Ben Johnson believes Ashley Cole can help England U21s to Euro 2023 glory

Ben Johnson believes Ashley Cole can help England U21s to Euro 2023 glory

Ben Johnson believes Ashley Cole’s influence can be key in England Under-21s’ bid to end their 39-year trophy drought.

The Young Lions host the Czech Republic in their Euro 2023 opener in Georgia on Thursday.

Cole – England’s most capped full-back with 107 appearances – has been part of Lee Carsley’s backroom staff since the boss was appointed in 2021.

He made his Premier League debut for Arsenal in May 2000 – when full-back Johnson was only four months old – and the West Ham youngster knows Cole’s input is crucial.

Ashley Cole, left, with England Under-21 manager Lee Carsley
Ashley Cole, left, with England Under-21 manager Lee Carsley (Mike Egerton/PA)

He said: “Ash is a top guy and a top coach. I think there could be a perception of him being here because of what he’s done for the seniors but his coaching is top drawer.

“He is a real encouragement to the lads. We respect him anyway but we respect even more for what he’s done in his career. So to be coached by him and learning tips off one of the best full-backs ever is such a big plus for me.

“It’s really surreal, just having banter and just speaking to him as if he’s just a normal guy.

“I remember him a lot at Chelsea and that was probably when he was at the peak of the game.

“To have him in this environment, to learn off and to speak so openly to is something that will go a long way and something I’ll take on for the rest of my career.”

The closest England have got to winning the tournament for the first time since 1984 was in 2009 when they lost to Germany in the final.

A semi-final place in 2017 is their most recent brush with glory and since then they have crashed out of the group stages in 2019 and 2021.

They also face reigning champions Germany and Israel next week in Georgia but Johnson believes Carsley’s men can justify any favourites tag.

He said: “I’ve been in a few teams and people have always said we’re favourites. We know how tough it is going to be but just looking around the changing room, seeing how many players we’ve got with Premier League experience and ability is just so encouraging.

“So, for us, it’s about focusing on us within the group. The staff are helping us to get right for one game at a time and we’ll see how far we can go.”