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.
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