In the aftermath of the Germany’s demolition of England at the World Cup, my mind went back to last summer’s Under 21s European Championships, when Germany thrashed England 4-0 in the final. Because that Germany side bears a striking resemblance to the one that destroyed a doddering, ponderous, confused England in Bloemfontein last weekend.
Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira all featured in both starting elevens and of course, Ozil was instrumental in the German attack that humbled the strutting, ageing millionaire peacocks of the Premier League. Particularly embarrassing was the way that Ozil outstripped Gareth Barry on the counter-attack, leaving the lumbering midfielder for dead before pulling back a cross for an exultant, utterly unmarked Thomas Muller (aged 20) to crash home his second– and Germany’s fourth.
England’s pathetic inability to stop Germany’s counter attacks was partially down to the pace of the young attackers who have graduated so rapidly and impressively from the national youth system to the world stage. So I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast the two teams from the final of the Under 21 Euros, which took place in Malmo last June.
GERMANY (4-1-4-1): Neuer (Schalke); Beck (Hoffenheim), Howedes (Schalke), Boateng (Manchester City), Boenisch (Werder Bremen); Hummels (Borussia Dortmund); F. Johnson (Wolfsburg), Castro (Bayer Leverkusen), Khedira (cpt, VfB Stuttgart), Ozil (Werder Bremen); Wagner (Werder Bremen)
ENGLAND (4-3-3): Loach (Watford); Cranie (Coventry City), Richards (Manchester City), Onuoha (Manchester City), Gibbs (Arsenal); Cattermole (Sunderland), Muamba (Bolton Wanderers), Noble (cpt, West Ham United); Milner (Aston Villa), Walcott (Arsenal), A. Johnson (Manchester City)
(Underlined players were named in their national squad for the 2010 World Cup)
Interestingly, England played the 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 system which is now de rigeur in international football, so it would appear that the youngsters are being prepped for that formation. However, it’s slightly alarming that the wispy Theo Walcott was selected as the mainline centre forward.
Another worrying sign is that despite possessing the two centre halves from England’s starting eleven, Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, Manchester City still felt the need to purchase one of Germany’s starting centre halves, Jerome Boateng, this summer. And when you look at the England team, how many of them are guaranteed a regular starting place at Premier League clubs next season? Only four (Noble, Cattermole, Muamba and Milner). Furthermore, only Milner is likely to be an automatic choice for a club playing any sort of European football – and that’s assuming he isn’t hoovered up by Man City’s megalithic squad-building exercise. None of the England eleven will get near the Champions League. Two of them – Cranie and Loach – will in fact be playing in the Championship.
Meanwhile, all of the Germans, Boateng aside, are with Bundesliga sides and the overwhelming majority played regularly last season.
Man City might well crack the top four this season, but their English youngsters will find it harder and harder to get a game, now that the efforts of their academy have been rendered practically irrelevant by the limitless Arab millions pouring into the coffers. How can Adam Johnson, for example, be expected to get a game ahead of the brilliant Spaniard David Silva, who could almost be regarded as a direct replacement for him? Johnson, I suspect, was only signed with an eye to the new ruling that states that Premier League clubs must carry at least eight “home-grown” players in their squad (note ‘home-grown’, not necessarily English, or even British. ‘Home-grown’ only means that the player was trained in England for three years before reaching the age of 21. Arsenal are therefore fine, despite only have three English players in their squad).
The England starting eleven who lost to Germany in Malmo featured no players from Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool (Chelsea’s Michael Mancienne was brought on as a sub that day, but of course, he has spent the past year on loan to Wolves and has never had a chance at Stamford Bridge).
Of the Arsenal pair, young left back Kieran Gibbs is back-up to the Frenchman Gael Clichy, whilst Theo Walcott never seems to have fully gained the confidence of Arsene Wenger – who can, after all, click his fingers and summon attackers like Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin. Walcott made just 12 Premier League starts last season and ultimately, Fabio Capello decided that he couldn’t take him to South Africa. How we could have done with the player who, just last September, put Croatia to the sword in Zagreb…
After the massacre at Bloemfontein, Thomas Muller told a press conference that the England team had too many ‘alpha males’ and not enough players who were ready to go the extra mile for the team. Younger players, he said, were often simply more ready to do what they were told by the coaching staff. So a few more ‘indians’ like James Milner and a few less ‘chiefs’ like John Terry might actually strengthen the England team, which will be built around Wayne Rooney for tournaments to come. But how can we bring those new young players through if they are constantly supplanted at their Premier League clubs by foreigners?
For now, I expect an England side pretty similar to the current one to qualify for the 2012 Euros from a pretty moribund group – and await developments from there with interest.