Monday, 12 June 2017

Can English football "do a Germany"?

England are football world champions! Not unfortunately at senior level, but nonetheless, yesterday's 1-0 victory over Venezuela in the Under 20 World Cup is cause for celebration. It was not only the first victory but also the first appearance in a World Cup final since 1966, and it has of course got us all wondering whether it's an indication that the senior team might be on course for further success in the near future.

The day before another England Under 20 squad had won the Toulon Tournament, amazingly winning a penalty shoot-out to beat Ivory Coast in the final. Evidence indeed that English football is producing some impressive strength in depth.

However, the tag of "golden generation" has been hung around the necks of young England squads in the past, like a millstone. Never before has it been the label for a squad of World Champions, but still one has to wonder whether these talented youngsters will be able to take the next step, of securing regular places in the starting line-ups of Premiership sides and pushing for senior call-ups.

A classic example of a country that has managed to turn success at youth level into success at senior level is Germany. Having plumbed (for them) the depths of footballing despair with their group stage elimination in the 2000 European Championships they embarked on a root and branch reform of German football that helped their Under 21 side become 2009 European Champions, thrashing England 4-0 in the final. That side included the likes of Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Howedes and Mesut Ozil, all of whom were present in the squad that won the senior World Cup in 2014.

So can England emulate their success? One key difference between the nations in the Premier League. With so much more money available to clubs than the Bundesliga it's much easier for English sides to go out and buy in ready-made talent than to nurture home-grown talent, and the prevalence of German ownership of German clubs also helped to develop a style of play that national sides of all age-groups shared with club sides.

The FA has to take credit for the investment it has made in developing talent, most notably with the St George's Park development, but it's the next step that needs to be put into place now. Many top clubs, such as Chelsea, loan out their young talent, sometimes to great effect - look at the season Tammy Abraham has just had for Bristol City - but he looks more likely to be sold than to feature at Stamford Bridge next season. Perhaps that's no bad thing, if he gets regular Premier League action, but surely England needs players turning out for its top clubs if it's going to finally end its 51 (at the moment) years of hurt.

But for now, let's just enjoy England winning a World Cup (even if the BBC didn't show them being presented with the trophy!).