Neil Dewsnip is in the unique position of having played a direct role in influencing the early years of the current and former England skippers. Before taking a coaching role with Everton’s academy, Dewsnip worked as a PE teacher at Cardinal Heenan school in Liverpool, where a young Gerrard was a pupil. The Liverpudlian, who will take his country's U-17 squad to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October, then played a key part in the development of Rooney in his subsequent role with the Toffees, before the then 16-year-old introduced himself to the wider footballing world with that memorable goal against Arsenal in 2002.
As well as those two star names, current hot property Ross Barkley was a protégé of Dewsnip’s at Everton during a 17-year stint on the blue half of Merseyside.
“I spent lots of time with Wayne and Ross and all the others that were coming through,” Dewsnip said. “We had a fantastic culture at Everton and the club was brave enough to give young players an opportunity. The really nice thing about both Ross and Wayne is that now, as I’ve moved from Everton to England, they’re involved with England’s first team setup as Steven was until recently.”
It is clear during an engaging and lively chat with FIFA.com that while Dewsnip is proud of the diamonds that he has helped polish in the past, he is constantly looking to the future. He made the switch to the FA in 2013, and his focus is currently firmly fixed on Chile. Despite his current role as the nation's U-18 coach, he will be taking the age level below to the U-17 World Cup after the man who guided them there, John Peacock, departed for a first team role at Derby County in the summer.
“I’ve met with John and I’m well briefed by what his thoughts on the group were,” Dewsnip said. “I’ve monitored them closely as well over the last year, knowing that I would be picking them up [in his role as U-18 coach]. I’m well down the line in terms of knowing what we’ve got in the group.”
It will be interesting to see where we are in ten years’ time but we feel as though we’re on a positive pathway right now.
Neil Dewsnip, England U-18 coach on the country's footballing development.
One potential member of the U-17 squad has recently gained wider attention beyond the scouting reports of Peacock and Dewsnip. Reece Oxford, captain of the squad which was successful in qualifying for the global finals, became the second-youngest starter in English Premier League history on Sunday. His top flight debut for West Ham United against Arsenal came aged just 16 years and 236 days (Jose Baxter, another Dewsnip apprentice at Everton, is the youngest) and his commanding performance in midfield against Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Co catapulted him into the national spotlight.
“First and foremost I’m delighted that a young English player can do so well on his first start in a very high profile Premier League game," Dewsnip said. "In terms of his selection for Chile, I don’t think we’ve got down that line yet. It may or may not be an issue. We’ll have to see where Reece is in his development at West Ham later in the season."
With or without Oxford, England will have to negotiate a tough group after they were handed a fascinating draw in Santiago last week. Guinea, Korea Republic and three-time U-17 World Cup winners Brazil stand in their way.
“I think what we’re about is giving the players at the young ages international experiences which equip them for the day when they hopefully become full internationals,” Dewsnip said. "We’re delighted about the draw. It’s really good in terms of fulfilling our criteria of playing against different cultures and different nations."
A positive pathway
That wider plan for England’s brightest young stars is concocted at a nerve centre set in the English countryside, St George’s Park. A hub of coaching creativity and debate, the national team base sees all coaches, including the senior manager, come together to discuss the future of the English game.
“We meet regularly from the U-21s down to the U-15s and we have developed an age-specific programme for every age group that is evolving,” Dewsnip revealed. “Roy [Hodgson] has been to a number of our meetings over the last couple of years, he shows an interest and a desire to know about the young players who are coming through. What we’ve got now is a world-leading facility. It’s still at its infancy, it will be interesting to see where we are in ten years’ time but we feel as though we’re on a positive pathway right now.
“We do feel that we’ve had some terrific players over the years that haven’t quite fulfilled their potential and that’s a key message that we as coaches need to be a little bit braver to allow them to show that creativity, in the right place and at the right time.”
With his own influence in the careers of creative talent, most notably those successive England captains, Dewsnip will be hoping the squad heading to Chile will play a crucial role of their own in the Three Lions’ future.
“Obviously over the last number of years England haven’t fulfilled their potential and I like to think I can maybe play a part in improving our record at all age groups in years to come.”
With Gerrard, Rooney and Barkley among his previous apprentices, it would not be much of a surprise to see some of Dewsnip’s class of Chile 2015 emerge as England’s future leaders.