English youth as good as Europe’s best: Jennings
But Fulham academy director Jennings says clubs must do more to create pathways to the first team
English academies are producing young talents on a par with World Cup winners France, European champions Portugal and Spain - who have won the most European titles at Under-17 and Under-19 level and are the second-most successful side at Under-21 level.
That is the verdict of Fulham academy director Huw Jennings - who has helped produce the likes of Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Ryan Sessegnon and Moussa Dembele.
Jennings, who formerly occupied a similar post at Southampton, is well-placed to make that assessment, having been dubbed "the best academy director in modern English football" by The Independent in 2014.
Last month, Borussia Dortmund technical director Michael Zorc - who was responsible for signing English starlet Jadon Sancho - made quite the buzz by claiming England have surpassed four-time world champions Germany in terms of youth development.
Jennings, who will be in town for the JSSL Football Coaching Convention in April, made that same assessment in an interview last April. The 58-year-old went as far as to say that England's academy products are more technically gifted than ever before.
It represents a remarkable turnaround for England.
Youth development has long been used by their regional rivals as a stick to beat the English Premier League and the Three Lions with.
But England have become world champions at Under-17 and Under-20 level and were Under-19 European champions in 2017.
In addition, young players from English academies are increasingly sought after by European clubs, particularly after the success of 18-year-old wing wizard Sancho - who has nine goals and 11 assists and is considered one of the brightest prospects in world football.
Jennings believes England's youth development pathways have been working well long before the country's new golden generation made Europe sit up and take notice.
The Welshman told The New Paper: "For many years, we were criticised for a lack of technical quality, and we focused much more on athleticism than managing the ball...
"I would take the view that actually the production line of young talent has been working well for some time...
"Probably for the last 10 years, there has been a lot of work that has helped to produce talented players.
"With the success of the England youth teams in recent times, this has catapulted the view that the English clubs and the England federation are working well with youths.
"In Spain and I would say Portugal and France, too, there are always very, very talented young players who have got lots of the qualities that the English players have demonstrated.
"I think (we are) at least on a par (with them)... If you look at the top academies in England, you will see a lot of high-quality players who would compare very favourably with their counterparts in those countries."
Despite the positivity surrounding youth development in England at the moment, Jennings believes there are major issues at club level when it comes to transitioning talented academy products into the first team.
Chelsea are often seen as the poster boys for this problem.
They have reached the last seven FA Youth Cup finals, winning it six times, and have also lifted the Uefa Youth League twice and reached the final once in the last four years.
Despite that, their last academy product to become a first-team regular was John Terry, who made his debut in 1998.
Said Jennings: "We still have a major challenge to have enough clubs who see the pathway from academy into the first team as being part of their DNA.
"There are some clubs where this works well, Tottenham, for example. But in other clubs, this is not the case.
"This is something the owners of clubs have got to look at.
"We're investing huge amounts of money in our academy, we want to sustain ourselves in the Premier League.
"Unless we are a club right at the top of the Premier League that can just buy our way to success, then we have to show the investment in the academy bears fruit in our (first) team...
"Depending on the outcome of Brexit, we will (continue to) see talented young players going to Europe.
"My view is that if the players are ready for first-team football and they can't get it at their own club, it's not an issue...
"But it's important that as a nation of youth developers that we have a plan for addressing the long-term aim - for those players to succeed at clubs in this country."