Flash back to 2000. Fresh off a 3-0 defeat to Portugal and only 1 point in the group stage, Germany were left reeling only 4 years after winning the competition. Immediately questions were asked about how and why this could happen. Answers soon came, and they came in the form of a radically overhauled youth system for German football. By the end of the same decade, the seeds of that discontent had already begun bearing fruit, and soon everyone was raving at the amount of technically gifted players that were being produced by German academies. German football had hit a crossroads, and they worked as quickly as possible to fix it.
Now 14 years later, and England have been ousted in the group stage of a World Cup for the first time since 1950, the first year they qualified. It’s also the first time ever they’ve lost 2 consecutive matches at a World Cup. The inquests into youth development in England have already started, and the skeptics have already had their way because this conversation repeats every 2 years when England does fail at a major tournament. If they want to fix these problems for good, they might have to look to Germany for help.
Youth development in England is reliant on the clubs themselves keeping up their own academies and doing their own scouting. The business in England is driven by a profit, and only once a profit is turned will the academies be up to the standards they need to be. It also doesn’t help that the FA and the clubs have next to zero contact with each other. Everything is reliant on the clubs doing their own research and scouting, with no central outlet to help find the players in their prime development years. Conversely, in Germany all of these young players have been scouted by Bundesliga clubs because the DFB (Germany’s FA) has dedicated coaches go out and not only scout the players but teach them as well, and this starts as young as age 8. It’s methodical, intense, and exhaustive, and by the time the players are of the right age, a Bundesliga club’s academy will be ready to snap them up, and they’ll soon be ready for the rigors of first team football. Coaching is just as important, and coaching the youth to their potential and beyond is seen as an honor. It’s academic in England really.
The clubs in England have no patience because of the money, while the Bundesliga clubs have the ability to be patient because the emphasis is on the process, and not the goal. The FA needs the support from all of the clubs in the Football League in order to promote and pass through youth initiatives, and often they are stymied at the pass because the clubs do not have the patience to wait out the process of developing the talents of younger players from as young as age 8 on. English clubs certainly can afford to be patient, if smaller Bundesliga clubs like Freiburg can develop hordes of talent on a budget dwarfed by everybody else in the Bundesliga. The emphasis in Germany is always on the process, and in England it seems to be on the result more than anything. Yes the process doesn’t net any money immediately, but instant gratification only kills your bottom-line in the long run.
If England wants to see their national team (and by association the rest of the home countries and Ireland as well) have success on the big stage they must put their monetary ambitions aside at the youth level, and instead of concerning themselves with getting finished products as soon as possible, they need to put time into developing talent instead. The financial gain comes later by virtue of the players being able to play everywhere, and since more players will be available the insane prices for English players on the market will drop. Instead of academies only benefiting those with the most cash and for the rest it lives as window dressing, now they’ll be useful for all and everyone can share in the wealth. But that’s only if the FA spurs this from the top. And no, a B-league won’t change anything.
Having clubs work together with the Premier League and the FA instead of them spatting with each other is also important, especially considering that their cooperation at this point is only what is necessary to survive. The FA and the Premier League must take the lead, because the clubs on their own are incapable of getting the almighty pound out of their eye. This goes from Crewe to Chelsea; everyone will have their own gems instead of the few that do emerge being buried by clubs with cash because they have it to flaunt.
How many times does everyone want to see the same tabloid headlines when England fails at major tournaments? If people at the FA want to see them stop, then they’d better take the lead, because what is in place right now is cyclically failing, and the rest of the world is lapping England with impunity.
It’s good to see the FA alarmed and taking action. Maybe if they look to their friends from Germany, they might find a way to get themselves out of a red band seen on a tube train floor.