Tom Lees will mix with the cream of emerging talent this summer after winning a place in England’s Under-21 squad for the forthcoming European Championship.
And the Leeds United defender is set for active involvement in Israel with coach Stuart Pearce vowing to give England the best chance of winning the tournament by making full use of their 23-man group.
Lees was one of three out-and-out centre-backs chosen by Pearce yesterday, rewarded for his performances during little more than eight months as an Under-21 international. The 22-year-old was called up by Pearce for the first time in September, making his debut against Norway, and his maiden start came in a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland two months later.
His consistent displays for Leeds and his regular involvement in the first team at Elland Road maintained Pearce’s faith in him and he will head to Turkey for a week-long training camp later this month before England’s first group game kicks off on June 5.
Lees is likely to start the European Championship behind the more established pairing of Stephen Caulker and Craig Dawson but Pearce told the YEP: “The one thing you know is that the team which starts the tournament will never be the team that finishes it. That’s a fact.
“I don’t think any team has ever just relied on 11 players for every game – certainly not the winning team. To win the tournament, every player has to play their part.”
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“Tom deserves to be on the plane to Israel. He contributed to getting us to the tournament. I always say there are four phases - one is getting out of the qualifying group and two was getting out of the play-offs. The next challenge for Tom and the squad is to get us out of our group at the finals and the final one is to win the tournament.
“Tom’s attitude since joining up has been excellent. We’ve seen through his performances for his club that he’s a first-class professional.
“It’s been important that he’s played a lot of football this season and that he’s given us a great opportunity to have a look at him, to know that he joins us in good form.”
Lees has already linked up with Pearce and England’s coaching staff at the Football Association’s St George’s Park training complex, one of only two outfield players - the other Marvin Sordell - to travel immediately to the national football centre in Burton to begin their preparation.
Other members of the squad, many of whom are still involved in the Premier League season, will report into St George’s Park towards the end of the month.
A delighted Lees said: “It’ll be a great experience being involved in something like this - the best tournament there is for this age group.
“I didn’t represent England when I was younger, I came straight into the Under-21s, and maybe you relish the opportunity more because I haven’t done it as a young player.”
England’s Under-21s have been drawn in Group A with Italy - their first opponents in Tel Aviv on June 5 - Norway and hosts Israel.
Spain, Russia, the Netherlands and Germany make up Group B.