Why England Must Replicate Germany In Bringing Youth To The Fore

Why England Must Replicate Germany In Bringing Youth To The Fore
Jul 9, 2017

England Featured International

51 years of pain and misery has ended – slightly. For the first time since 11th July 1966, an English team had reached the pinnacle of world football and won the most prestigious tournament there is, albeit the U-20 side. The 21-man squad seemingly easily conquered any task set before them, dominating every team they played. So, how did all of this come about and what does this mean for the future of English football?

For me, it all started 3 years ago, before Lewis Cook became only the second Englishman to captain his country to World Cup victory, when 6 players out of the Cup-winning starting eleven won the 2014 U-17 European Championship in Malta, highlighting the importance of tournament experience. It emulates the German side who won the 2014 World Cup; over half of the starting eleven in the final had previously won a major tournament with a national youth side.

The emphasis on youth tournaments is installed by FIFA and UEFA from a young age – in order to qualify for a major youth competition, you must have performed to a considerable standard at a prior one. The Germans, however, take this one step further. For example, Lothar Matthäus, Germany’s most capped player with 150 senior international appearances has 19 youth caps – he played in a competitive international environment from a young age, drilling a winning mentality into him. This leads me to the vital question, how much can this young, promising squad achieve?

England’s gifted U-20 squad, coupled with youngsters already deemed talented enough to earn a place in the senior side, could achieve anything provided they are given the opportunity and resources to develop. Between the whole of our U-20 World Cup winning squad, less than four hours of premier league football had been played during the past season, with the majority of this coming from Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman. To put this in perspective, only 30% of the professional footballers playing in the English Premier Division are English – the lowest number of domestic players in any European top division. Something must be done.

For example, the Germans (I know, I might as well be German at this point) have many rules in place to ensure that their home-grown players reach their undoubted potential and fulfil their country’s dreams of national success. One such example of this is the ‘50+1’ rule that is enforced by the ‘Deutscher Fußball-Bund’ (Germany’s footballing governing body) which stipulates that more than 50 percent of a clubs must be owned by its members in order to obtain a Bundesliga license. Bayern Munich are an excellent example of this as 75 percent of the club is owned by their fan groups and the other 25 percent being made up by sports goods manufacturer Adidas, the automobile company Audi and the financial services group Allianz who each hold 8.33% of the clubs’ shares.

The ‘50+1’ rule has resulted in talented academy graduates being streamlined into the first team and given the opportunity to prove themselves against the best around. The main reasoning for the German clubs doing this is, of course, money, as they can cut back their transfer spending and use their supporters own money to improve the match day experience for them.

So, what would happen if the English Football Association did put rules such as this into place, in order to embrace the constant flow of naturally gifted talent that is continually produced by our outstanding academies throughout the country? One thing that is almost certain is that the percentage of English players playing in the Premier League would see a dramatic rise, subsequently resulting in a stronger national side who may then be able to compete against the heavyweights of global football.

The connection between footballer and fan would also improve, with more players who know, through experience, what it means to pull on their clubs’ shirt and represent their colours in front of a packed stadium where they may have once stood as a star-struck child, watching their idols. It does make you wonder, what exactly is stopping us?

The answer put simply, is money. If clubs were not making such high-profile signings and instead focusing on the development of youth prospects, the Premier League would rapidly lose its reputation as the most exciting league in the world. And, with lower reputation, comes lower income. No one in any foreign country with no real love for the game or specific team would rather watch the Manchester Derby with a team of unknown Mancunians as opposed to the likes of Sergio Agüero and Paul Pogba?

Who would have rather watched Dominic Solanke being given a chance than Diego Costa this season, after his poor previous year? Less excitement and less interest from foreign fans would result in fewer television viewers and therefore profit through television deals would reduce. However, the future of English football is still bright.

An in-depth look at the squad that won the U20 World Cup last month will show that English football is on the rise. This is evidenced by the previously mentioned Dominic Solanke who won the U20 Golden Ball and recently signed for Liverpool from Chelsea on a free transfer, potentially a career-defining move as he could be given a chance to prove himself under Jürgen Klopp who has a reputation for finding space in his matchday squad for his youth prospects.

Staying in Merseyside, Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman are becoming increasingly familiar names on the Toffees team sheet, with the latter scoring on his debut against Manchester City. With Newcastle returning to the Premier League, Adam Armstrong could be given an opportunity after scoring 26 in the past two seasons for Coventry and Barnsley. Finally, Josh Onomah will hope to add to his 8 Tottenham appearances while Kyle Walker-Peters will be hoping to make his debut for Mauricio Pochettino’s youthful side.

The FA are aiming to be able to challenge for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a potentially realistic goal. If these raw, gifted players that won the U20 World Cup can be nurtured and afforded the game time that they deserve then England could see a colossal improvement in the results of the national side at major tournaments. The experience that these players have gained through the past few years of competitive, national football could prove to be invaluable as we prepare our young talents for the impending World Cups and European Championships in an attempt to secure a first major competition win since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup trophy 51 years ago.

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