PROFILE: The rise of Norwich City’s very own Three Lions
- Credit: Ian Burt
Faith in youth was a big part of the success which took Norwich City back to the Premier League. Now that same faith has added even more pride for Canaries fans after a triple call-up to the England Under-21 squad.
Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Ben Godfrey could all be wearing the Three Lions on their chest during the upcoming international break, not for the first time, but for the first time at U21 level.
All three have been involved in the England set-up previously but this new phase in their development is extra special, because each player will have two club-mates alongside them.
Inevitably these international calls bring the same concerns about injury for City supporters, not to mention head coach Daniel Farke, but it's part of top-level football. It's another reminder that the Canaries are heading in the right direction.
It's a real feather in the cap for the club's current and former academy staff as well though, such as ex-U23 coaches Dmitri Halajko, Matt Gill and Darren Huckerby, or ex-academy boss Gregg Broughton.
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Dereham-born Cantwell was a bright prospect as he emerged through the age groups, with his skill and eye for a pass earning him a professional contract as an 18-year-old, amid speculation that Arsenal were interested in his talents.
By that point he already had four England U17 caps on his CV, scoring in a 1-1 friendly draw with Finland, when a young Liverpool right-back by the name of Trent Alexander-Arnold was also in the team. You may have heard of him, he's a Champions League winner and full England international at just 20 years old.
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Yet Cantwell's involvement with England didn't stretch beyond the U17s and he had to focus on academy football with City, scoring twice in a remarkable 5-4 win over Middlesbrough after extra-time at Carrow Road, in the FA Youth Cup fifth round in 2016.
That set up a quarter-final against the lavishly funded Manchester City U18s but Cantwell missed the 2-0 defeat through injury, with Jamal Lewis and Godfrey both starting that night at the Etihad Academy Stadium.
The local lad's development was recognised by a nomination for the Premier League Two Player of the Season award for 2016-17, again featuring regularly alongside Godfrey as the Canaries reached the semi-finals of the Premier League International Cup and the Premier League Cup.
That was a hectic season for both Cantwell and Godfrey, with Norwich also competing in the EFL Trophy for the first time that season, when under-21 sides were bolstered by senior players against the first teams of clubs from League One and Two.
After cruising through the group stages there was a particularly harsh lesson for Godfrey in the first knockout round, against Swansea City's U21s at Carrow Road, being shown a straight red card in just the 25th minute for a reckless lunge.
The athletic youngster had been signed from York City in a deal worth £1m in January 2016, on his 18th birthday, having made 15 senior appearances, mostly as a defensive midfielder.
He introduced himself to the Carrow Road faithful in style as well, making his debut in the final 25 minutes of a League Cup second round tie against Coventry, coming on at right-back and smashing a thunderous 25-yard shot into the net to complete a 6-1 victory.
His conversion to a centre-back had endured teething problems however and Godfrey went out on loan for 2017-18, joining League One club Shrewsbury and firmly establishing his potential, with 51 appearances during a successful stint, mostly as a midfield wrecking ball.
Yet while Godfrey was off getting that experience, Cantwell was having to bide his time, catching the eye of Daniel Farke and finally getting his opportunity on the big stage, in a televised FA Cup third round replay at Chelsea.
Having been an unused substitute in the Championship five times up to that point, getting over 30 minutes against a Premier League team was a major step in the right direction, and a successful loan stint with Fortuna Sittard in the Dutch second tier quickly followed.
Then came 2018-19 and Aarons, Cantwell and Godfrey were all in the thick of things as City romped to the title, earning the trust of Farke and cranking up their development to truly kick their careers into gear.
Oh, and Aarons' development? It's been rather ridiculous. After joining City at 16 having previously been at Luton Town, he helped secure an FA Youth Cup quarter-final in 2018 and made his first-team debut just over a year ago.
Since then he's made 47 appearances, lost just six games, scored three goals and assisted another six, earned seven England U19 caps, been named the EFL Young Player of the Season, signed three new contracts, been linked with a host of big clubs and begun his Premier League career. It's been a remarkable rise for the right-back.
All three still have plenty to work on and need to improve in all areas - but last season's Championship title triumph could well have opened doors to the very top of the game, if they continue developing at their current impressive rate.