Justin Cochrane a strong contender for ‘utterly impossible’ England Under-21 job

Justin Cochrane has emerged as a strong candidate should Aidy Boothroyd lose what he describes as “the utterly impossible job” of England Under-21 coach.

Boothroyd’s contract expires this summer and the Football Association is considering whether it is time to make a change.

The Under-21s are on the verge of exiting the European Championships having been beaten by Switzerland and Portugal, failing to register a shot on target in open play, in what has, so far, been another dismal campaign.

Their final group game is against Croatia on Wednesday with England needing a two-goal victory and help from elsewhere – otherwise they will be out. England are heading towards a repeat of the 2019 tournament and the pressure on Boothroyd to go would be overwhelming. The FA may decide it is time for a change come what may.

Boothroyd says the job of winning at tournaments is hampered by his best players being part of the seniors set-up under Gareth Southgate. 

“The England senior job has been called the impossible job. Well, the Under-21s job I think is the utterly impossible job,” he said. “The reason I say that, is because of the amount of players that have to be produced for the senior team and the expectation to win. 

“There’s a reason why we haven’t won this for 37 years and there’s a reason we have not progressed as much as we thought we would. That’s because our primary aim is to get players through to Gareth and that’s what we have done. 

“Yes, we want to win as well, when different personnel come along, it is because they’ve either been moved up or lost their way and find their way back at a different time. That’s what the pathway is all about.”

If Boothroyd leaves the task of replacing him will fall to John McDermott, the FA’s new technical director, although there is also expected to be input from Southgate who was Boothroyd’s predecessor.

Boothroyd has been in charge since 2016, promoted from his role with the Under-20s, and the FA will consider internal and external candidates as part of a shortlist.

The highly-rated Cochrane is likely to feature prominently and is well-known to McDermott having previously worked with him at Tottenham Hotspur where he was assistant head of development (11-16) and went on to coach at Under-23 level at the Premier League club.

The 39-year-old was appointed England Under-15s coach and then moved through the age groups to take charge of the Under-16s and then Under-17s.

A former international with Antigua and Barbuda, London-born Cochrane started his playing career at Queens Park Rangers although he made his most appearances with Crewe Alexandra before dropping into non-league football. However the former midfielder has built a strong reputation within the FA through his coaching ability and is likely to be shortlisted as a replacement for Boothroyd.

During a discussion last year on ending white privilege in football and the lack of BAME representation Southgate described Cochrane as potentially “top coach” and it appears that view is shared throughout the FA. Even if Cochrane does not succeed Boothroyd it appears he is likely to be interviewed for the post and could be part of the new set-up for the Under-21s.

England’s hopes of getting a win against Croatia at Stadion Bonifika have been hit by Callum Hudson-Odoi, the only player in the squad with senior caps, flying home with a shoulder problem. Emile Smith-Rowe is a doubt after taking a knock in the defeat to Portugal. 

Southgate has eligible players such as Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Reece James in his squad this week but Trent Alexander-Arnold was dropped and still not picked for the Under-21s.  

“Could you imagine a reserve team manager asking a senior manager for their best players to win the reserve league?” said Boothroyd. “That just wouldn’t happen. That’s the reality of it. The only team that needs to win is the senior team. Everywhere else, winning is part of it, drawing is part of it and having adversity is part of it.”

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