Report by Dan Davis (@dan_davis20) at Vitality Stadium
Cast your minds back nine years ago, to the ill-fated England campaign in the sweltering heat of the 2010 World Cup. Fabio Capello’s side travelled to South Africa with high expectations, but were instead unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament in just the second round. A 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany kickstarted a seemingly irrepressible feeling of apathy through the nation, and sparked an inquest that examined the very roots of English football.
That Germany side were the very antithesis of their island opponents. For every slick, flowing move that Joachim Low’s side pieced together, England were on hand to counter with disjointed and directionless passages of play, as if every player clad in red were floundering in mud.
Quite simply, it was two contrasting ideologies at work, and it was painstaking clear which was the superior. Germany had cultivated the perfect footballing structure, one which spanned the lower reaches of the youth levels all the way up to the senior side. The style of play, an undoubted swagger coupled with the mechanical knack for timing the killer pass, was one adopted at every level. England, on the other hand, had plenty of promise flowing through the veins of their Young Lions sides, but anything above that lay in ruins.
Now let’s re-join the present day. With the vast inquest complete, the so-called England DNA was introduced, which effectively outlined the way that every England side should play, no matter the level. With a framework finally in place from top to bottom, the Three Lions were almost hoping to aspire to the opponents that had so openly torn them to shreds in front of the eyes of the world.
But as a result, the state of English football is a much more pleasing one, with a World Cup semi-final in the bag and a newfound style of play entertaining the masses under the ever-likeable Gareth Southgate. England appear no longer afraid of the ball, and this refreshing confidence once again courses through the Young Lions. In fact, youth football in the nation has never appeared so domineering.
There were again glimmers of promise for England in their friendly clash with Germany in Bournemouth.
Dominic Solanke, leading the line for the Young Lions and skippering the side at his new home at club level, registered the first effort on target in the clash. An inch-perfect ball over the top picked out the striker, who could only fire a weak effort into the arms of Germany goalkeeper Florian Muller. Demarai Gray also posed a constant threat down the right flank, although the Leicester City man’s final ball often was lacking in precision.
But when the Germans eased into top gear they were often at their silky best, leaving their opponents chasing shadows. On eight minutes, full-back Benjamin Henrichs took matters into his own hands with a powerful drive down the England left-flank. The Monaco man then tried a strike from a tight angle, which forced Sheffield United custodian Dean Henderson into a strong save.
And with the visitors’ dominance on the ball came their first goal of the game. A wonderfully weighted pass through the England backline found Mahmoud Dahoud, who unerringly smashed home emphatically from the edge of the box with his second touch.
Germany could have, and should have, then doubled their lead five minutes before the interval. Luca Waldschmidt latched on to the ball 20 yards from goal, before he cracked a low effort against the foot of the far post. As the ball cannoned back into the danger zone, the waiting Amiri was unable to stretch a few more inches and prod home the rebound.
The visitors’ dominance in possession and clear-cut nature of their openings should have meant England were battling back from a two-goal deficit, rather than hitting back on 42 minutes to equalise. Phil Foden’s attempted ball forward skewed free off Arne Maier, presenting the skipper Solanke with the time and space to calmly stroke home past the wrong-footed Muller at the near post.
Both sides emerged from the interval looking to immediately force themselves onto the front foot. Kieran Dowell curled a free-kick on the edge of the box narrowly over the crossbar, before Amiri lashed wide of the far post at the other end.
Huddersfield Town’s Abdelhamid Sabiri was soon introduced in a flurry of changes for either side, and the striker almost made an immediate impact. An inviting cross into the box was forced goalwards by the German, only for Jake Clarke-Salter to stand firm and head the effort clear. The ball then dropped kindly for Levin Oztunali, who could only bend a strike inches wide of Henderson’s left-hand corner.
In the end, it took a controversial decision and an apparent injury that broke England’s fierce resistance. Henrichs and visiting skipper Timo Baumgartl combined, with the former afforded space to swing in a delivery. But with Kyle Walker-Peters on his haunches at the far post, centre-half Felix Uduokhai swept home after an unerring finish to clinch a last-gasp victory for Germany, in an end-to-end encounter that only further underlined the quality and desire evident in both youth set-ups.
Aidy Boothroyd’s Under-21s side possesses numerous special talents, and this was pleasantly evident despite defeat. Foden has impressed for Manchester City, with the youngster even finding the back of the net in a Champions League clash this season. Harvey Barnes was recalled back to Leicester City in January after setting the Championship alight at West Brom, and Ryan Sessegnon’s potential remains sky-high despite Fulham’s well-documented struggles in the top flight.
The only problem is that their opponents once again held dominance over the statistics. The original 24 players named in the German squad had collectively started 668 games in the Bundesliga, more than twice the amount as the 26-man England group have managed in the Premier League. So, despite the obvious talent on show in the Young Lions outfit, is their home country necessarily the best place for them to further their development?
Jadon Sancho, who would have certainly have turned out for the Under-21s had he not received a well-earned call-up to the senior side, is a trailblazer of sorts, having made the move to Germany in the search of regular first-team football. His risk has paid dividends. Callum Hudson-Odoi attempted to follow a similar path, but his move to giants Bayern Munich was rebuffed by Chelsea. Reiss Nelson is also plying his trade in Germany after being left frustrated by opportunities at his parent club, Arsenal.
But on the other hand of the debate, England hosts several key members of the German national set-up. So perhaps it all boils down to the simple dilemma that a long-term ambition for a player may clash horribly with a more limited, game-by-game viewpoint of a manager. This can lead to players having to look elsewhere across Europe in search of a coveted starting spot every week, and Germany is undoubtedly now a hotspot for budding English talent.
The fact is that both nations are now inextricably linked, and both possess talent pools that may well force other European sides to cast envious glances their way. And whilst Germany has always spearheaded the quest for success at youth levels in recent years, England are now arguably on a similar level and this will result in mouth-watering clashes for silverware between these two nations for tournaments to come.