The globalisation of the Premier League is often blamed for hampering home-grown players but the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have played a key role in boosting England’s World Cup chances.
Of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad in Russia, 15 finished in the top four under star managers Guardiola, Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino.
Manchester City smashed a host of Premier League records during their romp to the title, with Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Fabian Delph visibly improving under Guardiola’s leadership.
“Absolutely,” Delph told AFP when asked if the Catalan was the key to his selection for the England squad. “For me he’s a genius.”
Naturally a central midfielder, Delph played most of the season at left-back as Guardiola adapted his qualities to a new role.
“He’s opened my eyes to so much. I never imagined football like Pep did,” said Delph. “I’m a very traditionally English guy. I believe in hard work and dedication and giving absolutely everything. You know I’m there to fight, to pick up second balls and be old English style.
“Now it’s all about being calm and collected on the ball.”
Southgate believes Guardiola was even influencing the game before arriving in England thanks to his great Barcelona team that won two Champions Leagues in four glorious years between 2008 and 2012.
“The impact of seeing that Barcelona team five to seven years ago was enormous,” said Southgate.
“He’s been an innovator. When I watch kids’ football now, when they can get on pitches that aren’t flooded or frozen, I see them playing out from the back.
“I don’t see (coaches) with heads in their hands saying ‘get it forward’. I think that’s an impact of his team, with the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi.”
– Pochettino effect –
However, Guardiola is not the only coach who has helped England’s cause. Stones, Walker and Sterling were already internationals before being taken to the next level by the former Barca and Bayern Munich boss.
By contrast, Tottenham’s Pochettino has developed many of Southgate’s stars such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli from an earlier stage, transforming them from relative unknowns to big-name players.
Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Kieran Trippier complete England’s five-strong Spurs contingent in Russia and have been drilled in many of the same principles of possession football and pressing that Guardiola preaches.
“I learnt a lot in that short time,” Kane said of his early days under Pochettino in the Argentine coach’s book “Brave New World. “He was a defender himself so he knows what the striker should be doing to gain an edge.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold made his England debut in Thursday’s 2-0 friendly win over Costa Rica after a breakthrough season under Klopp that ended in a Champions League final against Real Madrid alongside Liverpool captain and England teammate Jordan Henderson.
“As players we’re very honoured to be playing under a manager like him, because you learn a lot from him,” said Henderson, referring to Klopp’s impact.
Mourinho has instilled a defensive discipline in Ashley Young to convert the 32-year-old former winger into a left-back Southgate judged more worthy of a place in his squad than Ryan Bertrand, who started five times in qualifying.
And Jesse Lingard challenges the assertion that Mourinho does not give youth a chance by scoring 13 goals in his best-ever season for Manchester United to make a strong case to start England’s Group G opener against Tunisia.
“I always talk about us not getting off the island,” said Southgate, referring to England embracing a more continental approach. “So it’s great we’ve had coaches coming on to the island to help us.”