"I know the senior men's job has been called the impossible job but the U21s is the utterly impossible job," a seemingly exasperated Aidy Boothroyd told Sky Sports earlier this week.
"There's a reason why we haven't won this [Euros] for 37 years and why we haven't progressed as much as we thought we would, because our primary aim is to get players through to Gareth Southgate.”
The following day Boothroyd’s talented crop of future stars exited the 2021 European Championships at the group stages, having lost to Switzerland and Portugal in their opening two games, before carving out a narrow 2-1 win over Croatia which proved to be too little too late after their opponents snatched a decisive late goal to go through on goal difference.
It’s the second successive major tournament in which Boothroyd’s side have been dumped out before the knockout stages, recording just one win from six games during that time.
While, to a certain extent, you can sympathise with Boothroyd’s frustration at being hindered by losing the very best youngsters to the senior team, he did still have an abundance of options at his disposal. The squad boasts a host of Premier League starlets, including the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Eberechi Eze, Curtis Jones, Emile Smith Rowe, and Eddie Nketiah, to name a few.
The hard truth is that Boothroyd has now failed to consistently get a tune out of his players at back-to-back major tournaments. England U21s restored a slice of pride by beating Croatia in their final outing, however on the whole results have been poor and performances lacklustre. Their cautious playing style has clearly lacked spark, imagination, and penetration.
The former Watford and Coventry boss replaced Gareth Southgate back in 2016, promoted from his position in charge of the U20s. He enjoyed a bright start, taking a team that featured the likes of Jack Grealish, Tammy Abraham, and Ben Chilwell to the semi-finals of the 2017 European Under-21 Championship, where they lost to eventual winners Germany on penalties.
In 2018, Boothroyd’s U21s won the Toulon Tournament, but performances at the last two major tournaments have been extremely disappointing.
As a result, Boothroyd’s future has been thrown into severe doubt.
His contract expires in the summer and it’s unlikely to be extended given the latest set-back.
Therefore, should a new direction be taken, here are a handful of contenders who could be in the mix to replace Boothroyd should he leave...
*Boothroyd has since left his post*
Eddie Howe would be a popular pick
After a couple of deflating and directionless European Championship campaigns under Boothroyd, the fast-tempo and attack-minded approach of Eddie Howe would be welcome with open arms.
Howe’s coaching ability, style of play, man-management skills, and current availability certainly make him both an exciting and popular option.
He previously elevated Callum Wilson into a fine Premier League striker, Nathan Ake and David Brooks sparkled under his leadership, while he helped develop the talents of Josh King, Ryan Fraser, and Lewis Cook. The list goes on with Howe also previously working with the likes of Danny Ings, Jay Rodriguez, and Tyrone Mings.
Howe, 8/1 to succeed Boothroyd, is currently the favourite for the Celtic job, while there’s every chance the former Bournemouth boss is waiting to see what happens at Newcastle and Crystal Palace, who could both change managers this summer.
Howe’s been touted as a future England manager for years, but while the country’s top job is unlikely to become available anytime soon - unless Gareth Southgate has a complete shocker this summer - the U21s job represents a pathway into the senior position, exemplified by Southgate who managed the youngsters for three years before he was handed a promotion.
Frank Lampard and Jody Morris feature in the betting
Frank Lampard / Jody Morris
At the start of the year, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea tenure came to an end after just 18 months. Thomas Tuchel has since taken over and enjoyed a cracking start to life at Stamford Bridge, but while certain aspects of Lampard’s approach were rightly criticised, one major positive of his spell was the development of young players.
At Chelsea, Lampard gave 12,545 Premier League minutes to 11 players aged 21 or younger - a high during that 18 month timeframe. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, and Reece James all became prominent first-teamers and this homegrown emergence of talent has subsequently benefitted the national team too. Fikayo Tomori - currently on-loan at AC Milan - excelled at Derby but was used more sparingly at Chelsea, as was Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Similarly to Howe, there’s every chance that Lampard is eager to return to the day-to-day buzz of club level management, but the England U21 is undoubtedly an attractive post and one that offers a potential route to the senior job.
Should Lampard be tempted, the U21s could also benefit from the experience of his former Derby and Chelsea assistant Jody Morris, a well-respected coach who is a massive advocate of young players.
He previously spent four years working with Chelsea's youth teams where he led the U18s to a quadruple and a treble during which he moulded some of England's brightest prospects.
Alternatively, Morris (6/1) could be a contender in his own right.
Michael Beale, 40, has nearly 20 years of coaching experience under his belt, spent at the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool where he worked under an assortment of the world’s best managers, including Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp.
He’s also worked in Brazil at Sao Paulo and has spent the last three years as assistant manager to Steven Gerrard at Rangers. The duo have enjoyed a stunning season to date, one which has already seen the Gers lift the league title - the aim now is to remain unbeaten and challenge for Scottish Cup glory.
"It would take me 15 to 20 years to get as good as Michael Beale as an on pitch coach, to deliver sessions on a daily basis, so I let Mick be Mick Beale because he's the expert and has the skillset,” Gerrard recently told the Robbie Fowler Football Podcast.
Beale may harbour aspirations of branching into management in his own right. He’s an excellent and experienced coach who's obsessed with self-improvement, while his ability to squeeze every ounce of potential out of players means a role as head coach of England U21s could be the perfect next job for the 16/1 shot.
Probably a name you wouldn’t have considered until recently, Nicky Butt represents an intriguing option at 8/1.
Butt is already being linked with the new vacancy at Preston, having just left Man Utd after a whopping nine years.
Butt held a number of coaching and player development positions at United, most recently the head of first-team development at the Academy. Butt played an “important contribution to nurturing a succession of homegrown players who have made it to the first team during his time at the Aon Training Complex. He has also played a key role in bringing in a new generation of talented staff and leaders to take the Academy forwards,” as quoted on the club’s website.
Butt’s experience, reputation, and creditable work with players such as Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, and Mason Greenwood means he should be under consideration should Boothroyd depart.
Could Nicky Butt be an option?
Steve Cooper, 12/1, is enjoying an upward trajectory as his managerial journey continues to go from strength to strength.
In 2017, Cooper was catapulted into the spotlight after he led England U17s to World Cup glory; with a highly talented and exciting side containing current Premier League players Jadon Sancho, Emile Smith-Rowe, Phil Foden, and Callum Hudson-Odoi. The same crop had earlier finished runners-up to Spain at the Euros.
Cooper branched into senior management in 2019 where he’s continued the good work started by Graham Potter at Swansea, who under Cooper finished the Championship play-offs last season and are currently 3rd with nine games to go.
Known for his organisational skills and defensive structure - Swansea have conceded just 29 goals in 37 league games so far this season, and kept 18 clean sheets - Cooper would be a great option.
Unfortunately, it might prove difficult prizing him away from the Swans, especially if they are promoted to the Premier League.
A long shot admittedly, but not completely out of the question.
There will be a healthy queue of clubs vying for Chris Wilder’s signature this style, but after 20 hugely successive years in club management - from non-league to the Premier League - Wilder could be tempted by a move into the international arena.
He’s a 25/1 outsider to succeed Southgate at England, but considering the latter’s contract doesn’t expire until after the 2022 World Cup, Wilder could see the U21 job (12/1) as an exciting new opportunity to sink his managerial teeth into.
Considering that Gareth Southgate and Aidy Boothroyd were both appointed from within, it’s well worth looking at the cluster of managers currently located in the England sphere.
U20s head coach Lee Carsley (20/1) is the Professional Development Phase leader for the U20s/U19s/U18s, with Ian Foster and Kevin Betsy at the helm of the U19s and U18s respectively.
Justin Cochrane (12/1), highly-rated within England coaching circles, oversees the Youth Development Phase for the U17s/U16s/U15s level, and is head coach of the U17s, whereas the experienced Chris Powell (16/1) is part of Southgate’s coaching squad; a post he does alongside his head of coaching position at Tottenham’s Academy.
Other names that feature in the betting include John Terry (14/1), currently assisting Dean Smith at Aston Villa but believed to be keen to make his own mark in management.
Sol Campbell, Michael Appleton and Gareth Ainsworth are at the 16/1 mark, as are the Cowley brothers who could be an option should they not extend their contract at Portsmouth which expires in the summer.
Charlton U21 coach Jason Euell is one to keep an eye on, while the likes of Garry Monk, Ryan Lowe, Robbie Fowler and Michael Duff can be found amongst a host of others at 25/1 - full odds below.