The boys who would be kings of the world: What were Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions stars like when they were young lads? The secrets of England’s World Cup dreamers by the mentors who know them best
- Gareth Southgate’s England kick-off their World Cup campaign against Iran
- Trent Alexander-Arnold stood out from the crowd even at just four years old
- Harry Kane showed tremendous shooting ability but had areas to work on
- Both Harry Maguire and John Stones played as midfielders in their youth
- Kyle Walker began life as a technical forward rather than as a right-back
- Here Sportsmail takes a look at what Southgate’s players were like as children
- Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results
Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad have not long to wait now until they kick-off their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday.
We know what kind of men the likes of Jack Grealish, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker are, but what were the Three Lions stars – who are bidding to become kings of the world in Qatar – like as youngsters?
Here Sportsmail takes a look at what several of the Three Lions’ stars were like before they were global celebrities, with the help of those who guided them on their way to the World Cup stage.
Gareth Southgate and England kick-off their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday
I remember a game he played for Reddish Vulcans. We’d been practising short corners and I wanted us to try them in a match.
At the start of the game, I said to Phil: ‘Let’s knock a couple of goals in and then we can practise our short corners because it won’t matter if we lose the ball. We kicked off and Phil picked up the ball, rounded three players and scored.
Phil Foden was a quiet, humble and unassuming lad
No celebration, jogged back to the halfway line. We got the ball again, Phil rounded the keeper and walked it into the net. One of the parents turned to another and said: ‘You’d pay to watch this.’ He was seven.
At the end of one of the sessions, a dad walked to me on the touchline and asked: ‘Who’s little boy with the left foot? Where’s he come from?’ I clasped my hands together, looked up to the sky and said: ‘Heaven.’
He has everything in abundance but is still the same lad he was then, quiet, humble, unassuming. He’ll always stop and chat, still sends videos to the youngsters at Vulcans.
My message to him ahead of the World Cup would be simple: take responsibility. He thrives on responsibility. The more he is given, the better he will become.
Harry Kane – Bradley Allen, Tottenham academy coach
Harry Kane showed tremendous shooting ability even as a youngster
I still remember our chat with Harry and his dad Pat, sitting alongside John McDermott [then the academy manager, now FA technical director] in the office at our former training ground at Chigwell.
It was the end of his under-14s year and they were a bit nervous. They weren’t sure if we were going to keep him for another two years. But we were positive in our thoughts. We were suggesting some stuff that we felt he needed to do more work on.
His fitness and his running capacity, for example. He wasn’t the quickest player then. He had started to show that tremendous ability to strike the ball, cleanly off both feet, but we also thought there was room for more technical development.
Pat actually looked across at Harry and said: ‘Well, there you go, son, the coaches fully believe in you, you know what you’ve got to do, it’s over to you.’ And, and, you know, the rest is history. As coach, you encourage young players to take responsibility for their work, to be a pest, to ask to do extra. And Harry quickly bought into that. If you gave him a message once, that was it. Harry would fly with it.
He was prepared to do extra on and off the pitch, and from there, he really started to grow as a player.
Jude Bellingham – Mike Dodds, former Birmingham academy manager
When I talk to Jude now, we rarely talk football. We chat about normal things. And that close relationship is what makes me really proud. Because it wasn’t always easy. I witnessed the struggles, I witnessed the disagreements. When I first met Jude, he was playing at under-sevens. He was very good, obviously, but he wasn’t this mercurial, generational talent that people label him now. He wasn’t the best at his age group, he wasn’t completely in love with the game.
But the environment at Birmingham City sparked the enthusiasm in him and, from there, he accelerated really, really quickly. It was the perfect storm. The right player, at the right club, at the right time. He was someone who always wanted to be stretched and challenged. If he wasn’t, he’d let you know. Some might have viewed him as difficult, but I didn’t. I saw a talented young man who was striving for more. He has taught me more about my own coaching than anyone else.
There’s a reason why he wears No22. I said to him he could be the complete midfielder. A ball-winning No4, a box-to-box No8 and a creative No10. Add them together and I told him he could be a No22. His eyes lit up.
He will go to the World Cup and not just win it but also be the best player at the tournament. That’s his mentality. He doesn’t want to be the same as everyone else.
Jude Bellingham wears the No 22 as he wanted to be the complete all-round midfielder
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Sheila Rimmer, his teacher at St Matthew’s Primary School
Our outdoor area was concrete and I can still picture Trent dribbling, doing turns, always with a ball. He and his friend stood out even at four. I told the parents they should try to get them into a team.
Liverpool used to invite six children to have coaching for half a term. Trent got one of these ‘golden tickets’ in Year One, that’s when they first saw him play and he’s been signed up ever since.
He was a confident boy. Football was his main passion and interest but he was also academically bright and got on with his class-mates. His mum was big on the PTA and would do anything for the school. She supported him too, taking him to the academy several nights a week.
On the card the children signed at the end of Year One, Trent wrote ‘Miss Rimmer, the first goal I score at Anfield is for you’. It was unbelievable to see it [Boxing Day 2017 v Swansea]. It was a miserable day and I was actually thinking I couldn’t be bothered going to the match, and my Dad say: ‘No, that lad is going to score for you today.’I remember being in the Kop crying. Watching what he has won and doing a tour of the city, it’s amazing to think this boy was in my class.
After he’d played a couple of first-team games, there was a knock on my door at home. I was sat watching telly, and it was Trent’s mum. Diane. She said: ‘Miss Rimmer, Trent wants you to have one of his first Liverpool shirts.’ It had Alexander on the back [he later switched to Alexander-Arnold] with the 66, and he’d signed it.
To see his progress has been brilliant, his mum is really down to earth and keeps in touch. For me, watching Trent in the Liverpool kit was the best feeling but to be able to see him play him for his country as well is fantastic.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) and his friends stood out even when they were just four years old
Jordan Pickford – Nicky Law, former manager at non-League Alfreton
I knew the Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill and he trusted us with his 18-year-old goalkeeper on loan to help his development.
Jordan commuted from the north-east three times a week because we couldn’t afford to pay for digs. He didn’t have any airs and graces, he wasn’t one of these Premier League academy types who would turn up with a fancy washbag and fast car.
Sunderland sent him because they knew he would be tested. In academy football, you’re not going to get a big centre-forward trying to put the goalie in the back of the net or smashing him with an elbow.
Even then, I’d never see a goalkeeper kick a ball that well. I’d worked with internationals like Boaz Myhill and Aidan Davison but Jordan was miles ahead, even as a teenager.
We played Newport in terrible wind and rain. Their manager Justin Edinburgh told me his goalie Lenny Pidgeley was the best kicker he’d seen. Jordan caught one, pushed the back four out and drop-kicked into a headwind right to their six-yard box. Justin turned to me and mouthed “Jesus Christ”.
He was such a grounded lad and had the right character. He once had a sore knee and the sports science department at Sunderland wanted him to go back there to rest. But Jordan went on at them to allow him to play, which shows something about his strength of personality at a young age. On the pitch, he made everything look easy.
After Jordan’s final game against Forest Green, I told the chairman “You aren’t going to see that boy again unless you are watching on the telly!” I’m not surprised by how well he’s done.
Pickford was loaned out to Alfreton for his development whilst on the books at Sunderland
Raheem Sterling – Steve Gallen, former QPR youth coach
Raheem had the talent coaches see once in a lifetime, if they’re lucky. I first watched him against Wycombe under-12s. Wycombe would score, Raheem would score, Wycombe would score, Raheem would score. It was ridiculous. I think Wycombe ended up winning 5-4 against our one-man team.
Raheem Sterling hated losing as a child
I’d just been watching Raheem Park Rangers. He was totally running the show. He had athleticism and brightness and hated losing.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs all knew about Raheem as he developed but their attitude was: ‘Too small, too much baggage.’ He needed support and guidance. I wanted him to stay at QPR and persuaded the reserves to give him his debut at 15 so he’d feel fast-tracked. But at one meeting, after training, Raheem said: ‘Steve, I have to go.’
I could see how genuinely upset he was and thought, ‘I can’t do that to a kid’, so we reluctantly agreed to listen to offers, and Liverpool came in. Now, with hindsight, I can see it was the right thing for him to leave, as much for a change in environment off the pitch. We can all talk about his tough upbringing but he was the one living it.
Nick Pope – Jamie Day, former manager at non-league Welling United
Charlton loaned us Nick because they needed him to play some games. Conference South was more rough-and-tumble than he’d been used to but he backed his ability. His positivity impressed me. He wasn’t scared to come out for crosses against bigger and stronger players.
At 19, he didn’t have a large frame. He hadn’t bulked up or filled out but still he had the confidence to claim catches. And if he made a mistake, it didn’t affect him. He’d still come for the next cross.
One match that stood out was a local derby against Dartford on Boxing Day. It must have been the biggest crowd Nick had played in front of, a couple of thousand, and his error gave them the first goal.
He didn’t crumble. He kept us in the game. We eventually turned it around to win 2-1 and he was named man of the match. That’s when we realised he could go a fair way in the game.
The facilities at Welling were different to Charlton. His mentality was very good. He never moaned about the state of the pitches or the dressing rooms.
We thought he could go back to Charlton and be their first-team goalkeeper in the Championship, which he did. But could we have predicted England? Probably not.It shows the work and effort he’s put into develop himself.
Harry Maguire – Scott Sellars, his under-12s coach at Sheffield United
I had a family connection with the Maguires, I’d played with his dad Alan in junior football and my son was in Harry’s team at United. Harry played midfield at the time, we felt he’d end up as a centre-back but being in the middle of the park helped his development, he learned how to drive forward with the ball.
I’d been a professional player and always looked at the youngster’s character. They all had talent at the academy but you wanted to see they could deal with pressure and bounce back from adversity, and Harry had those qualities even then. He was a smashing lad.
Marcus Rashford – David Horrocks, his coach at Fletcher Moss Rangers
Marcus was scouted by City as well as United and trained at their academy, which was near his house. United were so worried about losing him they asked me to drive him over one Sunday morning to make their pitch.
The advantage United had was they had this programme set up at all levels by Rene Meulensteen to develop individual skills. It suited Marcus because he was allowed to have the ball and express himself rather than pass-pass-pass.
I was at Fletcher Moss on the day we were allowed to start coaching again after Covid and the news came through about Marcus’s campaign allowing kids to continue free meals into the holidays. A lo of our children were on free school meals so it was a big help to them.
When I saw Marcus play last season, something wasn’t right, whether it was injury or something going on in the background. But he’s shown great concentration and hunger this season to get on the plane for the World Cup. We’ll be on the edge of our seats hoping he scores.
Mentor David Horrocks believes the Manchester United forward has shown great hunger
Declan Rice – Tony Carr, former West Ham academy manager
What I like about Declan is he always looked you in the eye. If the coaches said something, he’d hold his gaze and show he understood.
He came to us from Chelsea at 14. Our head of scouting Dave Hunt said they’d let two players go that we should have a look at. It was quickly evident he could pass and move, and was available to receive the ball. We liked him, took him and the rest is history. His attitude was first class. Some players might get carried away travelling with the first team, but Declan didn’t.
He stayed grounded because he comes from a sensible family but it’s probably still surprised us how quickly he’s achieved. He keeps getting better and better.
Even though West Ham have struggled this season, his standards haven’t dropped. Even a week from the World Cup, he was giving his all, driving the team.
Conor Gallagher – Lee Bowyer, ex-Charlton manager
It was his first experience of senior football when he came on loan and at 19, he stood up for himself. The way he played, breaking forward and showing plenty of determination, was the way I liked to play as well.
I remember someone wiping him out in a game against Reading and his next tackle went through the fella and I’m thinking ‘Fair play!’
That will take him a long way. He took on board what we tried to say. I used to keep gambling to get in the box and try and score goals and Conor has that in his game too.
Kalvin Phillips – Sonny Sweeney, Leeds scout who spotted him at 13
I was at a gala and this lad’s passing was smashing. Both short and long, he was very good for a young boy. I spoke to his coach at Wortley, got his details and then talked to his mum that night. People often ask me whether I was surprised that he hadn’t been picked up by anyone at that stage and the answer is no because you do miss the occasional one.
When he was at the Leeds academy, he got a lot of stick early on with people saying that he couldn’t run. I always tell a story related to that. I played in the European Cup for Cork Hibernians against Borussia Monchengladbach in 1971 and they had a guy who couldn’t run. His name was Gunter Netzer. I couldn’t get anywhere near him in 90 minutes. He might not have been able to get up and down the pitch but he was moving all the time. Kalvin has similar qualities and has always been a great user of the ball.
Marcelo Bielsa was a great influence and the one who sorted Kalvin out because he assessed where his strengths were. He’s always been better facing the ball, so he can get it down and pass it whereas before he had been playing too far up the field as a midfielder, which meant he often had his back to the game.
Kyle Walker – Ron Reid, former Sheffield United academy manager
When I first came across Kyle, he was a titch, playing as a forward. Sharpish, with good technique and ability but he was never going to be a striker.
But during his Under-15 season, we were playing a game against Forest away and we were getting tanked down the right, so at half-time the coach made the change, asking the team who could fill in there. Kyle volunteered and the rest is history.
But it wasn’t until he was 18 that I really knew. Kyle was disillusioned — he wasn’t in the first team and too old to play in the Under-18s. I asked if he could play as one of two over-aged players in our academy team.
I played him at centre-half in his first game and the score at the end was Kyle Walker 0 Aston Villa 0. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand. He was head and shoulders above everyone else.
Later that 2008-09 season, with two Championship matches to go, he made the best league debut I’ve ever seen. We played Swansea at Bramall Lane and he looked like he’d been doing it for years at that level. We lost the play-off final to Burnley soon after, and he went off to Tottenham for a relatively cheap price, being the makeweight in a double deal which also included Kyle Naughton.
Manchester City defender Walker began his career as a sharp and technically able forward
Jack Grealish – John McGinty, his under-13s Gaelic football coach
He played for a club called John Mitchels in Solihull and his best moment came when an Irish team Castleblayney came over and we demolished them.
Jack held on to the ball brilliantly and was the most fouled player, just like he is now in the Premier League. In one tournament, he took that many whacks that he couldn’t play in the final.
He was quick, clever – and a nice lad to go with it. We couldn’t get him to play for us every time because he was on Aston Villa’s books but when he could get there it lifted everyone to have that talent in the team.
If you can retain the ball or see someone making a run, that’s what it’s all about. I can see the same qualities when he plays now.
With other players of that age, instructions would sometimes go in one ear and out the other but Jack would always listen and understand. You never had to do too much shouting at him.
Mason Mount – Kevin Neil, his coach at Boarhunt Rovers & United Services
At six, he’d turn up an hour before his session and just kick the ball left and right foot, on his own. And he’d stay for an hour and half after. I coached him until he was eight and even at that age, he was hellbent on training.
When I talked to his group of kids together, he was always at the front and never moved his eyes away. He just listened, wanted to learn. You could just tell he wanted it so badly, even at that age.
I never knew him mess around in the two years he was with us and I believe he’s still like that today. Even at Chelsea he is in the training ground at 8am and doesn’t go home until 4pm. He and the family deserve the success 100 per cent because going through academies requires a lot of commitment.
I tell everyone today, if you want to be a footballer, the one person to look at is Mason Mount. He is such a level-headed kid and a role model. Impeccable.
He had to sacrifice things like going to school parties with mates. Training to be a footballer was is life and he’s deservedly reaped his rewards.
Mason Mount (L) and Declan Rice were fast friends together in the Chelsea youth academy
Ben White – Michael Flynn, former Newport County manager
I said it from day one when he came on loan he was destined for the top. He’s an unbelievable, talented player and even better human being. He works hard every day, always has time for people and there is no ego. He’s respectable and has manners.
Going to the World Cup is a huge thing and I’m proud of him especially one when you consider the illness he had (he took antibiotics from 18 months to eight years old to protect his immune system)
As a player and manager I’ve seen a lot of young players come through and have good careers but Ben and Leighton Baines, I knew they would play for England because of the ability and attitude they had.
When you’ve got that element of ability and humility, they are ingredients for becoming a top footballer. Ben getting a big move to Arsenal filled me with immense pride, more so for him and his family because they are smashing people. Being Welsh and knowing how good he is, I hope he is on the bench for England against us!
Aaron Ramsdale – Will Jaaskelainen, team-mate at Bolton academy
Aaron is essentially the same keeper I knew at 14, with improvements. He’s a monster now in the way he moves. When we were younger, he was just a normal, goofy guy. Just funny, daft. I remember laughing at some of the things he used to do, mental stuff. He was a good character, always smiling, always making jokes and taking the rise out of people, but in a good way.
He never would have thought this would happen three years ago when he was playing for Wimbledon in League One. The steps he has taken since then have been crazy.
He’s climbed the ladder from League Two, League One and the Championship, going all the way up, and now he’s at the pinnacle going to the World Cup.
Eric Dier – Peter Taylor, former England Under-20s coach
It was a tough choice to pick the centre-halves. At that time, Eric was a bit more mobile and a bit more of a footballer than Harry Maguire, so he got the nod, with Jamal Lascelles. You could say it was a wrong decision to leave Harry out because what he’s gone on to achieve, World Cup semi-finalist and Manchester United captain, is phenomenal.
Eric fitted in with the other lads absolutely fine even though he wouldn’t have known a lot of them. His dad was a big influence and he was on the phone to him a lot.
Eric Dier’s father was a big influence on him as a child regularly talking to him on the phone
Kieran Trippier – Sean Dyche, his manager at Burnley
I had a standard line at Burnley: ‘I don’t do favourites, except Tripps.’ It was delivered deadpan and made the lads laugh. The truth is we did respect and value Kieran hugely.
He’d just turned 22 when I joined. The talent wasn’t hard to find but the sharp side of professionalism needed altering. He got his body fat down and strength up. He took in all the information and realised what could be achieved.
He deserves a huge amount of credit. He looked sharper and fitter from our first full pre-season and rampaged through the Championship. I think he got 13 assists when we were promoted. He went on to adjust to a possibly even harder regime at Tottenham and took the massive leap to Atletico Madrid which further developed him on and off the pitch.
He was a cheeky chappie but he didn’t step out of line. Tripps has proved he’s a top professional. It will continue to pay him back.
Bukayo Saka has always had a smile on his face
Bukayo Saka – Mark Harvey, his PE teacher at Greenford High School
The Bukayo Saka you see doing every interview with a smile on his face and carrying himself so well, he’s always been like that, I promise you.
As an 11-year-old in Year Seven, he was the calming factor in the class.
For the majority of kids, PE was their favourite lesson of the week, and some of them were hyper.
He was always calm and respectful, and had a really nice relationship with everyone.
Every lesson I go into now, someone mentions his name.
My message is continue to do what you’re doing — you’re literally the talk of the school!’
James Maddison – Rich Stevens, former Coventry academy manager
There was something different about James. The way he could change direction, his agility and his courage and confidence. Everywhere you went, everyone knew about him.
I remember a boy who was physically unrecognisable to the man you see now. The one thing in your mind was what his body was going to become. He was a late developer but that helped him. He learned how to use his body, how to use the ball, how to take contact and get away from it, twist and turn and spin. It gave him an edge.
Even when he was younger, you couldn’t get him off the training ground. He loved taking free-kicks. Ten balls down on the edge of the area, whipping them into the corners. It doesn’t surprise you when he scores them any more.
If England get a free-kick at the World Cup, you wouldn’t bet against him rattling it into the top corner.
He will thrive. He will cope like no one else. It doesn’t faze him. He won’t think he’s cracked it because he knows he hasn’t and if he gets a chance, he will seize it. He will be excited, grateful and humble but when the ball is rolling, he will embrace it. We all know how good he is – now the world will see it.
Callum Wilson – Brad Thompson, club secretary at his junior club Christ the King FC
Callum came to us about eight years old and it quickly became apparent he was a bit special. He was fast and had an eye for goal, He stood out in what was a talented team.
Scouts came from all around the area. Coventry grabbed him in the end and took him for a season but he didn’t initially enjoy it, he was quite shy and perhaps he found the pressure a bit much. He came back to us and joined the Under-13s.
One of our coaches, Steve West, took Callum under his wing. He continued with us until the U15s and scored 64 goals in one season. Coventry came back and the rest is history. He came back here in 2019 for a presentation ceremony. I remember one scout saying “I don’t think he’s got what it takes” when Callum was 15. Now every time I see that scout I say ‘What about Callum Wilson, eh?’ and he replies ‘Don’t remind me of that!’
John Stones – Mark Burton, former head of coaching at Barnsley academy
We played him in midfield occasionally, not thinking that he was going to be a midfielder, but that if he wanted to step in there, we could see what he was like. Check out his 360-degree vision. Could he see round corners? When he was in there, was he comfortable? It was good exposure for him.
He was a good footballer, so you could have put him up front at age-group level and he would have done all right. But I predominantly saw him as a centre-half who could step into midfield and join in with the play.
So we gave him the licence to do that. To do Cruyff turns and step-overs in his own box. Did he make mistakes? Yes. Is that what youth football is all about? To make mistakes that you learn from and get better? Of course it is. Now he has the best manager in the world in Pep Guardiola and he appreciates him for what he is.
John was always great in the dressing room. He mimicked every coach, but not in a disrespectful way. He’d take it out of them for how they spoke, their actions, but there was no malice and he was funny. He had good relationships and when it was time to work, he worked and put his game face on.
He started with us at under-nines and went through several growth spurts. He actually played down an age for a few weeks at 15 just because of his maturation, really. He was physically growing into his body and you always knew he was going to come good. That happened in his second year as a scholar.
When we played Nottingham Forest, he was up against Jamaal Lascelles, and I said to Chris Fairclough, the Forest coach, that we had two very good players on our hands. ‘Yours is best by a mile,’ he said. Chris was a well-regarded centre-half himself in his day and so that was a great compliment.
John Stones was often played as a midfielder during his development as a player
Jordan Henderson – Kevin Ball, former Sunderland academy coach
I watched Jordan at 17 in a youth team game and turned round to tell [fitness coach] Scott Pearce: “He’ll play for England one day.” When Scott asked me why, I said it was because he had an unbelievable drive to succeed. I never told Jordan I’d predicted that, but later found out Scott had!
Jordan went on to Liverpool and to captain his country. I met up with him before the 2014 World Cup when I was in Miami visiting a friend while England were there for a friendly before heading to Brazil.
I went to the team hotel to have a cup of tea with Jordan. I wanted to see what he was like with me, if it was the same Jordan with that same humility, and it was.’
Luke Shaw – James Bunce, former Southampton youth coach
Luke’s ability to rebound from negativity and criticism is exceptional. Despite some open, sometimes horrible, personal attacks, he has always rebounded. He’s always come back from injury stronger. He’s a fighter.
He’s seen off managers who maybe looked past him. Managers might come in and not want Luke but they always come back to him. His attitude, his drive, his quality always shines through eventually. If you manage him right, he’s one of the best left-backs in the world. It is no surprise to see him going to another World Cup.
I met Luke when he was 12 and worked with him until joined Manchester United. He was a quiet leader. He never bothered about being centre of attention. He just got on with his football and was the most naturally talented of the group. An exceptionally gifted footballer. He was the most powerful, the quickest, the strongest from a young age. We all knew he had this exceptional talent and we wanted to push him. He was always willing to learn. He’d spend hours in the office with Mauricio Pochettino.
I’ve laughed with Luke about what people say about his body. We banned them from having sugary breakfasts and when he got called up to England Under-20s, he sent me a picture of some Cocoa Pops with the caption: ‘See, England know how to look after you!’
It is an unfair assessment of him. You don’t play hundreds of games for one of the biggest teams in the world, in one of the most physically demanding leagues in the world, for some of the best managers in the world, and for one of the best international teams in the world, if there is a problem with your body.
My message to Luke ahead of the World Cup is keep being you. That’s what has got you to where you are now, through the good and the bad. We’re just as proud seeing him run out for England now as we were the first time he did. We want him to smash it and bring it home.
Luke Shaw worked with James Bunce from the age of 12 until he left for Manchester United
Conor Coady – Peter Taylor, former England Under-20s coach
I did my research before the FIFA tournament in 2013. I spoke to people who knew the players better than I did. After a chat with Sammy Lee at Liverpool, I decided Coady would be our captain and straight away I liked him – he was another Jamie Carragher.
He was a leader and though he played in midfield, you could see he could go back to centre-half. He was a real good lad to have on board. I think at tournaments when you’re away for a long time, you need people who can be funny and noisy. He was a very serious captain but he was a laugh.
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