Glory for United trio as England crowned Kings of Europe
Posted by nickogs20 on May 31, 2010
United youngsters Sam Johnstone, Will Keane and Tom Thorpe have ended the season in glorious fashion by helping England to the UEFA U17 European Championship title.
John Peacock’s Young Lions overcame Spain 2-1 in a tense final in Vaduz, recovering from the early setback of Andre Wisdom’s own goal to lead through strikes from Wisdom (the Liverpool centre-back convering at the right end this time) and Ipswich Town’s Connor Wickham either side of half-time. The Spanish, prompted by Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu, did everything but score as they dominated the closing stages, but England hung on to clinch a first ever U17 title and the first European crown for an England mens team since an U18 squad featuring Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt triumphed on home soil in 1993.
As reported after the semi-final win over France, Keane was a doubt for the clash with Spain after picking up an arm injury but thankfully passed a pre-game fitness test and took his place in an unchanged lineup. Playing in an unfamiliar wide role – as he has throughout the tournament – made it difficult for Will to get into the game and show the attributes that earned him Academy Player of the Year honours for the Reds last season in his usual role up front, but the 17 year-old was involved in the build-up to Wickham’s winner and worked hard to close down defenders and track back before he was replaced with just under a quarter of an hour remaining.
That unchanged lineup unfortunately meant Will’s club colleagues Johnstone and Thorpe were restricted to bench duty, although the latter did make a late substitute appearance as Peacock looked to shore things up at the back with Spain piling on the pressure in the final minutes. Nonetheless, both played their part in the Young Lions’ success, Johnstone starting the first two games and Thorpe starting the third, with two further sub outings.
After the trophy was lifted and the celebrations subsided a tad, all three United representatives told thefa.com of their delight at picking up a major international honour so early in their careers.
“It’s good to win it, especially because it’s been so long since an England side has won a European trophy. I would have liked to have played in the Final, but that’s football at the end of the day. There’s hardly anything between me and Jack [Butland]. He’s a great ‘keeper and he’s done really well in the games he’s played. He had my full support, as I do his when I play. But I’m proud of the role I played in getting us this far and I’m just delighted to have won this tournament with this group of lads because we’ve been together since the  Victory Shield. Everyone’s just buzzing. I don’t think there’ll be much sleep going on tonight! I can’t really believe it. It’s crazy.”
“I’m delighted. It’s a great achievement for everyone; the staff and the players. We’ve all put a lot of hard work in throughout the year and I think it’s deserved. It was a relief when the whistle went because they were really putting us under pressure. I was more nervous because I was on the bench at the time, but it was a great feeling. I knew we could create chances, so I was always confident that we could win it. I’m just delighted that we did.”
“I don’t think we fully realise what we’ve just achieved, it’s unreal. The experience we’ve had from this whole tournament has been fantastic. John [Peacock, the Head Coach] put me on for the last couple of minutes and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous but you just want to do your best for the boys. I got a few touches I think and I cleared one ball and you just want to make sure you give everything you can to make sure you win it. It will take a while to sink in. Everyone’s still up in the sky. Everyone just dropped to their knees at the end, sliding everywhere and going crazy. It was brilliant. It’s unreal.”
Sunday’s triumph caps a terrific first full-time season for the Reds trio, a campaign that started about ten months ago with all three playing key roles in United’s successful defence of the Northern Ireland Milk Cup. Further glory followed as Paul McGuinness’ U18 side won their Academy League group and came so close to a national title, while Keane can also boast a winners’ medal from the Premier Reserve League national play-off, as well as that Academy Player of the Year award.
Congratulations to Will, Sam and Tom on a fine season for club and country – now time for a well-earned rest before it all starts again in six weeks or so…