It may have escaped your notice, but this summer, England became the European champions. While the men’s team were hamstrung by Roy Hodgson’s decision to take on the world without a midfield in Brazil, the Under 17s were beating the Netherlands – on penalties, no less – to be crowned best in Europe.
The last time England managed such a feat? 2010. Back then, the squad included Andre Wisdom, George Thorne, Ross Barkley, Connor Wickham, Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah. Of that squad, only a tiny minority – most notably Barkley and, very latterly, Wickham – have made an impression in the Premier League so far. Barkley continues to flourish under the enlightened tutelage of Roberto Martínez at Everton, while Wickham broke through at struggling Sunderland towards the end of last season.
Most of the rest of those 2010 European champions have been out on loan in the Football League to get a chance to play, with varying degrees of success. Despite this, the FA seem happy with the PL’s Elite Player Performance Plan (which I’ve covered before, so don’t get me started on it again).
Compare and contrast. Mario Götze has just written himself into German folklore by rifling home the winner in the World Cup Final. He is 22 and has made more than 100 appearances in the Bundesliga, plus playing in three Champions League campaigns and amassing 35 caps. He played in the German U’17 team that won the Euros in 2009, scoring in a 4-0 thrashing of England on the way.
George Thorne is 21. After his role in that European Championship success of 2010, he made ten Premier League appearances for the Baggies – four starts – topped up by Championship loan spells at Portsmouth and Peterborough in 2012. He missed the final few months of the 2012/3 season with a serious injury and after returning to fitness, was loaned to Watford in November 2013, going back to his parent club at the end of the year.
He didn’t play again until he joined Derby, where he proved to be ludicrously good. His strong desire to join the Rams permanently was fuelled by the fact that he knew how difficult it would be to get a chance at WBA ahead of Morrison, Mulumbu, Yacob, Gardner et al. And that’s at a mid-table club, not Manchester City.
Andre Wisdom did get a bit of a chance at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, but having proved miles too good for the second tier last season, will be farmed out to West Brom this season. Before coming to the iPro, he had made 13 career league appearances at Anfield.
McEachran, once much hyped as Chelsea’s next big thing, is reportedly considering a move to the Spanish second division on loan, rather than spending more time loafing around in the Championship.
Look at the goalkeepers from Germany ’09 and England ’10 U’17 crops – Marc-André ter Stegen went on to make more than 100 appearances for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga and moved to Barcelona this summer. Jack Butland, having been hyped to the skies as the next England number one, has bounced from one Football League loan club to another, following a move from Birmingham to Stoke. He is behind Asmir Begović and Thomas Sørensen in the pecking order at the Britannia and will probably go out on loan again this summer.
I’m not saying that every player from the Germany youth set-up turns out to be as good as Götze, but it’s clear that, overall, the player development system there is working much better than it does in this country, where it is broken, as far as encouraging the flourishing of future England internationals is concerned.
However, this sorry state of affairs could actually offer Derby County the opportunity to take advantage – due, in large part, to the appointment of a head coach whom the big boys trust.
Steve McClaren’s reputation for coaching players has already led Liverpool and Chelsea to entrust Derby with loanees and I would be surprised and disappointed if we don’t manage to pick up at least one more top prospect to help us out during the coming season.
Derby is a club which will give good youngsters a chance to play. Thorne knew it, which was why he pushed so hard to leave the Hawthorns and sign permanently. Hughes and Hendrick knew it, which was why they committed their long-term futures to the club.
As a recognised promotion chaser, Derby can now shop at the top of the loan market, knowing that at least some of their targets will be encouraged to join, to benefit from working with McClaren and playing at a club who play an attractive style of football. While PL clubs are only allowed to take two domestic loanees, Championship clubs can field five. Factor that in and there is plenty of scope for the Rams to enhance their already exciting squad, without having to pay out big transfer fees.