What is the best way to deal with our under 21s?

by Tony Attwood

You know that endless story that the FA put out… the story that the lackies of the FA working in the English media dutifully reprint…  the one about how England can’t do well in internationals because we have too many foreign players in our country.

I’ve argued against that for years, showing that success in internationals is directly related to the number of qualified coaches per 1000 players in the country.  Or in dead simple terms, England has around 300 people with the top coaching qualification, while Germany has around 3000.  That tells you something.

But now here is another point.   We know that the number of English youngsters who play outside England in their under 21 years is tiny, although Arsenal is starting to buck the trend by sending a few players to Germany.

However looking at the figures it turns out that eight players in the extended squad of the German U20 and U21 earn their money in the Dutch Eredivise.

One could argue that this is a good thing – these young men are getting experience in a professional league, rather than playing under 23 and under 21 games in empty stadia.

But it seems that not all the German management team are happy with this – U21 national coach Stefan Kuntz spoke out against the situation before the recent match against Belgium.  But others are saying that if the youngsters are not getting time in their own top league, surely it is better to have them playing in another country.

And Meikel Schönweitz, for example, junior head coach at the DFB, could most certainly see the positive side of the development when he pointed out that if the scouts of the German Football Association (DFB) want to observe the most talented young football professionals in the country, then they often go to the Netherlands.

What is so fascinating is that the two sides of the argument are exactly as heard in England.  One says, “They shouldn’t go overseas – what do they want to go overseas for?” taking the view that of course England is better, because it is England and England is better.  Because England is (well, you know)…  While the other side says, “Err, actually, they are playing games in a professional league, and that’s the experience they need.   Plus they are learning about different attitudes towards football and life in general and that can only be good.”

And yes, the Germans are starting to realise that by getting these regular games in another country, and by experiencing another culture, they are not only playing, they are developing themselves as footballers.

Take for example Ragnar Ache, the 21 year old who scored in his first international match. After the game Meikel Schönweitz, junior head coach at the DFB, said, “We did not have that on the radar before.”

What he was saying was that the player has been transformed by playing as a striker at Sparta Rotterdam where he has knocked in five goals. He is now one of eight current players in the U20 and U21 squads who earn their living in the Dutch Eredivise.

But still, so many players playing in the Netherlands, plus two in Austria, is seen by the old guard as a problem although at least the management recognise the cause:  “In this generation the boys have little match practice,” says Schönweitz noting that only Ridle Baku from Mainz 05 and Luca Kilian from SC Paderborn have played in the Bundesliga.

The reasons that the youngsters don’t get games are of course well known.  The pressure on the clubs in Germany is high and the willingness of clubs to use young players, gain experience and make mistakes is limited.  Plus young players are increasingly impatient.

The solution therefore is that…”We need to make sure throughout the entire training that the quality of the players is so good that the club have no option but to use them.”

So Germany faces a mixture of worries.   They have the English concern, (“There are international transfers from France, Spain, England, Scandinavia and the US.  The clubs bring a lot of foreigners to Germany very early,”) but they have the counterbalance, in that they recognise the validity of youngsters getting experience in a professional league in a different culture.

But there is also in the argument the creeping doubts that we see in the English psyche too.  They ask, “why do these foreign players want to play in Germany, when the Germans are happy to move to the Netherlands?”

And the article suggests that these foreign players may be hungrier for success than the young German footballers.

Maybe the lesson from all this is that the old worry about foreigners wanting it more, and our own youth being too impatient is a European thing, rather than just an English thing.


12 Replies to “What is the best way to deal with our under 21s?”

  1. OT

    It’s my intention to submit a couple of articles to Tony at the end of the season with a more in-depth analysis but as we’re fractionally over a third of a season gone and I thought I’d wet the appetite on the refereeing stats so far.

    To date the average number of fouls committed per team is 136, Arsenal are pretty average with 139. The average number of tackles made is 222, again we’re thereabouts with 228. The average number of cards received (with a red counting as two) is 25. Nobody will be surprised to read that we have received 40% more than average with 35.

    As has been spotted already, Leicester are the stand out team (remember they apparently committed committed just one foul in their last game. Having committed 134 fouls (just five fewer than us) they have amassed the stunning total of just 12 cards! And in six of their 13 games this season did not receive a card. In one of those games they committed more fouls than we did for our six cards last weekend.

    And I know Tony (and indeed me too) had a theory that the team committing the most tackles is likely to make a high number of fouls and hence is likely to pick up more cards. Well that doesn’t hold up I’m afraid as the team making the most tackles is…………you’ve guessed it……….Leicester City.

    As I said, I’ll do some more in depth analysis as the season draws to a close but my observation at this time is that with a card for every 4.0 fouls committed Arsenal are being treated slightly more harshly than Leicester with a card for every 11.2 fouls committed. In terms of tackles, we receive a card for every 6.5 tackles compared to one every 23.6 cards for Leicester. Now if memory serves me correctly, the season Leicester won the league they were also allowed to get away with murder by referees. Is this coincidence or something more sinister?

  2. Mikey

    Great work.

    As you may be aware around 15 years ago I was doing this rudimentary analysis of fouls to cards using the ‘Fair Play’ table in the Sun and found us to be harshly treated back then.

    To cut a long story short the average cards per foul was around 1 card every 7.5 fouls.

    We were always amongst the harshest treated at around a card every 5.5 fouls.

    It did fluctuate as we had the odd season when we were reasonably (above average) treated, but over time we were nearly always harshly treated.

    I have looked for these basic states everywhere to support my assertions, and asked for help finding them here on untold, but no luck.

    What I find funny is for a club that’s forever been called ‘weak’ ‘soft’ ‘afraid to get stuck in’ ‘they don’t like it up ’em’ we don’t half rack up the cards.

    Believe it or not on one occasion when I talked about this on here I got told ‘it’s the way we tackle’ or ‘it’s the way we are coached’ !

    So every player that we have suddenly cant tackle ?

    Now Wenger has gone and still it goes on so it wasn’t him after all.

    Penalty stats have also been published on Untold showing a significant disparity between penalties we receive and concede compared to our nearest rivals.

    Both the fouls stats and the penalty stats are ‘facts’. They are not subjective opinion, so this notion of an Arsenal bias that is often levelled at the Untold match reviews doesn’t hold water in these instances.

    But your figures bear repeating because frankly they are unbelievable:

    “To date the average number of fouls committed per team is 136, Arsenal are pretty average with 139. The average number of cards received (with a red counting as two) is 25. Nobody will be surprised to read that we have received 40% more than average with 35”.

    “Leicester are the stand out team…… Having committed 134 fouls (just five fewer than us) they have amassed the stunning total of just 12 cards!”


    Fouls: 134
    Cards: 12


    Fouls: 139
    Cards: 35

    ‘my observation at this time is that with a card for every 4.0 fouls committed Arsenal are being treated slightly more harshly than Leicester with a card for every 11.2 fouls’

    Those stats are, put simply, beyond belief.

    If one of the naysayers can explain that away I’ll be very pleased to hear it.

  3. @ Nitram

    As I said, it’s just a taster. I’m also looking at times of first cards and number of minutes played under caution and how many fouls and tackles the players that are carded make in the game (although only for us v our opponents, I don’t have the time to do that for every club).

    I think the thing is there are variables in here which will make a difference e.g. we may be bad tacklers, or we may get more cards for dissent or diving or taking our shirts off etc. But as we are often told, it should all even out in the end! Maybe it will, let’s see what it looks like after a whole season.

  4. Mikey

    It will take SOME evening out Mikey because as I say as I know we’ve been on the wrong end of these numbers for at least 15 years!!

    Also of course regarding variables who knows how we will be treated once the damage is done, ie we’re already out of the top 4 race ?

    We could suddenly see a vast improvement in our numbers?

    Similar to referees evening up the cards towards the end of a game or giving us a penalty when it’s pretty superfluous etc. etc.

    Regarding Riley, I believe one of our regulars once did analysis showing the dramatic decline in how we are refereed from the day he took over at the PGMOL.

    Keep up the good work the final results of such in depth analysis could be very eye opening.

  5. Mikey
    Fantastic work, very impressive and your results so far make depressing reading for Arsenal supporters. The powers that be within the club must surely be aware of the strange way we are treated compared to some (or should that be most?) other clubs which begs the question have they, will they or are they making any effort to find out why we are singled out for such harsh treatment. Could you imagine Ferguson or Mourinho putting up with such crap, why are we so passive? As nitram says it cannot be Wenger (as I always thought) as it still continues under Emery.
    I recall the analysis you mention and I definitely remember that there was a sudden change for the worse in the way Mike Dean in particular started to treat us. From the date Riley took over we hardly won a game under Dean in the ensuing few years. (Remember Deans jump for joy when Spurs scored against us and also his similar antics at full time against Birmingham in the League Cup Final).

  6. Apart from Game 50, my overriding memory of Riley is the season he refereed 49 games 41 one of which didn’t involve Man Utd and in which he awarded no penalties. In the other 8 games which did involve Fergie’s mob, he awarded 9 penalties……..all to Man U…………but as alluded to earlier; it all evens out in the end 🙂

  7. Yep, remember seeing that also.

    It would be nice if we could repost all those stats with sources and then ask some of our naysayers to explain them away.

    Haven’t noticed any of them falling over themselves to explain Mikeys findings yet have we ?

    I mean it’s not as if we didn’t know they’d be as they are, and that’s what makes it even worse, it’s so predictable.

  8. Mikey

    Your figures of a card every 4 fouls for us versus every 11 for Leicester are very similar to the numbers we went into the infamous game 50 at OT with.

    In actual fact if my memory serves United were getting a card around every 15 fouls prior to that match, a ratio that continued throughout the match.

    It seems the dye had been cast as to how that season was to go from the very start.

  9. MickHazel

    You suggest that ‘The powers that be must be aware of the strange way we are treated’ but given how everyone at Arsenal TV clearly have no interest in even mentioning it i somehow doubt it.

  10. It’s interesting that since Fergie retired my perception (and the stats this season at least) suggest Man U get less preferential treatment than they used to. It’s also well documented that referees were scared of him and would make decisions in his favour accordingly (although I think Riley behaved out of admiration rather than fear). Hardly the even playing field we’re led to believe. Personally I suspect that nowadays there are different motivations other than fear of certain managers.

  11. When Riley was officiating, there were two others that were particularly evil and biased against Arsenal. Wiley & Bennett. The three were amongst the most evil when it came to cheating Arsenal of a level playing field.

    I just observe and never did stats, but i’m sure the stats will show up some of the evil.

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