Despite heading to southern France with a depleted squad, Gareth Southgate and his players hope to show that the next generation will be able to challenge at the top levelIn what was a relatively predictable England squad named by Roy Hodgson for the forthcoming World Cup, one word dominated the headlines – youth.
There is a feeling within England that the national side is going through a transitional period, with Ashley Cole retired and midfield pair Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard likely to follow suit, the golden generation of the early 2000s is almost a faded memory.
In their place the likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling look set to have the hopes of an expectant nation thrust on their shoulders after impressive Premier League campaigns, but if the Three Lions are to succeed then more than just two or three players need to reach a world-class level.
England's success at the Under-17 European Championship in Malta has given supporters hope there is talent within the country’s academies but there is still a concern that these players aren’t fulfilling their potential once they graduate into their club side’s senior squads - if they get that far.
Greg Dyke has already outlined plans for the introduction of ‘B’ teams into the Football League, but a further sign of the Football Association’s commitment to improving the standard of young players in England is their reappearance at the Toulon Tournament.
Not since 2005 have the FA sent an Under-20 side to play in a competition they won four times during the 1990s, and with the likes of Alan Shearer, David Beckham and David James among those who featured in the competition before going onto long international careers, Dyke and Gareth Southgate are hopeful some stars of the future will be able to gain some vital tournament experience.
The former Middlesbrough boss underlined the importance of providing his players with competitive summer football in an interview with the FA website, saying: "We want to go and win, but even if we don’t win, the learning process of playing this type of opposition is invaluable really so there are many reasons for us going."
Southgate’s squad arrive in southern France on the back of an impressive Under-21 Euro 2015 qualifying win over France, but with a number of players missing for various reasons, they are far from favourites to win the competition.
The likes of Shaw and Barkley, as well as standby defender John Stones, would likely have been first choices for England’s side were they not part of Hodgson's plans for the World Cup, while Tottenham striker Harry Kane was ruled out after suffering an ankle injury against Wales in Swansea.
The likes of on-loan Manchester United striker Will Keane are also missing due to their involvement in play-off finals, meaning England’s prospects have certainly diminished. That isn’t to say that they are without any stars.
Jack Butland, Great Britain’s Olympic goalkeeper, will captain the side as he looks to win the Best Goalkeeper prize that has previously been awarded to James and Hugo Lloris. He will lead a squad containing Nathan Redmond, whose hat-trick at the Liberty Stadium stunned Wales, Nathaniel Chalobah and Saido Berahino, with a number of other players experienced at Championship level.
Drawn in a group that also contains a highly-talented Brazil outfit, who can boast Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos among their ranks, a place in the final may be beyond Southgate’s charges.
They will certainly fancy their chances, though, against Colombia, South Korea and Qatar in their remaining fixtures. It is against the 2022 World Cup hosts that England will begin the tournament, with the match of interest as much for the future of English football as it is for the strength of the Middle Eastern outfit.
For all the worries regarding temperature and the safety of the players in eight years’ time, the competitiveness of the host nation must also be a concern given that they have yet to qualify for the competition. They will be out to prove they will be turning up for more than just the experience.
With matches played over just 80 minutes, the tournament is designed to test the young players’ ability to perform in less time than a standard match as well as deal with limited time off to recover. After a three-day recess following the Qatar match, England will have just one rest day between each of their remaining matches, and it is up to the young players and their coaches to make sure there is no suggestion of fatigue despite a long domestic season.
In a World Cup year, the standard of the competition may not be at its absolute highest, but there will still be international coaches and club scouts aplenty keeping their eyes on proceedings. For England, the task is to prove that there is quality in abundance running throughout the national game at a time when it is under the spotlight more than ever.