Jake Clarke-Salter is one of five young Chelsea players in England’s Under-21 squad for the European Championships which start in Italy today, and we caught up with the defender to hear about tournament preparations, lining up alongside Fikayo Tomori again, and the Three Lions’ prospects of going all the way…
It’s been a great few years for England teams at all age groups. The seniors reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in a generation in Russia last summer, and more recently came third in the UEFA Nations League tournament.
Two years ago, England’s Under-20s won the World Cup at that level, and the Under-17s replicated that success later in 2017, Callum Hudson-Odoi one of those to star in India.
Throw in European victories at Under-17 and Under-19 levels, and for three years running at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France, and it’s clear the future of English football is very bright indeed.
Perhaps 2019 will be the year for England’s Under-21s? They went close in the last Euros in Poland, beaten only by Germany on penalties at the semi-final stage. Today another continental tournament begins in Italy and Aidy Boothroyd’s side are among the favourites.
Jake Clarke-Salter, a Chelsea Academy product and a member of England’s victorious teams at the Under-20 World Cup in 2017 and the Toulon Tournament a year later, is one of those preparing for his first taste of the Under-21 Euros.
‘We feel like we have got a good chance of going all the way,’ he tells the official Chelsea website.
‘That’s the objective. That’s what we have been working so hard towards. We want to become champions.
‘There is good healthy competition which is great for the atmosphere around the camp. Everyone is working hard and pushing each other to the limits.
‘The preparation has been good. We had four training camps at St George’s Park and now we are just looking forward to it starting and showing what we can do.’
Chelsea are the best represented club side in Boothroyd’s squad of 23. Alongside Clarke-Salter are the names of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Jay Dasilva, all of whom are coming into the tournament off the back of excellent seasons on loan in the Championship.
‘There are a lot of us!’ Clarke-Salter laughs. ‘It’s been nice to catch up. We have all been out doing different things and it’s been nice to meet up with everyone again. I’m quite close with them to be fair, so we talk a lot and all see how each other is doing.’
Clarke-Salter is close to Tomori in particular having been his longstanding centre-back partner for Chelsea and England’s youth teams.
‘I love playing with Fik. We have played with each other for years now so we know how each other’s game like the back of our hands.
‘He’s had a very good season which has done his confidence the world of good. You can see it in the way he’s playing, he looks confident and he’s playing very well. It will be great to play alongside him if we are selected.’
While Tomori was helping Derby to the play-off final, Clarke-Salter spent 2018/19 on loan in the Netherlands with Vitesse Arnhem. A regular in the Eredivisie Team of the Week, the 21-year-old enjoyed the best season of his senior career yet.
He played 34 times as Vitesse finished a creditable fifth, and he believes his experiences learning in mainland Europe will stand him in good stead on the international stage with England.
As will his prior experiences of tournament football, he says.
‘We know how they work, we know they can be quite long, and we have a little bit of experience of them at the younger age groups when we have done quite well. We can try and implement that and take it into this one.
‘It’s a step up from the Under-20 World Cup but we can use the experiences from that tournament. We have got a few players who have been at the last Under-21 Euros as well so that can help us.’
Clarke-Salter agrees this is a ‘really exciting time for young England players’, and the recent progression of players like Hudson-Odoi, Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold to the senior set-up proves there is a clear pathway.
‘They’re getting a chance and now we have a great chance to showcase our talent at this year’s Championships,’ Clarke-Salter states.
Standing in England’s way in the group stage are France, who they meet on Tuesday, then Romania and Croatia. Clarke-Salter, who has captained the Under-21s recently, expects an England team full of purpose, no surprise when they count the likes of Abraham, Phil Foden, James Maddison, Demarai Gray and Mount in their ranks.
‘We have so many exciting young players and with the quality we have all over the pitch I think we will play some attacking football. We just need to concentrate, play well and play our game.
‘We know France are a very good side. They are one of the favourites. We have got them first up so that will be a very interesting game. Hopefully we can come out on top.
‘Romania we have played recently as well, they are a good side and we can’t underestimate them. Croatia have got some experience and are a good team, but hopefully we can get all the points to go through and then go all the way.’
Considering England’s recent performances at international tournaments it would take a brave man to bet against them lifting the trophy in Udine on 30 June.