Long-serving England U17 boss John Peacock speaks to UEFA.com about next month's "massive test" in Malta, dealing with pressure and mixing with the senior squad.
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Back at a UEFA European Under-17 Championship final tournament for the first time since 2011, England head to Malta in high spirits following an unblemished qualifying campaign. At the helm is John Peacock, who took over as U17 coach in 2002, won in 2010 and is preparing for his eighth finals in charge. Ahead of the tournament, Peacock spoke to UEFA.com about Group A opponents Malta, Turkey and the Netherlands, what lies in store for his players, and St George's Park – the national football centre opened by the Football Association (FA) in 2012.
UEFA.com: What do you make of your Group A opponents?
John Peacock: Both groups came out fairly equal, so I think all eight teams could be quite pleased with the draw. From our point of view, Malta are obviously unknown. We've played Turkey and the Netherlands this year so we're quite familiar with each other. Having said that, past results count for nothing going into a European finals.
UEFA.com: Do you see it as an advantage or a disadvantage to be playing the hosts first?
Peacock: At this stage, any game is difficult. We've seen that with our experience in the elite round, where we played the Czech Republic – the home nation with a very partisan crowd – in our first game. I expect exactly the same in Malta.
UEFA.com: What do you expect from Malta as hosts – do you know much about the islands?
Peacock: I went there on vacation with my family about six years ago. It's nice to get linked with a country that has a very close association with England from a historical point of view. Obviously it is English-speaking and there lots of people in Malta who are very keen supporters of English football and the Premier League.
UEFA.com: How well prepared are your players to cope with being in the limelight in Malta?
Peacock: There's the odd one or two who have been around a first-team environment, and that's fantastic for their development. However, the bulk of this group are players who have been playing U18 or U21 football at best. Experience at a European finals will be new to all of them and it's something to relish. They'll look back on it in a few years as a great learning curve. When you get a few thousand watching, I must say it can be quite daunting for the young players, so it is a massive test.
UEFA.com: This will be your eighth finals – how important will your own experience be?
Peacock: The bottom line is that it's all about the players and how they experience the event. All I and my support staff can do is give them our experiences in the past – you learn something new every year. We need to prepare the players to be totally focused, but above all to enjoy the event and go there within a very relaxed environment.
UEFA.com: What do you hope the players will take from the tournament?
Peacock: Every game will be different, and it's how they deal with that little bit of pressure. These are things you can't replicate; a concentrated two-week event, when you're living and breathing football together, is about how you manage yourself individually and how we prepare the team collectively. I've had the pleasure of seeing some very talented young players come through the English system over the last ten years or so and it's great to see them in first teams and going to World Cups. Reaching that pinnacle has got to be the aim of all these young players.
UEFA.com: That brings us to St George's Park, where every England team now trains. How beneficial is that?
Peacock: We've got one of the best training facilities in the world now. It's purposefully there to accommodate all the 23 or 24 England teams. For us to gather there for each event is fantastic. It's a great environment and it's great to touch base with the senior players who are sometimes there when we are. It's been a great investment and hopefully for years to come we can see more teams qualifying for these top tournaments and working very closely alongside the seniors and U21 players. That gives the players a huge lift at the tender age of 17.
UEFA.com: How much integration do your players get with the seniors?
Peacock: When we're fortunate to be around them at the same time, they take a keen interest in the young players. Remember that several years ago that's probably where they started out – the likes of Danny Welbeck, James Milner and Jack Wilshere all came through a European Championship themselves. They take a great interest in these players and how they're developing.