England′s future looks bright, but they should heed German lessons | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 08.11.2017
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England's future looks bright, but they should heed German lessons

England vs. Germany is always an eagerly anticipated fixture and while this latest meeting is another friendly, it does serve as chance to look at the future for both nations. Are England that far behind?

England vs. Germany is a fixture that stirs up strong football memories, but since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the fixture has become more of a regular in the international friendly calender than a tense tournament tie. Just eight months after the two teams met in Dortmund for Lukas Podolski's farewell game, they are set to play each other again. Friendlies are rarely a wise measure of development, especially at international level, but after a successful summer for youth football in England, Germany must be wary of an old foe returning to the fore.

England's U17s were runners up in the Euros and then won the World Cup at the end of October. Their U19s also won the Euros, and in June, England won the U21 World Cup.

For a country upheld as the leading light in terms of youth development since the turn of the millennium, Germany have had far less success. Their U17s lost in the Euro semifinals and then in the World Cup quarterfinals to Brazil (the team England beat in the semifinals). Their U19s didn't make it out of their group (one England topped) and the U20s lost in the Round of 16 to Zambia.

Left out in the cold by the EPL

However, England's success at youth level doesn't automatically mean it will transfer to the first team. The Premier League's ruthless recruitment of the world's best players often leaves England's best out in the cold. The same cannot be said for Germany's best. 

Joachim Löw's current squad has a combination of 4,130 top-flight appearances — England's has just 2,746. While injuries have affected England's choices, the experience gap between the two squads (both with the same average age, 25.3) remains striking.

Fussball U21 EM-Finale -Deutschland - Spanien 1:0 (picture-alliance/SvenSimon/E. Kremser)

Success at U21 level has seen Germany continue to find new talent

The future looks bright for England after a summer of silverware, but it is often at the U21 level that it becomes clear as to whether or not a player will become a first-team international. And it is here, that Germany retain an edge - if only for now.

Germany's U21s upset the Spanish favorites by winning the Euros this summer, beating England on penalties in the semifinals. In their 23-man squad, 18 were Bundesliga regulars with top-flight appearances that totaled 1,089 (60 appearances per player on average). Four have gone on to feature for the first team.

England's squad at the same tournament included three Premier League regulars, with Southampton's James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond the exceptions to the rule having amassed 137 and 106 top-flight appearances (at the end of the tournament) respectively. Only three of that squad have featured for England's first team, but two have been selected in the squad to face Germany.

If England's talented players that delivered tournament-winning football earlier this year get the opportunity to play regular, high-level football, then England should have the chance to significantly reduce the disparity between themselves and Germany.

For now, Germany's strength in depth — winning the Confederations Cup with a 23-man squad that included 17 players with 10 caps or fewer   remains remarkable. However, England find themselves at the beginning of a process, one that if handled correctly in the years ahead will increase the likelihood of games against Germany being ones that matter.

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