Two familiar faces for Charlton Athletic fans were part of the England side that won a World Cup on Sunday for the first time since 1966.
England U20s beat Venezuela 1-0 to win the FIFA U20 World Cup. Former Addick Ademola Lookman starred in the team throughout the tournament, while Ezri Konsa made his debut in last week’s semi-final victory over Italy.
Charlton Academy manager Steve Avory explained how pleased he was watching that semi-final: “There is a real sense of pride I had when watching that. I don’t know where every player (in the squad) comes from but what I did pick up is that you’ve got so many players that have come through Category One academies and there we have Ezri in the squad, you’ve got Ademola, two players who have come from a Category Two academy - that’s where their development has taken place.”
Konsa was a late call-up to the squad, after initially being selected to play in the prestigious Toulon tournament. Avory said: “Ezri just feels fortunate in some respects to be out there because, while he was selected for the squad this season, he’d not actually played because of the injury problem he had.
“When I talked to him, he was just filled with so much pride at the prospect of going to Toulon, which has a prestigious reputation. To then suddenly be told to get on a plane and go to South Korea, was exciting.
“He text me last week just saying how much he’s enjoyed the whole experience of being part of the wonderful group of players which is well managed, being part of the training and preparation for games where he feels he’s getting so much valuable knowledge he can take with him and observing the games as well. Just observing the standard and quality of play at that level.
“After him texting and telling me about that kind of information, to see him standing there before he went on and getting a taste of it in a World Cup semi-final, it fills you with a lot of satisfaction.
“Everybody at the club, not just the Academy, should be proud of Ezri as I know he is proud of his upbringing here. He always feels as if people at this club have cared for him and he and his parents have appreciated that throughout the years.”
Speaking after his debut, Konsa said: “It was a very proud moment for me and my family, a real dream come true. I’ve enjoyed being out here with the team, it shows that hard work pays off.”
Charlton CEO Katrien Meire added: “It was wonderful to see the joy of Ezri and Ademola on Sunday.
“I was watching on television and was very happy to see them both celebrating in their England shirts. They are both great ambassadors for Charlton Athletic and the academy.”
Konsa and Lookman were two of 13 former academy players who played in the Addicks first team in 2016/17. Indeed, Konsa with 2,547 minutes of first team football under his belt, played more minutes than anyone else in the England U20 squad last season.
Lookman, who joined Everton in January, played 1,426 minutes which was the third most in the squad behind Newcastle’s Adam Armstrong.
Avory explained how important the first-team football has been in the duo’s development. “First-team games are vital,” he said, “there is proof in the pudding this season with the development of someone like Ezri who has played a lot of games at league level for Chartlon and Ademola had plenty of league experience this season, particularly in the first half of the season.
“There is evidence with our two players that the first team experience has been important in their progression this season and that needs to continue.
“For this U20 team at the moment, the challenge for most of those players is where do they go from there next season? Are they going to be getting first team league experience, whether it’s the Premier League, Championship or League One?”
Addicks boss Karl Robinson said: “When I first walked in the building at Charlton, the talent of Ez and Ade was obvious. It’s a testament to Steve Avory and everyone at the academy that, when a player comes into the first team, they are fully prepared to succeed. I was texting both of them throughout the tournament and I’m so pleased to see them both doing so well.”
The pair became close after Lookman joined Charlton from Waterloo FC in 2013 and that friendship will have no doubt helped both of them settle in Korea where they have roomed together.
Avory said: “They know each other very well. They’ve know each other from a social sense, a professional sense. There is a good bond between them – there always has been. They’re two that broke through into the first team within the same year.”
Lookman’s contribution to the England team throughout the tournament was vital.
Avory continued: “Ademola is proving what he’s good enough at international youth level. He’s certainly proving out there in terms of his performances that he’s going to be a valuable member of that team.
“It takes me back to two seasons ago where I recommended that England have a look at him. I remember the first time they came to have a look when we were playing Sheffield Wednesday and he had an absolute howler.
“He just didn’t turn in a good one. He recognised that, so did I. Talking to the FA scout who was there that day, I explained ‘You’ve seen him on a bad day but, believe you me, you need to keep an eye on this lad’. Of course later in the season he was playing in the first team.
“I’m pleased for him, he’s so level-headed. He’s taken his achievement in his stride. He’s got tremendous confidence in his ability which shows everytime he gets the ball and his ability to play under pressure and go past players, more than often more than one player. The opposition recognised in this tournament that he’s a dangerman.
Avory concluded: “I look upon with pride when I see them because of Charlton’s contribution to their development pathway and I know they appreciate everything that’s been done for them at this club.”