Is Germany the unlikely saviour of English football?
It was during the second half of der Klassiker, when the eighteen-year-old Jadon Sancho turned the Bayern Munich defence inside-out for the umpteenth time, that I could see what he could become. I’d heard the stories, watched compilations, and seen the stats, but it was not until then that I had finally watched the next English superstar for myself in a full-match. And, it was a joy to behold. He made these seasoned professionals at the very top of their game look ordinary, and he was doing it all by swapping his home country for somewhere that spoke a different language and had a different culture. Nothing seemed to daunt him, not even the number 7 on his back. The predecessor left for Barcelona for north of £100 million shortly before his arrival in Dortmund.
Quite frankly, I am slightly embarrassed that this is impressive to me. No other country seems to have issues with players moving abroad at a young age, all of our top sides are full of them. From Leroy Sane to Anthony Martial, they are practically ten a penny. But what Sancho is doing is undeniably unusual among his peers - he has prioritised his own development above the cheque that enters his bank account every week. Fortunately, he is no longer alone. In the past seasons, the Bundesliga has been torn apart by a few other young Englishmen in Ademola Lookman and currently Reiss Nelson, both of whom are beneficiaries of the loan system.
This current crop of exports is proving what we found out in the latter half of 2017, courtesy of those victories in multiple youth World Cups and European Championships. There is an abundance of talent in this country. Yet, why are Germany the ones that are reeking the rewards of this in their domestic leagues, and not the Premier League?
Well, this is due to the differences in footballing culture between the two countries. English football is all about winning - it is instilled in us from a very young age that winning ugly is better than not winning at all. That’s why even at Sunday league level, we play competitive leagues from a very young age so we can prove who the best is. This unwavering desire to win is multiplied at a professional level. The Premier League is so rich that why would you bother giving an unproven youngster a chance when you can buy a more tried and tested professional from elsewhere? This win costs mentality and is why Sam Allardyce gets wheeled out every year to save a club that looks set for relegation. Because being in the Premier League next year means more to owners and fans than what the club will look like in five years’ time.
This is not so much the case in Germany as, due to league rules, every club has to be at least 51% fan owned (although RB Leipzig have played fast and loose with this rule). Therefore, the money is not available for these clubs to buy anybody they want, perhaps to fix a short-term issue. They have to develop from within to be able to secure the long-term future of the club. Hence, it is beneficial to utilise the youth academy. If somebody comes out of it and does well, the club benefits immediately and can make money later on, and so chances are easier to come by than their English counterparts.
I hope many more follow in the footsteps of Sancho, Marcus McGuane (FC Barcelona), Keanen Bennetts (Borussia Monchengladbach), and Jonathan Panzo (AS Monaco) in taking the plunge and swapping England for Europe as taking that risk shows much more about your determination to succeed than playing in the dead-end alley of u23 football. This ultimately leads to being released and falling by the wayside. We have been stifling the development of young players for years, so why is a nation with a proven track record of producing world class players lacking the initiative to train up new players?