Why is the Development of Young English Players so Restricted?

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England U21's Jack Grealish (centre of group) during the training session at the Stadion Kusocinskiego in Kielce, Poland. (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)

After the success for the Young Lions in the recent Under-20’s European Championship, the inevitable reappearing question has once again raised its head. It is with jealousy that English football fans look towards the German model of youth development which has seen the world champions proliferate themselves to the top of the sport. There has been a lack creativity and patience in developing the latest crop of young English players, which has led to one-dimensional and regressive attitudes to youth development. This, in turn, has seen the England national team fall in stature and at a dangerous crossroads.

Germany’s Move From European Failures to World Champions

After a disastrous European Championship in 2000, a mass restructure in German football occurred. The lethargic, archaic and defensively-minded Germans who were prevalent throughout the 1980s and 1990s were replaced by technically gifted and quick players who became world champions only fourteen years later. How can this be?

The restructuring was completed with the highest amount of German efficiency and intelligence. For many non-Germans, the change seems to have been effortless. Money was poured in and the likes of Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos and Jérôme Boateng are the result.

If only it were that simple to emulate.

A huge factor in their success was the increase in investment into players’ footballing education and the significant rise of full-time coaches to aide all phases of a footballer’s development. 52 Centres of Excellence were built to enhance the education of the most talented prospects in the nation.

366 coaching bases were built to develop 1,300 professional, full-time coaches to teach youngsters the basics of the modern game. This has resulted in German coaching becoming of the highest quality, resulting in more talented footballers. Julian Nagelsmann is the latest example of a product of the seemingly endless production line of German footballing and coaching talent.

In 2002, the Extended Talent Promotion Programme was launched by the German FA and was unanimously supported by professional clubs in Germany, with €48 million being invested into it. That figure has doubled since the creation of the programme.

Berti Vogts, coach of Die Mannschaft from 1990-1998, complained about the lack of German talent available for selection. At this point, Miroslav Klose was still playing amateur football and Vogts argued that talent was being missed and diminished by the German FA. In truth, they were missing multiple buses which they used to catch with time to spare.

The investment is critical to the German development process but also the opportunity of game time in the Bundesliga. Where as the Premier League has, on average, 16 foreign players per squad, in the Bundesliga this figure is considerably smaller, with only six non-Germans per squad.

The Extended Talent Promotion Programme director Jörg Daniel said of the programme:”If the talent of the century happens to be born in a tiny village behind the mountains, from now on we will find him”. Germany left no stone unturned in their search for talent. The investment, identification of talent and enhanced coaching budget propelled them to champions of the world in just fourteen years.

Finally, the Germans allow players to develop through the system. The Germany Under-21 team that beat England heavily in 2009 consisted of Manuel Neuer, Benedict Howedes, Mesut Özil, Jérôme Boateng and Sami Khedira to name but a few. These four players now have 339 international caps between them after representing their country at every age group since they were 17. In stark contrast, their English opposition who in that final have only 146 senior team caps between the starting 11 and three substitutes. It is a damning and revealing statistic.

Lessons for England to Learn

The Premier League is a financial super power of world football. Investment into the education of footballers and coaches needs to be significantly higher. The Premier League and the FA must work together to encourage more English teams to invest in their academies and nurturing through more homegrown talent.

Can this be achieved through a rule ensuring Premier League teams have to start a fixed quota of players in their starting 11? Possibly, but the neglecting of English talent in the Premier League is a damning indictment on how youth players are disrespected in this country.

Whilst the Premier League continuously looks to the rest of the globe for fresh imports, academy players are being released. An example of this is Josh Harrop, who scored a remarkable goal on his senior Manchester United debut only to be reversed to the bench and beyond hereafter. Harrop has just completed a free transfer to Preston North End in search of senior football.

The secrets to successful youth development are opportunity, trust and investment. The gaps between the numerous youth squads up and down the land are too substantial to repair. The fact of the matter of is, if a player is 21-23 and still representing his club’s Under-23 squad, he will not make the first team of that club. It’s depressing.

Overall, English football needs to stand up and witness the rejection of young players who are being damaged by an unjust system which leaves them damned. Clubs will opt for a more attractive £30m signing over a 21-year-old from their academy because the need for success is so high. Perhaps one day, the development of young players in this country will return to being the norm; not a rarity.

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