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Peacock's pursuit of perfection
England manager John Peacock watches on ©Domenic Aquilina


Peacock's pursuit of perfection

"It's never nice for a team to lose on penalties, but England have been there before, so it's nice that it was our turn to be successful." John Peacock's balanced attitude to victory translated into an immediate move towards his counterpart Maarten Stekelenburg after the winning penalty had been converted. The Dutch coach, however, had already entered the field of play to console his players – meaning that the fraternal handshake between colleagues had to be momentarily postponed.

For psychological and social reasons you need a united group
John Peacock

After he had put an end to England's 17-year drought in UEFA youth competitions by leading the Under-17 side to victory against Spain in the 2010 final in Liechtenstein, Peacock had remarked: "What was missing was a trophy to put our name on. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another 17 years for another one." After his hope was fulfilled in Malta, he repeated the sentiment he had expressed four years earlier: "I'm absolutely delighted for all the players."

His delight had been hard-earned. Convincing performances against Malta and Turkey had generated optimism. "I had to stress to the players," he admitted, "that we were a team with potential but that there were other excellent teams in the tournament and that we would have to work hard to beat them." His attempt to keep feet on the ground was reinforced by the defeat against the Netherlands and a first half in the semi-final against Portugal which could have engendered a serious deficit for his side. As it did in the final, his half-time team talk provoked positive responses.

England manager John Peacock has now won two Under-17 titles

Television images of the England manager gesticulating on the touch line are a rarity. Peacock has no qualms about leaving his assistant, Kenny Swain, to deliver instructions from the technical area. He places importance on trust and cohesion among his backroom team – and considers them relevant factors when selecting his squad.

"The dynamics of the group are fundamental," he maintains. "For psychological and social reasons you need a united group. If you can, you need to mix flamboyant characters with quieter ones and then hand a bit of 'ownership' to the players when it comes to organising the life of the group. These tournaments give the boys an understanding of what it is to be a top player and, if they don't have the right attitude to a two-week tournament, they may not be equipped for top-level football."

The viewpoint is expressed by a voice of experience. After a playing career truncated by injury at 24, Peacock began coaching three years later with an eight-year spell at the English Football Association (FA) in a variety of roles which included responsibility for the U16 team. In 1998, he acquired a new slant on youth development by taking charge of a club academy, producing nine first-teamers and 14 age-group internationals while at Derby County FC. He also added an Academy Directors' Licence to his UEFA Pro Licence.


England training base St George's Park

Peacock was back at the FA in 2002, primarily as the U17 coach, but often lending a helping hand to colleagues responsible for England's other age-group teams. Since 2007, he has been the association's head of coaching.

"I have seen an evolution at this level," he comments. "The general standard has improved. Levels of technique obviously vary, but teams tend to be better organised, well-drilled and difficult to beat. I think that a sign of this is the fact that nowadays there are more U17 players who are already involved with the first-team squads at their clubs."