance to build a national team.
Even then, history has proven that the most foolish thing a fan of English football can do is hope. But, after a summer filled with genuine quality and tangible success, it is becoming incredibly hard not to.
By Jake Entwistle (@JakeEntwistle)