17 March 2023

Ashley Cole: Standard among England Under-21s higher than when I was playing

17 March 2023

Ashley Cole believes the standard among the current England Under-21s is higher than when he came through the ranks to become part of the country’s so-called ‘golden generation’.

Cole played five matches for England U21s before being fast-tracked into the senior side, making his debut in 2001 and going on to establish himself in a much-vaunted side that included the likes of David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.

The former Arsenal and Chelsea left-back, 42, is now helping to shape the next generation in his role as Lee Carsley’s assistant with the U21s, a post he has held since July 2021, and he has been impressed by that he has seen.

“The standard is certainly higher than the one I was playing at. For sure,” said Cole, speaking ahead of the upcoming U21 friendly matches against France and Croatia.

“The game understanding and technical ability is better.

“Youth teams play through so many cycles of formations, and a lot of young coaches want to play attractive football – ball on the floor, play through the lines, be creative around the box.

“When I was a youth team player, we had good players, but we didn’t have a style where we were going to play out from the back — we didn’t mind launching it.

“A lot of the games I watch now, you’re going to build from the back, which I’ve loved and I agree with.

“In terms of when I played, it’s [the level] definitely grown and improved and progressed. Hopefully we can continue that, and get better and make these players ready for all the England age groups coming through, and then produce players that hit the senior team…and win major tournaments, because we’re yet to do that – my generation, anyway.”

Manchester City defender Rico Lewis has received a maiden call-up to Carsley’s U21 squad after making 17 appearances under Pep Guardiola this season.

Cole says the versatile 18-year-old is able to do things he himself could not at the same age and believes the role of a full-back has changed since he came through the Arsenal ranks under Arsene Wenger.

“The full-back position has evolved. You’ve got to be really adaptable,” Cole said.

“Talking about Rico, he certainly gets that. He would not be playing in a Pep team if he didn’t.

“He’s showing his importance at such a young age of being adaptable. He can play right-back, centre-back – even being small – left-back… He’s come through a Man City group with Pep’s ideas of this is how we want to play, being brave in what they do.

“He’s adapted so well and you see the growth he’s had.

“I certainly couldn’t do that at that age. Be that game aware but do it with high quality and concentration.

“That’s where the full-back evolution has gone now where you’ve got to be super adaptable to play in every of the pitch.”

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